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Shale barrens are hot, dry, open areas of steep Devonian shale in eastern West Virginia, occurring from Mercer County in the south to Hampshire and Berkeley counties in the northeast. Shale barrens also occur in neighboring areas of Virginia, Maryland, and Pennsylvania.

Shale barrens occur on slopes facing south or west into the hottest sunlight and are often undercut by a stream or road. They lack true soil, moisture and humus are scarce, and the shale is slightly acid. These are harsh habitats, but shale barrens host lizards and snakes, and a few plants thrive on the extreme conditions. Fourteen plants are endemic to West Virginia’s shale barrens, growing there and nowhere else.

Shale barren rockcress is a federally designated endangered species. Five others are rare enough to be monitored by federal botanists. These are nodding wild onion, yellow buckwheat, Kates Mountain clover, shale evening-primrose, and pussytoes ragwort. Other shale barren endemics are mountain pimpernel, shale bindweed, whitehaired leatherflower, swordleaf phlox, shale barren pussytoes, shale barren aster, shale barren goldenrod, and shale skullcap.

Slaty Mountain near Sweet Springs, Monroe County, is often cited as the best shale barren in West Virginia. Kates Mountain near White Sulphur Springs is important because several prominent botanists discovered the rare shale barren plants there while vacationing at nearby Greenbrier resort. White’s Draft near Alvon and Meadow Creek near Neola are high-quality barrens in the Monongahela National Forest. Larenium is a Mineral County park with an excellent shale barren. Other quality shale barrens are on private land near White Sulphur Springs, Blue Bend, Headsville, Dorcas, Rig, and Wardensville.

This Article was written by William N. Grafton

Last Revised on October 29, 2010

Related Articles


Core, Earl L. Vegetation of West Virginia. Parsons: McClain, 1974.

Keener, C. S. Distribution and Biohistory of the Endemic Flora of the Mid-Appalachian Shale Barrens. Botanical Review, 1983.

Cite This Article

Grafton, William N. "Shale Barrens." e-WV: The West Virginia Encyclopedia. 29 October 2010. Web. 21 July 2024.


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