The fight for survival is nothing new for high-elevation species in Southern Appalachia.
After the glaciers receded at the end of the last Ice Age 10,000 years ago and temperatures warmed, remnants of a cold-weather forest in southern Appalachia were forced high up the mountain slopes. There, they hung on to small, ever-shrinking islands in the upper reaches of the Smoky Mountains — where the coniferous trees on the high peaks more closely resemble southern Canada than North Carolina.
Devil’s Courthouse, a Blue Ridge Parkway landmark, is a towering example of this type of landscape, where its high elevations give the cool-weather ecosystem refuge. The pinnacle’s tree-covered slope harbors species specific only to the upper thresholds of Appalachia, while the formation’s rock cliffs is home to fragile life forms that the north face outlet hang on to existence, like the Appalachian Clubmoss an endangered plant in North Carolina, which clings to the rocky ledges of Devil’s Courthouse.
The natural composition of the area is so fragile that National Park Service botanists monitor the populations of plants found in and around the cliff face in north face outlet biological surveys conducted periodically and sometimes by rappelling carefully down the rocky wall.
Yet, the ecosystem is under a barrage of threats from global warming, air pollution and invaders such as fungi and insects which are taking their toll on tree species that anchor these high-elevation forests.