Natural Communities of NH -- Photo Guide

Felsenmeer barrens  (S2)



In the alpine tundra zone on the upper slopes of New Hampshire's highest mountains, chaotic jumbles of large, frost-cracked, lichen-encrusted rocks form a natural community called felsenmeer barrens. Felsenmeer is a German word meaning “sea of rocks.” The barrens are a product of frequent freeze and thaw cycles in the alpine zone. Water expands as it freezes in rock cracks, a process that eventually shatters the rocks into smaller fragments. Soil only occurs in scattered patches among the rocks. As a result, higher plants are absent or sparse, and lichens are the dominant life form. Felsenmeer barrens are abundant in the Presidential Range, but less common in other alpine areas. Mt. Washington is sometimes called the "Big Rock Pile" in recognition of its extensive upper slopes of felsenmeer.

Characteristic vegetation:
Lichens are the dominant life form. Crustose, umbillicate, and foliose lichens are common, including target lichen (Arctoparmelia centrifuga), rimmed camouflage lichen (Melanelia hepatizon), alpine camouflage lichen (M. stygia), netted rock tripe (Umbilicaria proboscidea), punctured rock tripe (U. torrefacta), toadskin lichen (Lasillia papulosa), petaled rock tripe (U. polyphylla), blistered rock tripe (U. hyperborea), granite-speck rim lichen (Lecanora polytropa), alpine bloodspot (Ophioparma ventosa), map lichen (Rhizocarpon geographicum), orange boulder lichen (Porpidia flavocaerulescens), rusty-rock lichen (Tremolecia atrata), gray-orange disk lichen (Lecidea lapicida), chocolate rim lichen (Protoparmelia badia), black-on-black lichen (Orphniospora moriopsis), and foam lichens (Stereocaulon spp.). Scattered vascular alpine plants such as diapensia (Diapensia lapponica) and Bigelow’s sedge (Carex bigelowii) are evident where small patches of soil have accumulated.


In New Hampshire, felsenmeer barrens only occur in the alpine zone of the Presidential Range, and good examples can be found on the summit cone and Nelson Crag areas of Mt. Washington, and on Mt. Jefferson's Bigelow Lawn.

This community occurs along with other alpine communities as part of a larger alpine tundra system.


Felsenmeer ('sea of rocks') on Mt. Jefferson (Mt. Adams in background) (photo by Ben Kimball for the NH Natural Heritage Bureau)
felsenmeer ('sea of rocks') on Mt. Jefferson (Mt. Adams in background) (photo by Ben Kimball)

Felsenmeer on Mt. Washington (photo by Ben Kimball for the NH Natural Heritage Bureau)
close-up of felsenmeer barrens on Mt. Washington (photo by Ben Kimball)

felsenmeer barrens on Nelson Crag on the northeast shoulder of Mt. Washington (photo by Ben Kimball for the NH Natural Heritage Bureau)
felsenmeer barrens on Nelson Crag on the northeast shoulder of Mt. Washington
(photo by Ben Kimball) 

back to Natural Communities of NH Photo Guide