THE RIVER AND THE ROCKS
The Geologic Story of Great Falls and the Potomac River Gorge
A FEW WORDS ABOUT THE FORESTS
The original forests of Great Falls Park have been
almost completely cut over since 1790; only a few trees on the hill
north of Difficult Run remain from presettlement times. After repeated
cutting and clearing, fires, and high water, the bulk of the forest
lands now supports second- or third-growth trees.
The various types of plants growing in the area
reflect differences in landscape features and the availability of water.
Forty-three species of trees have been recognized; their distribution
and the associated groupings of shrubs and wild flowers for the five
major subdivisions of the forest landscape are summarized in the
Although the nature of the presettlement forests is
not known, the present confinement of certain trees and shrubs to
specific environments suggests that the bulk of the plant cover, except
for the age and size of trees, is much like it was more than 150 years
ago. A recent change in the forest is the disappearance of chestnut
trees from the piedmont uplands because of the chestnut blight.
The sketches of leaves shown in the trail logs have
been added to assist you in identifying the numerous species of trees
growing in the park.
Landscape features and forest subdivisions
|Prominent species||Other species||Small trees and shrubs|
|White trunks and branches of sycamore are typical.
||Floods at least once every two years.|
|Small, stunted, heavily branched trees.
||Rocky ground of Bear Island and along cliffs. Rarely floods.|
Southern Red oak
|Variable: from small, second-growth saplings to tall, straight-trunked
large trees; dense to open undergrowth.
||Hills and slopes underlain by deep soil. Never floods.|
Swamp white oak
|Dense tangle of shrubs.
||Poorly drained depressions and low areas. Water close to surface or
standing. Floods rarely on Bear Island.|
|Areas of past use
"Escaped" cultivated shrubs
|Bent, poorly formed trees; weedy ground.
||Intense activity by man at Matilda villeand around canal
Last Updated: 01-Mar-2005