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The Natural Communities of Virginia
Classification of Ecological Community Groups

Second Approximation (Version 2.7)
Information current as of February, 2016

Table of Contents Table of Contents

Spray Cliffs

Spray cliff communities occur on constantly wet rock faces within the spray or splash zones of waterfalls, or on sheltered cliffs saturated with permanent seepage. A few examples, scattered over the entire mountain region of the state, are known from qualitative reports. At this time, very little can be said about the ecological dynamics or floristic composition of these occurrences. Based on casual observations, mosses and liverworts are usually the dominant plants, with vascular species more sparsely rooted in crevices and on moss- or humus-covered shelves. Among the most characteristic and widespread vascular plants are brook saxifrage (Boykinia aconitifolia), small enchanter's night-shade (Circaea alpina ssp. alpina), small-flowered alumroot (Heuchera parviflora), rock clubmoss (Huperzia porophila), saxifrages (Micranthes caroliniana and Micranthes micranthidifolia), mountain meadow-rue (Thalictrum clavatum), and various lithophytic ferns. Very few waterfalls in Virginia are large and constant enough to provide requisite conditions for spray cliff communities. Good examples, therefore, should be high priorities for protection. A full understanding of Virginia's spray cliff vegetation and its relationship to similar vegetation further south in the Appalachians will require comprehensive bryophyte inventories.

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A lush bryophyte community occurs on travertine rock faces behind the cascades of Falling Spring Falls north of Covington, Alleghany County. Photo: Dean Walton / © DCR Natural Heritage.

Communities in this group have been well documented in North Carolina, but have not been studied in Virginia and only a provisional association has been defined.

  • Appalachian Spray Cliff Herbaceous Vegetation
    USNVC: no equivalent
    Global/State Ranks: GNR/S1

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