Chaumont Barrens, a very special environmental niche in Northern New York, hosts rare and beautiful plants that most people will never see. The plant community has a tenuous foothold in the cracks and low spots on ancient limestone bedrock. The Nature Conservancy protects this place. Here is what they have to say about it:
Chaumont Barrens Preserve is one of the last and finest examples of alvar grasslands in the world, and is a link in the chain of North American alvars forming an arc from Jefferson County through Ontario, and all the way to northern Michigan.Find a lot more here about alvar barrens, found in Michigan, Ohio, Ontario and New York
Alvar barrens are highly unique, prairie-like landscapes that rest atop a foundation of limestone bedrock. Scientists disagree on the reason there is so little soil on alvars—they may have been swept away during a cataclysmic drainage of glacial waters, or swallowed up by abundant fissures in the limestone.
In any case, what remains is a flat rocky terrain of grasslands, limestone woodlands, cedar forests, pavement barrens and globally rare plant communities. Alvar communities are adapted to survive extreme conditions: shallow soils, regular spring flooding, and summer drought.
This particular landscape developed after the last glacier retreated from this area some 10,000 years ago. Melt water pummeled the landscape, cutting deep fissures into the bedrock. Over time, a striking, linear pattern of vegetation – including many prairie-type plants that are rare in New York – grew on this shallow soil. The resulting vegetation mosaic includes fossilized bedrock, deep fissures, rubbly moss gardens, and patches of woods, shrub savannas, and open grasslands.
The bedrock found throughout Chaumont Barrens is about 450 million years old. Scientists say that at that time, Chaumont was at the bottom of a shallow tropical sea near the equator.
If you look closely, you can find the remains of primitive marine animals, such as cephalopods, that lived in the ocean. These creatures were the top predator of the marine food chain and are related to the modern day squid and octopus.