Why would this spot in central Kentucky that would produce such a profusion of floral diversity? It's location, location, location – and habitat diversity.
Mammoth Cave is located in the transitional zone between the open grasslands and drier oak-hickory forests to the west, and the more moist mixed mesophytic forests to the east. It is likewise located transitional between the sub-tropical climates to the south and the colder climates to the north. Many of the plant species found in the park are at the northern, southern, eastern, or western limits of their natural range.
Contributing even more to the immense diversity of the flora is the wide variety of habitats supporting differing plant communities. There are dry upland flats and sandstone-capped ridges, limestone exposed slopes, ravines and karst valleys, broad alluvial bottoms along the Green River, gorge-like hemlock ravines, deep sinks with exposed subterranean streams, old-growth timber, successional growth forests, barrens and savannah habitats, and wetlands, including ponds, forest swamps, springs, seasonal wet woodlands, and cobble bars and banks along the Green River.
Past botanical surveys in the park have found 25 species listed as Endangered, Threatened, or of Special Concern by Kentucky State Nature Preserves Commission. Mammoth Cave National Park is a vital refuge for the protection of plant communities and individual species in danger. This mosaic of habitats and diversity of forests types and grasslands is, unfortunately, just as attractive to a wide variety of introduced plants. Mammoth Cave National Park proactively works to control invasive alien species that compromise the integrity of its native plant communities.
Did You Know?
The grease-oil lamp was used to illuminate Mammoth Cave for more than a century. Designed after New England whale-oil lanterns, these lamps used cooking grease to light the way.