Terrestrial System. Open Uplands Subsystem-- Cliff community

Cliff community with Sassafras albidum

Physical Setting: Cliff communities are not uncommon in the Hudson Highlands. Most of these can be seen from afar--even from the air. There are two within the study area, one facing east and one facing west. Both are within Chestnut oak forest on hilltops.

The east-facing cliff (pictured) is located on the eastern edge of the summit of the un-named highest hill at Ice Pond. It consists of a series of exposed rocks, approximately 135 meters long and about 35 meters wide centered at approximately 41.455ºN, 73.617ºW (± 10 m) and about 260 meters above sea level. There are several gaps where the rock dips below the surface.

The west-facing cliff is located on the western flank of the area's un-named southeastern hill. Like the other, it consists of a series of exposed rocks, with gaps, but this one is lower in elevation and the exposed rock is disjointed. This cliff is approximately 60 meters long and varies from one to ten meters wide. The approximate center is at 41.445ºN, 73.614ºW and about 170 meters above sea level.

Substrate and Hydrology: Both cliff communities are created by massive gneiss outcrops. There is no soil, except in crevices and water quickly drains away. These cliffs are quite dry between rains.

Aralia hispida,photo by Greg Russo

Biota: Where there is vegetation on the rocks themselves, it consists exclusively of mosses and lichens. Vascular plants are confined to the numerous crevices and rock edges that retain soil and moisture. The dominant woody plants are mostly shrubs or stunted trees including Kalmia latifolia L. and Gaylussacia baccata (Wagenh.) K. Koch, Quercus prinus L., Quercus ilificolia Wagenh, Sassafras albidum (Nutt.) Nees, Quercus rubra L, Betula populifolia Marshall, Pinus strobus L., Amelanchier arborea (F. Michx.) Fern. and others. These cliffs are the only place at Ice Pond where Hypericum gentianoides (L.) Britton, Sterns & Poggenb., Quercus illicifolia, Schizachyrum scoparium (Michx.) Nash and Aralia hispida Vent. are found.

Kalmia latifolia, photo by Greg Russo

Cultural: The cliffs appear to be little-disturbed, probably because they are so unsuitable for corps or animals. Today, the west cliff is a popular hiking destination.

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