Ruffner Mountain Nature Preserve is a haven for nature in the city. And although it was nearly destroyed during the industrial days, even biologists are surprised by what plants and animals turn up there.
In fact, Ruffner is biologically very diverse, partly due to its varied geology. The fact that so many kinds of rocks can be found near the surface – there’s limestone, hematite, shale, sandstone and chert – creates many different ecosystems. And the range in topography also helps create more variety.
For example, there are at least four kinds of forests in the preserve. Even the casual hiker can see the them change from lush, moist forests on the shaded northwest slopes to dry mixed hardwood and pine forests on the southeast slopes. Although the forests aren’t ancient – they’ve grown back since the mining days – they already house a huge number of plants and animals, including stately Tulip-poplars (Liriodendron tulipifera), tall Post and White Oaks (Quercus stellata and Q. alba), breeding Kentucky Warblers (Oporornis agilis) and Scarlet Tanagers (Piranga olivacea).
The other ecoystems at Ruffner also owe their existence to the rocks below, especially the sinks, crevices and caves in the limestone that makes up much of the mountain’s foundation. Over time, rainwater has sculpted caves into the limestone, creating needed habitat for underground animals such as the Cave Salamander (Eurycea lucifuga), a bright orange amphibian with black spots that hunts insects in the mountain’s caves and crevices.
R Scot Duncan