Skip to main content

red river gorge

Simple Measures Pave Way to Recovery for Rare Kentucky Plant

This post is part of the Science Tuesday feature series on the USDA blog. Check back each week as we showcase stories and news from USDA’s rich science and research portfolio.

A hike through Kentucky’s Red River Gorge is a trip that outdoor enthusiasts never forget. The adventure begins amid rugged terrain with towering sandstone cliffs that contour steep, forested slopes. Visitors discover hundreds of natural stone arches and other unique rock features that create some of the most splendid geological formations east of the Rocky Mountains. Within the beauty and solitude of the gorge resides a rare plant found nowhere else in the world.

The white-haired goldenrod occurs predominantly in the Daniel Boone National Forest, typically found growing along the base of cliffs or on ledges. In areas where the ground is undisturbed, this plant thrives in moist, sandy soil underneath rock shelters. During the fall, the plant blooms with bright yellow flowers along its upper stem. Alternating white-haired leaves line the stem from its base.

Preservation Kentucky Awards Daniel Boone National Forest for their Rock Shelter Protection Efforts

In the Red River Gorge, archaeological evidence indicates human inhabitance of rock shelters beginning at least 12,000 years ago. The artifacts found at these sites represent the daily lives of Native Americans who once lived in Kentucky. The rock shelters also include the remains of many historic period industries, such as saltpeter mining and moonshining.