New York Natural Heritage Program
Open Alpine Community

General Description [-]
Characteristic species of the grass and sedge dominated areas include deer's hair sedge (Scirpus cespitosus), Bigelow's sedge (Carex bigelowii), bluejoint grass (Calamagrostis canadensis), alpine sweetgrass (Hierochloe alpina), common hairgrass (Deschampsia flexuosa), mountain woodrush (Luzula parviflora), arctic rush (Juncus trifidus), three-toothed cinquefoil (Potentilla tridentata), bunchberry (Cornus canadensis), mountain sandwort (Minuartia groenlandica), and dwarf rattlesnake-root (Prenanthes nana).

Characteristic species of the low shrubland areas are bog bilberry (Vaccinium uliginosum), leatherleaf (Chamaedaphne calyculata), Labrador tea (Rhododendron groenlandicum), dwarf birch (Betula glandulosa), black crowberry (Empetrum nigrum), lapland rosebay (Rhododendron lapponicum), diapensia (Diapensia lapponica), and bearberry willow (Salix uva-ursi). On a few mountains there are distinctive patches of low shrublands consisting of dwarf birches including Betula glandulosa, B. minor, and stunted B. cordifolia.

Characteristic species of the small boggy depressions include the peat mosses Sphagnum nemoreum and S. fuscum, cottongrass (Eriophorum vaginatum var. spissum), bog laurel (Kalmia polifolia), and small cranberry (Vaccinium oxycoccos). Larger examples are recognized as "alpine bogs" in other northeast state classifications (Sperduto and Cogbill 1999, Sperduto 2000, Thompson and Sorenson 2000). Rock outcrops that are relatively undisturbed by trampling are covered with arctic-alpine lichens such as map lichen (Rhizocarpon geographicum) and may have scattered cushions of diapensia.

Characteristic birds include dark-eyed junco (Junco hyemalis) and white-throated sparrow (Zonotrichia albicollis).

This community is very sensitive to trampling because of the thin, often saturated soils and the very slow growth rate of the vegetation in the stressful alpine environment. Every effort should be made to minimize off-trail trampling by the many hikers who climb to the open alpine communities in the High Peaks.

Characters Most Useful for Identification [-]
The open alpine community is similar to arctic tundra. It occurs above timberline (about 4900 ft or 1620 m) on the higher mountain summits and also on some exposed ledges of the Adirondacks. This community consists of a mosaic of small grassy meadows, dwarf shrublands, small boggy depressions, and exposed bedrock covered with lichens and mosses. The flora includes arctic-alpine species that are restricted (in New York) to the open alpine community, as well as boreal species that occur in forests and bogs at lower elevations. The soils are thin and organic, primarily composed of sphagnum peat or black muck. The soils are often saturated because they can be recharged by atmospheric moisture.

Elevation Range [-]
Known examples of this community have been found at elevations between 3314 feet and 5331 feet.
Open Alpine Community Images
click to enlarge
The Best Time to See
Early summer is a good time to catch alpine flowers such as diapensia and three-toothed cinquefoil in bloom.