Along the Adirondack Trail (Images of America)

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The Taconic Orogeny was just the first of a series of mountain building plate collisions that contributed to the formation of the Appalachians, culminating in the collision of North America and Africa see Alleghanian orogeny.

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By the end of the Mesozoic Era, the Appalachian Mountains had been eroded to an almost flat plain. Some streams flowed along weak layers that define the folds and faults created many millions of years earlier. Other streams downcut so rapidly that they cut right across the resistant folded rocks of the mountain core, carving canyons across rock layers and geologic structures. The Appalachian Mountains contain major deposits of anthracite coal as well as bituminous coal. In the folded mountains the coal is in metamorphosed form as anthracite, represented by the Coal Region of northeastern Pennsylvania.

The bituminous coal fields of western Pennsylvania , western Maryland , southeastern Ohio, eastern Kentucky, southwestern Virginia , and West Virginia contain the sedimentary form of coal. The discovery of commercial quantities of petroleum in the Appalachian Mountains of western Pennsylvania started the modern United States petroleum industry. Some plateaus of the Appalachian Mountains contain metallic minerals such as iron and zinc. The floras of the Appalachians are diverse and vary primarily in response to geology, latitude, elevation and moisture availability. Geobotanically, they constitute a floristic province of the North American Atlantic Region.

The Appalachians consist primarily of deciduous broad-leaf trees and evergreen needle-leaf conifers, but also contain the evergreen broad-leaf American holly Ilex opaca , and the deciduous needle-leaf conifer, the tamarack , or eastern larch Larix laricina.

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It also grows southward along the Appalachian crest to the highest elevations of the southern Appalachians, as in North Carolina and Tennessee. In the southern Appalachians, it is restricted to higher elevations. Another species is the black spruce Picea mariana , which extends farthest north of any conifer in North America, is found at high elevations in the northern Appalachians, and in bogs as far south as Pennsylvania. The Appalachians are also home to two species of fir, the boreal balsam fir Abies balsamea , and the southern high elevation endemic, Fraser fir Abies fraseri.

Fraser fir is confined to the highest parts of the southern Appalachian Mountains, where along with red spruce it forms a fragile ecosystem known as the Southern Appalachian spruce-fir forest. Curiously, it is associated with oaks in Virginia. The balsam fir of Virginia and West Virginia is thought by some to be a natural hybrid between the more northern variety and Fraser fir. While red spruce is common in both upland and bog habitats, balsam fir, as well as black spruce and tamarack, are more characteristic of the latter.

However balsam fir also does well in soils with a pH as high as 6. Eastern or Canada hemlock Tsuga canadensis is another important evergreen needle-leaf conifer that grows along the Appalachian chain from north to south but is confined to lower elevations than red spruce and the firs. It generally occupies richer and less acidic soils than the spruce and firs and is characteristic of deep, shaded and moist mountain valleys and coves. It is, unfortunately, subject to the hemlock woolly adelgid Adelges tsugae , an introduced insect, that is rapidly extirpating it as a forest tree.

Less abundant, and restricted to the southern Appalachians, is Carolina hemlock Tsuga caroliniana. Like Canada hemlock, this tree suffers severely from the hemlock woolly adelgid.


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Several species of pines characteristic of the Appalachians are eastern white pine Pinus strobus , Virginia pine Pinus virginiana , pitch pine Pinus rigida , Table Mountain pine Pinus pungens and shortleaf pine Pinus echinata. Red pine Pinus resinosa is a boreal species that forms a few high elevation outliers as far south as West Virginia. All of these species except white pine tend to occupy sandy, rocky, poor soil sites, which are mostly acidic in character.

White pine, a large species valued for its timber, tends to do best in rich, moist soil, either acidic or alkaline in character. Pitch pine is also at home in acidic, boggy soil, and Table Mountain pine may occasionally be found in this habitat as well. Shortleaf pine is generally found in warmer habitats and at lower elevations than the other species. All the species listed do best in open or lightly shaded habitats, although white pine also thrives in shady coves, valleys, and on floodplains.

The Appalachians are characterized by a wealth of large, beautiful deciduous broadleaf hardwood trees. Their occurrences are best summarized and described in E. The most diverse and richest forests are the mixed mesophytic or medium moisture types, which are largely confined to rich, moist montane soils of the southern and central Appalachians, particularly in the Cumberland and Allegheny Mountains, but also thrive in the southern Appalachian coves.

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Characteristic canopy species are white basswood Tilia heterophylla , yellow buckeye Aesculus octandra , sugar maple Acer saccharum , American beech Fagus grandifolia , tuliptree Liriodendron tulipifera , white ash Fraxinus americana and yellow birch Betula alleganiensis. Other common trees are red maple Acer rubrum , shagbark and bitternut hickories Carya ovata and C.


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  4. Small understory trees and shrubs include flowering dogwood Cornus florida , hophornbeam Ostrya virginiana , witch-hazel Hamamelis virginiana and spicebush Lindera benzoin. There are also hundreds of perennial and annual herbs, among them such herbal and medicinal plants as American ginseng Panax quinquefolius , goldenseal Hydrastis canadensis , bloodroot Sanguinaria canadensis and black cohosh Cimicifuga racemosa.

    The foregoing trees, shrubs, and herbs are also more widely distributed in less rich mesic forests that generally occupy coves, stream valleys and flood plains throughout the southern and central Appalachians at low and intermediate elevations. In the northern Appalachians and at higher elevations of the central and southern Appalachians these diverse mesic forests give way to less diverse "northern hardwoods" with canopies dominated only by American beech, sugar maple, American basswood Tilia americana and yellow birch and with far fewer species of shrubs and herbs.

    Dryer and rockier uplands and ridges are occupied by oak-chestnut type forests dominated by a variety of oaks Quercus spp. The American chestnut was virtually eliminated as a canopy species by the introduced fungal chestnut blight Cryphonectaria parasitica , but lives on as sapling-sized sprouts that originate from roots, which are not killed by the fungus. In present-day forest canopies, chestnut has been largely replaced by oaks.

    The oak forests of the southern and central Appalachians consist largely of black , northern red , white , chestnut and scarlet oaks Quercus velutina, Q. The richest forests, which grade into mesic types, usually in coves and on gentle slopes, have dominantly white and northern red oaks, while the driest sites are dominated by chestnut oak, or sometimes by scarlet or northern red oaks. In the northern Appalachians the oaks, except for white and northern red, drop out, while the latter extends farthest north.

    The oak forests generally lack the diverse small tree, shrub and herb layers of mesic forests. Shrubs are generally ericaceous, and include the evergreen mountain laurel Kalmia latifolia , various species of blueberries Vaccinium spp. The evergreen great rhododendron Rhododendron maximum is characteristic of moist stream valleys.

    These occurrences are in line with the prevailing acidic character of most oak forest soils.

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    In contrast, the much rarer chinquapin oak Quercus muehlenbergii demands alkaline soils and generally grows where limestone rock is near the surface. Hence no ericaceous shrubs are associated with it. The Appalachian floras also include a diverse assemblage of bryophytes mosses and liverworts , as well as fungi. As with vascular plants , these tend to be closely related to the character of the soils and thermal environment in which they are found.

    Eastern deciduous forests are subject to a number of serious insect and disease outbreaks. Among the most conspicuous is that of the introduced gypsy moth Lymantria dispar , which infests primarily oaks, causing severe defoliation and tree mortality. But it also has the benefit of eliminating weak individuals, and thus improving the genetic stock, as well as creating rich habitat of a type through accumulation of dead wood.

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    Because hardwoods sprout so readily, this moth is not as harmful as the hemlock woolly adelgid. Perhaps more serious is the introduced beech bark disease complex, which includes both a scale insect Cryptococcus fagisuga and fungal components. During the 19th and early 20th centuries, the Appalachian forests were subject to severe and destructive logging and land clearing, which resulted in the designation of the national forests and parks as well many state protected areas.

    However, these and a variety of other destructive activities continue, albeit in diminished forms; and thus far only a few ecologically based management practices have taken hold. Appalachian bogs are boreal ecosystems , which occur in many places in the Appalachians, particularly the Allegheny and Blue Ridge subranges.

    Animals that characterize the Appalachian forests include five species of tree squirrels. If all goes to plan, the A2A route — almost the same length as the route of the Camino de Santiago — would be completed over the course of the next five to six years. Ken Foxe. Proposed km hiking trail between Canada and the US was inspired by a moose named Alice. An ambitious plan for a hiking trail to connect two separate state parks in Canada and the United States was inspired by the meanderings of a radio-collared moose called Alice. Get inspired to travel everyday by signing up to our daily newsletter.