The Most Diverse Forest
A rare natural
treasure. Along the unglaciated Appalachian Plateau
in West Virginia stands a mixed mesophytic forest.
It thrives on West Virginia's deep, well-drained, nutrient-rich
soil which allows rapid decomposition of organic matter.
Typically a representative forest community contains
twenty or more species
including both deciduous and evergreen trees.
In West Virginia indicators
of mixed mesophytic forest canopies are basswood,
sugar maple, tulip tree, eastern hemlock, American beech,
mountain magnolia, cucumber magnolia, umbrella magnolia,
and red oak. Additional companion trees include white oak,
white ash, black birch, yellow birch, pignut hickory, shag
bark hickory, bitternut hickory, black cherry, black maple,
black locust, and big-tooth aspen, among others.
tree species and shrubs arrest our eye-level attention during
hikes through these woods. At understory ground
level are herb communities invigorated by light penetrating
gaps in tree canopies.
All three levels -
overstory canopy, subcanopy, and understory - are interdependent.
Only one other temperate zone forest in the world possesses
the diversity of the mixed-mesophytic and that is in east-central
China. A fine web site explaining mixed mesophytic forest
Variability. There is a
good deal of variability in the types of trees and
vegetation in West Virginia, depending upon their
location within the state. The unusual panhandles of the
state extend boundaries into latitudes and longitudes remote
from each other. Altitudes range from the 4,860-feet-high
summit of Spruce Knob to the lowest point at Harper's Ferry
of 240 feet above sea level. Temperature and rainfall
vary too. Deep Pocahontas County snows support
a dynamic snow skiing industry when Charleston streets are
dry. A student at West Virginia University who departs
chilly Morgantown in early spring and goes home to Huntington
finds flowers blooming two weeks sooner than where he left
a few hours before.
Last updated on Tuesday, July 24, 2001