Great Falls Park

Registered Location Sponsor
September, 2005 Fairfax County Potowmack Chapter


The Great Falls Park Registry Site is a National Park Service property established in 1966 on land acquired from Fairfax County, Virginia. This 800-acre park, owned by the National Park Service and managed by the George Washington Memorial Parkway, is a popular destination for outdoor activities including hiking, bird watching, bicycling, boating, and viewing nature.

VNPS recognized the Park as a Registry Site in September, 2005 at ceremony at the George Washington Memorial Parkway headquarters (See the November-December, 2005 Potowmack News)

Vegetation includes upland and floodplain forest and rare vegetation communities on bedrock terraces, exposed rocks and frequently flooded Potomac River shores. One of the largest known examples of a state rare community is the Northern Piedmont/Lower New England Basic Seepage Swamp. Twenty-seven rare, threatened, or endangered plant species in Virginia and several regionally rare plants are located here.

Learn more at the Great Falls National Park website.

Potowmack River Gorge at Great Falls National Park – Photo by National Park Service

From the July, 2008 VNPS Bulletin:

Great Falls National Park has not only the powerful 60-foot waterfall vista, but several distinct plant communities within its 800 acres including several forest communities in the uplands and bottomlands, a swamp, rocky bluffs and cliffs, bedrock terraces, and the rugged ravine at Difficult Run.

The plant communities nearer the river below Great Falls are of significant conservation concern. On flats along the rocky rim of the terrace are two rare forest communities that are scoured periodically by catastrophic floods. First is the Riverside Bedrock Terrace Pine Woodland, which is known only from the Potomac Gorge in Virginia and Maryland and the New River Gorge in West Virginia. It is dominated by the Virginia or scrub pine (Pinus virginiana) with eastern red cedar (Juniperus virginiana var. virginiana), stunted oaks, and various shrubs. Second, the Potomac River Bedrock Terrace Oak – Hickory Forest is endemic to the Potomac Gorge. Nowhere else in the world can be found this combination of post oaks (Quercus stellata), fringetrees (Chionanthus virginicus), hop trees (Ptelea trifoliata), and downy arrow-wood (Viburnum rafinesquianum) as well as characteristic grasses and sedges such as eastern needlegrass (Piptochaetium avenaceum), Bose’s panic grass (Dichanthelium boscii), Pennsylvania sedge (Carex pensylvanica), and soft panic grass (Dichanthelium laxiflorum).

On the exposed rocks in the lower portions of the bedrock terrace; the gorge rim, and the river channel shelf are two other plant communities that both rank G1 and SI. One is the Central Appalachian/Piedmont Riverside Prairie. This plant community contains prairie species such as big bluestem (Andropogon gerardii), narrowleaf mountain-mint (Pycnanthemum tenuifolium), and dense blazing-star (Liatris spicata). The wild blue indigo (Baptisia australis) and Indian-grass (Sorghastrum nutans) are two other diagnostic species of this community type.

The other community is the Potomac Gorge riverside outcrop barren, which is very xeric, exposed and frequently scoured. This community contains sparse vegetation, with a few low shrubs and herbs occupying crevices and small soil or moss mats. A dwarfed form of the fetterbush (Eeucothoe racemosa) is the most characteristic shrub. The two most numerous and characteristic herbs in this type are the little bluestem (Schizachyrium scoparium), stiff aster (Ionactis linariifolius) and the sticky goldenrod (Solidago racemosa), which is not known outside the Potomac Gorge in either Virginia or Maryland. This community type is considered globally rare and is endemic to the Potomac.

Great Falls Park is on the Potomac River in Fairfax County, Virginia.

9200 Old Dominion Dr, McLean, VA 22102


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