A unique ecosystem found at New River Gorge is the Appalachian Riverside Flatrock Community, which contains a rare assemblage of plants found in only a few places along several high-energy Appalachian rivers. The flatrock community contains many plants that grow nowhere else in New River Gorge.
For centuries intermittent floods flushed the flatrock community’s hard, flat sandstone, stripping away soil and forcing plants to struggle in a perpetual state of renewal.
In the flatrock community a slow process of plant succession enables species to replace other species. First, lichens paint the rocks and begin to create soil. Moss and small-rooted plants follow, later to be replaced by shrubs and trees like eastern red cedar, scrub pine, and post oak, which can survive harsh conditions and thin soil.
But recently humans have altered nature’s cycles; dams upstream reduce the intensity of floods. It is not yet known how the flatrock community will respond to this change.