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.