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Limestone Glades

Limestone glades are sparsely vegetated areas of limestone bedrock that occur in the Potomac Highlands of West Virginia. They are found in Grant, Hardy, and Pendleton counties, with a good example at Cave Mountain on the Pendleton-Grant line. They typically occur on dry, exposed upper hill slopes, on limestone of the Tonoloway and Helderberg formations. The glades are interspersed with more densely vegetated grasslands and woodlands. The limestone glades have some of West Virginia’s most unusual vegetation types and harbor many specially adapted and rare plants.

The occurrence of natural forest openings on limestone substrates is probably due to extreme temperature fluctuations and lack of water in the shallow soils, but may also be related to natural fire cycles and avalanches. Limestone glades may be considered early successional communities which eventually will progress to full forest, but succession is very slow due to harsh soil conditions. Woodlands and grasslands adjacent to the glades have developed on less exposed places with deeper soils and less surface rock.

Although the glades have sparse vegetation, the plants that survive there are distinctive and include rare species such as yellow or Virginia nailwort and the endemic Smoke Hole bergamot. Scattered grasses and stunted trees typical of the surrounding communities also grow in the glades. The associated grasslands, also called limestone barrens, are dominated by side-oats grama, bottle-brush grass, and little blue stem. The associated woodlands are dominated by red cedar, chinquapin oak, and redbud.

Written by Jim Vanderhorst


  1. Bartgis, Rodney L. The Limestone Glades and Barrens of West Virginia. Castanea, (June 1993).