Cave Hill Research Natural Area

[photo:] National Forest RNA sign a boundary of the Cave Hill Research Natural Area.  Photo taken by Larry Fichter of Elizabeth Shimp by sign, Shawnee National Forest Botanist.

Cave Hill RNA contains relatively undisturbed examples of xeric upland forest, dry upland forest, dry-mesic upland forest, barrens, sandstone glades, and sandstone cliff community types. There is a cave within the RNA known as Equality Cave (or Cave Hill Cave) that is a significant example of a maze cave in the Interior Low Plateaus Physiographic Province. The cave is also significant for its terrestrial cave community and aquatic cave habitats. The Federally listed threatened Mead's Milkweed (Asclepias meadii) occurs in the area. In addition, the following five Shawnee National Forest Listed species are found in the area: chestnut oak (Quercus prinus), Carolina thistle (Cirsium carolinianum), Bradley’s spleenwort (Asplenium bradleyi), and two species of lichen, Usnea sp., and Ramalina sp.

Ecological Information

Physical and Climatic Conditions

Nearest weather station, with distance and direction from RNA:
The climatological data are from the collection station at Harrisburg, which is located 8 miles (12.9 km) west-northwest of the RNA.
Annual precipitation (type, seasonal distribution) :
Average annual precipitation is about 42 inches (106 cm), ranging from 25 to 72 inches (62.5-180 cm). Precipitation is fairly evenly distributed throughout the year with September and October being the driest months. The average annual snowfall is approximately 12 inches (30.4 cm).
Maximum and minimum temperatures:
Summer maximum temperatures reach or exceed 100ºF in 8 out of 10 summers. Winter minimum temperatures dip to 0ºF or below in 6 out of 10 winters.
Elevation ranges from 475 feet (144.8 m) at the extreme south end of the area, to 923 feet (281.3 m) at the highest point of Cave Hill.
Geology and Soils:
Cave Hill RNA is on the north slope of the Shawnee Hills, and is a landform between a cuesta and a hogback along a fault line scarp. Cave Hill itself is composed of: (1) massive, somewhat conglomeritic sandstone, (2) sandstone alternating with shale layers on the ridge crest and back slope, and (3) shale and limestone on the scarp face. The Pennsylvanian Caseyville Sandstone forms the resistant rock of the ridge crest. Soils are thin, stony and droughty. Organic content is low and the hazard of erosion severe. The Berks-Wellston complex is mapped on the upper slope of the escarpment and the Zanesville silt loam is on the gentler slopes of the northwest edge of the RNA.
Aquatic Features:
Drainage from Cave Hill RNA is into the Saline River, a tributary of the Ohio River. Although there are no lakes or rivers on the RNA, groundwater has formed the extensive network system of Equality Cave. The cave consists of three to five parallel passages with many intersecting passages. The deepest passage carries a stream.

Ecological Classification & Inventory

Interior Low Plateau, Shawnee Hills (222D)
Greater Shawnee Hills (222Dh)
Plant Communities:
post oak-black hickory-pignut hickory: dry upland forest natural community
white oak-black oak: dry mesic upland forest
post oak-red cedar/little bluestem: sandstone glade
SAF Cover Types (list acres): Kuchler Types (list acres):
40 Post oak-blackjack oak (180) 91 oak-hickory forest (465)
52 White oak-black oak-northern red oak (135)  
53 White oak (90)  
110 Black oak (60)  

View or download complete Cave Hill RNA Plant List (pdf)

Common Shrub Species:
Downy serviceberry (Amelanchier arborea), farkleberry (Vaccinium arboreum), flowering dogwood (Cornus florida), redbud (Cercis canadensis), eastern red cedar (Juniperus virginiana), oak (Quercus spp.), hickory (Carya spp.).
Common Herbaceous Species:
Little bluestem (Schizachyrium scoparium), Indian grass (Sorghastrum nutans), panic-grass (Panicum dichotomum), gray goldenrod (Solidago nemoralis), elm-leaved goldenrod (S. ulmifolia), flowering spurge (Euphorbia corollata), white prairie clover (Dalea candida), common poison ivy (Toxicodendron radicans), poverty-oats (Danthonia spicata), plantain pussytoes (Antennaria plantaginifolia), dittany (Cunila origanoides), big bluestem (Andropogon gerardii), junegrass (Koeleria pyramidata), prairie dropseed (Sporobolus heterolepsis), divaricate sunflower (Helianthus divaricatus), lacerate blazing star (Liatris aspera), Virginia lespedeza (Lespedeza virginica), eastern prickly pear (Opuntia humifusa), orange grass (Hypericum gentianoides), lichens (Parmelia spp.), mosses (Polytrichum spp).
Common Mammal Species:
White-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus), coyote (Canis latrans), gray fox (Urocyon cinereoargenteus), raccoon (Procyon lotor), Virginia opossum (Didelphis virginiana), gray squirrel (Sciurus carolinensis).
Common Bird Species:
Peregrine falcon (Falco peregrinus), American bald eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus), red-shouldered hawk (Buteo lineatus), Cooper’s hawk (Accipiter cooperii), Bewick’s wren (Thryomanes bewickii), loggerhead shrike (Lanius ludovicianus).

Related Reports and Publications

David, Robyn S. 1982.  Resource partitioning by three species of cave-dwelling salamander in southern Illinois. Master’s thesis, University of Illinois – Carbondale. 49 pp. Document on file at the Northern Research Station, Rhinelander, WI.

Grahame, A. 1996. The Vegetation of Cave Hill, Stoneface, and Whoopie Cat Mountain Research Natural Areas in the Shawnee National Forest. Master of Science Thesis. Department of Plant Biology, Southern Illinois University at Carbondale.

Grahame, A., and P. Robertson. 1994. The woody vegetation of six research natural areas (RNAs) in southern Illinois. ASB Bulletin 41(2): 214.

Hutchinson, Max D. 1987. Establishment Record for the Cave Hill Research Natural Area within the Shawnee National Forest, Saline County, Illinois. (pdf) Unpublished report on file at the Northern Research Station, Rhinelander, and the Shawnee Supervisor's office, Harrisburg, IL. 77 pages with appendices.

Nielsen, Clayton; Eric Schauber; Eric Hellgren; Angela Holland; Aaron Gooley. 2015. Cooperative Fur bearing and Nongame Mammal Investigations Study 6: Site occupancy and co-occurrence of aquatic furbearers in southern Illinois. Study 7: Cooperative Fur-bearing and Nongame Mammal Investigations – Demographics and Status of the Eastern Woodrat in Southern Illinois. Federal Aid Project W-135-R. Cooperative Wildlife Research Laboratory, Southern Illinois University. Copy on file at Northern Research Station, Rhinelander, WI. 121 pp.

Shimp, J. and P.A. Robertson. 1994. Ground layer vegetation of six Research Natural Areas (RNA’s) in Southern Illinois. ASB Bulletin 41(2): 139.

Last Modified: May 6, 2021