Natural Communities of NH -- Photo Guide

Montane - subalpine circumneutral cliff  (S2S3)


(formerly montane circumneutral cliff)

Montane - subalpine circumneutral cliffs occur in only a few locations in New Hampshire. They support plant species with an arctic - alpine or boreal distribution not found on montane - subalpine acidic cliff communities, including northern cotton club rush (Trichophorum alpinum), shrubby cinquefoil (Pentaphylloides floribunda), livelong saxifrage (Saxifraga paniculata), butterwort (Pinguicula vulgaris), and scirpus-like sedge (Carex scirpoidea). Many of these species require seasonally to perennially wet seepage zones with elevated levels of calcium. This community is restricted to parts of large cliffs and ravines in the mountains. Circumneutral cliffs in general are uncommon in New Hampshire due to the preponderance of rocks that yield acidic, nutrient-poor conditions upon weathering.

Characteristic vegetation:
Diagnostic vascular plants include fragrant fern (Dryopteris fragrans), smooth woodsia (Woodsia glabella), harebell (Campanula rotundifolia), rusty woodsia (Woodsia ilvensis), slender cliffbrake Cryptogramma stelleri), northern white cedar (Thuja occidentalis), scirpus-like sedge (Carex scirpoidea), snowy aster (Aster ptarmicoides), lance-leaved draba (Draba lanceolata), Drummond’s rock-cress (Arabis drummondii), ebony sedge (Carex eburnea), red elderberry (Sambucus racemosa), and shrubby cinquefoil (Potentilla floribunda). Other circumneutral site species that may be present but are somewhat more diagnostic of temperate circumneutral cliffs include purple cliffbrake (Pellaea atropurpurea), early saxifrage (Saxifraga virginiensis), and maidenhair spleenwort (Asplenium trichomanes). Generally only a few of these circumneutral indicators are present at any one site.

Many vascular plant species growing on circumneutral cliffs are not necessarily indicators of enriched conditions.
On nine circumneutral cliffs surveyed in the White Mountains, bryophytes were better indicators of calcareous and circumneutral conditions than vascular plants (44% of all bryophytes were base-rich indicators compared to 14% of vascular plants). Among these bryophytes, the most characteristically strict calciphiles were Distichium capillaceum, Gymnostemum aeruginosum, and Tortella tortuosa; other base-rich or circumneutral indicators included Amphidium mougeotii, Diplophyllum apiculatum, Mnium thomsonii, and Myurella siberica. Polytrichastrum (Pogonatum) alpinum is frequent but probably not restricted to circumneutral cliffs.

Other plant species include Sibbaldiopsis tridentata (three-toothed cinquefoil), Antennaria spp. (pussytoes), Cystopteris fragilis (fragile fern), Cystopteris tenuis (Mackay’s brittle fern), Cystopteris bulbifera (bulblet bladder fern), Trisetum spicatum (spiked false oats), Arabis hirsuta var. pycnocarpa (hairy rock-cress), Epilobium ciliatum (ciliated willow-herb), Aster radula (rough-leaved aster) and other asters, Solidago arguta (northern toothed goldenrod), Solidago bicolor (silverrod), Solidago nemoralis (northern gray goldenrod) and other goldenrods, Danthonia spicata (poverty oat-grass), Danthonia compressa (tufted oat-grass), Agrostis spp. (bent-grasses), Achillea millefolium (common yarrow), Aquilegia canadensis (wild columbine), Poa compressa (Canada bluegrass), Panicum spp. (panic-grasses), Elytrigia repens (quack-grass), Deschampsia flexuosa (common hairgrass), and Dennstaedtia punctilobula (hay-scented fern).

Shrubs that may be present in low cover include Potentilla floribunda (shrubby cinquefoil), Juniperus horizontalis (creeping juniper), Diervilla lonicera (bush honeysuckle), Spiraea alba (meadowsweet), Acer pensylvanicum (striped maple), Acer spicatum (mountain maple), Cornus rugosa (round-leaved dogwood), Rubus spp. (brambles), and Amelanchier spp. (shadbushes).

Scattered saplings or stunted older trees can occur on benches or other areas where soil accumulates. These include Betula papyrifera (paper birch), Betula cordifolia (heartleaf birch), Quercus rubra (red oak), Pinus strobus (white pine), Populus tremuloides (quaking aspen), Populus grandidentata (big-toothed aspen), Juniperus virginiana (eastern red cedar), Thuja occidentalis (northern white cedar), Acer saccharum (sugar maple), and Picea rubens (red spruce).


Good examples of this community can be seen at Holt's Ledge (Lyme), Rattlesnake Mtn. (Rumney), and the eastern side of Mt. Osceola above Greeley Ponds (Livermore).

Montane - subalpine circumneutral cliffs sometimes occur as part of a larger montane cliff system.


montane - subalpine circumneutral cliff at Cannon Cliff (photo by Dan Sperduto for the NH Natural Heritage Bureau)
montane - subalpine circumneutral cliff at Cannon Cliff (photo by Dan Sperduto)

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