Your browser does not support JavaScript!
About DCR
State Parks
Soil and Water
Dam Safety and

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

Rich Cove and Slope Forests

Mixed hardwood forests of this group occupy fertile, mesic, mountain-slope habitats at elevations ranging from about 300 m (1,000 ft) commonly to 1,100 m (3,600 ft), and occasionally higher. Distributed locally throughout western Virginia, these forests are strongly associated with moist, sheltered, landforms (i.e., coves, ravines, and concave lower slopes). Soils may be weathered from various substrates but are generally moderately acidic to moderately alkaline, with high base saturation. In these habitats, soil fertility appears to be strongly correlated with high base cation levels (particularly calcium, magnesium, and manganese) rather than with high pH, and higher-elevation sites often have soils with surprisingly low pH. Characteristic trees include sugar maple (Acer saccharum), basswoods (Tilia americana var. americana and var. heterophylla), white ash (Fraxinus americana), tulip-tree (Liriodendron tulipifera), and yellow buckeye (Aesculus flava; chiefly south of the James River). Herbaceous growth is lush with spring ephemerals and leafy, shade-tolerant forbs such as blue cohosh (Caulophyllum thalictroides), yellow jewelweed (Impatiens pallida), large-flowered trillium (Trillium grandiflorum), wood-nettle (Laportea canadensis), common black cohosh (Actaea racemosa), sweet cicely (Osmorhiza claytonii), Virginia waterleaf (Hydrophyllum virginianum), large-leaf waterleaf (Hydrophyllum macrophyllum), large-flowered bellwort (Uvularia grandiflora), red trillium (Trillium erectum), yellow violets (Viola pubescens and Viola pensylvanica), white baneberry (Actaea pachypoda), two-leaved miterwort (Mitella diphylla), goat's-beard (Aruncus dioicus var. dioicus), yellow mandarin (Prosartes lanuginosa, = Disporum lanuginosum), showy skullcap (Scutellaria serrata), eastern blue-eyed-mary (Collinsia verna), Guyandotte beauty (Synandra hispidula), glade fern (Homalosorus pycnocarpos), and many others. Compositional variation related to substrate and elevation is complex but partitions convincingly into several major community types. The principal threats to rich cove forests are logging and invasion by shade-tolerant, non-native weeds, especially garlic-mustard (Alliaria petiolata).

Rich Cove and Slope Forests are distinguished from the similar Basic Mesic Forests by their more limited, montane distribution; occurrence at higher elevations; and floristic composition that features a number of primarily Appalachian, higher-elevation species.

References: Coulling and Rawinski (1999), Fleming (1999), Fleming and Coulling (2001), Fleming and Moorhead (1996), Fleming and Moorhead (2000), Johnson and Ware (1982), Olson and Hupp (1986), Rawinski et al. (1994), Rawinski et al. (1996), Rheinhardt and Ware (1984).

Click on the images below to open a larger image in a separate window.

This link opens a new browser window to display a larger photo


Large-flowered trillium (Trillium grandiflorum) dominates the mid-spring aspect of a rich cove forest on the northern Blue Ridge. Hightop, Greene County (Shenandoah National Park). Photo © Gary P. Fleming
This link opens a new browser window to display a larger photo


Wood nettle (Laportea canadensis) and yellow jewelweed (Impatiens pallida) in a rich cove forest near Natural Bridge Station, Rockbridge County. Gary P. Fleming / © DCR Natural Heritage.
This link opens a new browser window to display a larger photo



Large-flowered trillium (Trillium grandiflorum) and golden ragwort (Packera aurea, = Senecio aureus) under sugar maple (Acer saccharum) in a luxuriant Cumberland Mountains cove forest. Staunton Creek Gorge, Scott County (George Washington and Jefferson National Forests). Gary P. Fleming / © DCR Natural Heritage.


More than 100 plots representing this group have been sampled in 32 counties of Virginia (map). Some additional data collection is needed to determine the full within-state geographic ranges of the four classified types. Click on any highlighted CEGL code below to view the global USNVC description provided by NatureServe Explorer.

  • Liriodendron tulipifera - Fraxinus americana - Tilia americana / Lindera benzoin / Actaea racemosa Forest
    Appalachian Rich Cove Forest (Tuliptree - Mixed Hardwoods Type)
    USNVC: = CEGL007710
    Global/State Ranks: G4/S4

  • Acer saccharum - Tilia americana / Caulophyllum thalictroides - Laportea canadensis - Osmorhiza claytonii Forest
    Central Appalachian Rich Cove Forest (Sugar Maple - Basswood Type)
    USNVC: = CEGL006237
    Global/State Ranks: G4?/S3

  • Acer saccharum - Tilia americana var. heterophylla - Aesculus flava / Caulophyllum thalictroides - Hydrophyllum (canadense, macrophyllum) Forest
    Southern Appalachian Rich Cove Forest (Sugar Maple - Buckeye Type)
    USNVC: = CEGL007695
    Global/State Ranks: G3G4/S3

  • Tilia americana var. heterophylla - Aesculus flava - Acer saccharum / Staphylea trifolia / Cystopteris bulbifera - Asarum canadense Forest
    Southern Appalachian Limestone Rich Cove Forest
    USNVC: = CEGL006472
    Global/State Ranks: G3G4/S3

back to top of page next Ecological Group