Robert W. Freckmann Herbarium
University of Wisconsin - Stevens Point

Vascular Plants

Plants of Wisconsin

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Natural Communities
Keyword: Cliff


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Algific talus slope
This rare community of southwestern Wisconsin’s Driftless Area consists of steep slopes of fractured limestone (dolomite) rock that retains ice and emits cold air throughout the growing season. The cold microhabitats enable the persistence of northern species and "periglacial relicts" such as northern monkshood (Aconitum noveboracense) and rare terrestrial snails. The woody overstory is often sparse, with scattered small black ash (Fraxinus nigra) and white birch (Betula papyrifera). Mountain maple (Acer spicatum), a northern shrub, may be frequent and extensive beds of bulblet fern (Cystopteris bulbifera) and mosses are characteristic.

Bedrock glade
These are xeric, sparsely vegetated non-vertical bedrock exposures with very thin, often discontinous soils. The rock types vary from quartzite (Baraboo Hills, McCaslin Mountain), to basalt (lower St. Croix River valley), to granite (northeastern Wisconsin). The flora can include prairie, savanna, or barrens components, some at their northern range limits. Trees and shrubs are sparse and may include pines, oaks, and cherries. Xerophytic pteridophytes such as rusty woodsia (Woodsia ilvensis) and rock spikemoss (Selaginella rupestris) are characteristic, as are lichens and mosses.

Dry cliff
These dry vertical bedrock exposures occur on many different rock types, which may influence species composition. Scattered pines, oaks, or shrubs often occur. However, the most characteristic plants are often the ferns, common polypody (Polypodium vulgare) and rusty woodsia (Woodsia ilvensis), along with herbs such as columbine (Aquilegia canadensis), harebell (Campanula rotundifolia), pale corydalis (Corydalis sempervirens), juneberry (Amelanchier spp.), bush-honeysuckle (Diervilla lonicera), and rock spikemoss (Selaginella rupestris).

Felsenmeer
Quartzite or other metamorphic or igneous rock talus slope or “felsenmeer” communities characterized by all-summer upwellings of cool, moist air near or at their bases. It is not certain whether year-round ice deposits are responsible for the upwelling. Glacière talus forms as the result of periglacial frost and ice-wedging; quartzite, in particular, is a brittle rock that is susceptible to frost-wedging. The talus slopes themselves consist of lichened boulders ranging from 0.25-1 m in diameter. Nearly all sites (except the one at Devils Lake, Wisconsin) occur in areas that were glaciated during the Pleistocene. At the best-developed examples (Ouimet and Cavern Lake Canyons in Ontario, the Blue Hills Felsenmeer in Wisconsin), a double talus slope embracing a V-shaped valley may be present.

Moist cliff
This "micro-community" occurs on shaded (by trees or the cliff itself because of aspect), moist to seeping mossy, vertical exposures of various rock types, most commonly sandstone and dolomite. Common species are columbine (Aquilegia canadensis), the fragile ferns (Cystopteris bulbifera and C. fragilis), wood ferns (Dryopteris spp.), rattlesnake-root (Prenanthes alba), and wild sarsaparilla (Aralia nudicaulis). The rare flora of these cliffs vary markedly in different parts of the state; Driftless Area cliffs might have northern monkshood (Aconitum noveboracense), those on Lake Superior, butterwort (Pinguicula vulgaris), or those in Door County, green spleenwort (Asplenium viride).

Talus forest



Offsite resources:
Virginia Kline's collection of the Vegetation of Wisconsin
Michigan Natural Features Inventory Community descriptions

Vascular Plants

Plants of Wisconsin

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