Ridge-top Forests

The upper ridges and steep-sloped mountainous areas are characterized by shallow, rocky, infertile soils, droughty conditions, and much exposure to sunlight. All of these factors create harsh growing conditions, so it is no wonder that only the hardiest of species exist here. The canopies of these ridge top areas contain upland oaks (chestnut, black, and scarlet oak,) red maple, black gum, and a variety of pine species, such as Virginia, pitch, Table Mountain, and shortleaf pine. All of these trees are tolerant of dry conditions and acid soils.

Ridge-top forest

Credit: frederick.forestryboard.org - Mike Kay

A very common understory shrub growing on these ridge tops is mountain laurel, an evergreen that has a particularly beautiful bloom that arises in late May or early June around Memorial Day. Another common understory species is the serviceberry, one of the first trees to bloom in the spring. These sites also support ericaceous plants, like low bush and high bush blueberry, as well as huckleberry. Oak leaves usually litter these uplands, since oaks have a lot of tannin and resist decay. The ground cover sometimes consists of a mass of moss and lichens, sometimes forming a thick “mat” of vegetation on the ground.

The abundant rocks and inaccessible locations create favorable denning habitat for a number of animals like bear, bobcat, gray fox, rattlesnake, and perhaps Allegheny wood rat, an endangered species known to exist in Frederick County. Although desolate, these areas support an abundance of life.

Article by FCFCDB member

Nature Note for 12/3/2017