The Vegetation of West Virginia Grass Bald Communities


James S. Rentch

Additional Authors:

Ronald H. Fortney


September – 1997


West Virginia, Grass bald, red spruce, Danthonia compressa, blueberries

Site conditions and vegetation of five high elevation areas in West Virginia historically considered grass balds were examined. All occurred on rounded peaks or ridges, with south or southwest facing slopes, above 1150 m, in the transition zone between red spruce (Picea rubens) and northern hardwood forests. Mountain oat grass (Danthonia compressa) was the dominant herb, although other grasses were abundant. At two sites, forbs and ferns were codominant. Blueberries (Vaccinium spp.) were dominant in the shrub strata at all sites. Comparison of the vegetation of West Virginia sites to five grass balds studied by Gilbert (1954) in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park (GSMNP) revealed the following differences: (1) balds of the two regions shared some dominants, but West Virginia balds were more diverse in the herbaceous layer, with lower levels of dominance. (2) West Virginia balds also had a more highly developed shrub strata. Recent studies of Gilbert’s GSMNP sites in 1958, 1964, and 1979 have revealed a significant shrub and tree invasion, and a decrease in dominance of grasses. These changes suggest that Gilbert’s GSMNP balds are becoming more similar to the West Virginia sites. All of these grass balds are successional communities, although succession on West Virginia balds is presently confined to shrub species.