Natural Communities of NH -- Photo Guide

Montane - subalpine acidic cliff  (S5)

[Note: This community was formerly named montane acidic cliff and alpine cliff]

Montane - subalpine acidic cliffs occur primarily in the White Mountain region. They are characterized by a mixture of species indicative of acidic and montane conditions. Higher elevation examples may contain subalpine species. Circumneutral indicators are absent. These cliffs support a diversity of species of plants with north temperate, boreal, and alpine distributions. Some cliffs above 4,900 feet lack temperate species. Most montane - subalpine cliffs are large, wind-exposed, and occur above 2,200 feet. Some of them exceed 150 feet in height. 

Characteristic vegetation: Characteristic vegetation includes common hairgrass (Deschampsia flexuosa), three-toothed cinquefoil (Sibbaldiopsis tridentata), fragile fern (Cystopteris fragilis), Rand’s goldenrod (Solidago simplex ssp. randii), poverty oat-grass (Danthonia spicata), pale corydalis (Corydalis sempervirens), and silverling (Paronychia argyrocoma).

Other plant species that may be present include herbs such as silverrod (Solidago bicolor), northern gray goldenrod (Solidago nemoralis) and other goldenrods, tufted oat-grass (Danthonia compressa), bent-grasses (Agrostis spp.), common yarrow (Achillea millefolium), wild columbine (Aquilegia canadensis), Canada bluegrass (Poa compressa), asters (Aster spp.), panic-grasses (Panicum spp.), quack-grass (Elytrigia repens), hay-scented fern (Dennstaedtia punctilobula), and Mackay’s brittle fern (Cystopteris tenuis).

Shrubs that may be present in low cover include bush honeysuckle (Diervilla lonicera), velvet-leaf blueberry (Vaccinium myrtilloides), lowbush blueberry (Vaccinium angustifolium), mountain cranberry (Vaccinium vitis-idaea), meadowsweet (Spiraea alba), sheep laurel (Kalmia angustifolia), Labrador tea (Ledum groenlandicum), American mountain ash (Sorbus americana), showy mountain ash (Sorbus decora), striped maple (Acer pensylvanicum), mountain maple (Acer spicatum), brambles (Rubus spp.), and shadbushes (Amelanchier spp.).

Scattered saplings or stunted older trees can occur on benches or other areas where soil accumulation is sufficient to support them. These include Betula papyrifera (paper birch), Betula cordifolia (heartleaf birch), Quercus rubra (red oak), Pinus resinosa (red pine), Pinus strobus (white pine), Populus tremuloides (quaking aspen), Populus grandidentata (big-toothed aspen), Juniperus virginiana (eastern red cedar), Acer saccharum (sugar maple), Picea mariana (black spruce), Picea rubens (red spruce), Abies balsamea (balsam fir), Tsuga canadensis (hemlock), and Betula alleghaniensis (yellow birch).

Sites with Agrostis mertensii (boreal bent-grass), Juncus trifidus (highland rush), and Scirpus cespitosus (tussock bulrush) indicate more subalpine conditions. Some of these sites also have Empetrum atropurpureum (purple crowberry) and Vaccinium uliginosum (alpine bilberry) on shelves or cliff brows.

Good examples of this community occur at Cannon Cliff (Franconia), Whitewall Mountain (Bethlehem), Imp Face (Gorham), Franconia Ridge (Franconia), and Tuckerman Ravine in the Presidential Range.

Montane - subalpine acidic cliffs often occur as part of larger montane cliff systems.

montane - subalpine acidic cliff on Cannon Mtn. (photo by Dan Sperduto)
montane - subalpine acidic cliff on Cannon Mtn. (photo by Dan Sperduto)

montane - subalpine acidic cliff on Bondcliff (photo by Ben Kimball for the NH Natural Heritage Bureau)  2. a montane - subalpine acidic cliff on Franconia Ridge (photo by Ben Kimball)
1. a montane - subalpine acidic cliff on Bondcliff (photo by Ben Kimball)
2. montane - subalpine acidic cliff on Franconia Ridge (photo by Ben Kimball)

 1. a montane - subalpine acidic cliff on Cannon Mtn. (photo by Dan Sperduto)   2. montane - subalpine acidic cliff in Dixville Notch (photo by Dan Sperduto)
1. a montane - subalpine acidic cliff on Cannon Mtn. (photo by Dan Sperduto)
2. montane - subalpine acidic cliff in Dixville Notch (photo by Dan Sperduto)

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