In November 1992, Grandfather Mountain was recognized by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) as an International Biosphere Reserve. There are 727 biosphere reserves in 131 countries.
Standing watch over this ecological abundance, 300-million-year-old Grandfather Mountain is both a symbol for and a protector of the region’s priceless natural history. Grandfather is unique because in less than 5,000 acres there is habitat for 16 distinct ecological communities and 72 rare or endangered species.
The purpose of UNESCO’s Man and the Biosphere program is to foster harmonious relationships between human beings and their environment. Its mission is to identify and share information on ways that man can enjoy economic prosperity without destroying the environment.
Grandfather Mountain is part of the larger Southern Appalachian Biosphere Preserve. The Southern Appalachian Mountains are a major North American biome, characterized by complex, interconnected landscapes with steep, terrain-driven biophysical gradients with an origin in Pleistocene glacial history. It contains ~80 species of amphibians and reptiles, 175 species of terrestrial birds, 65 species of mammals, 2,250 species of vascular plants and possibly as many as 25,000 species of invertebrates.
At 5,946 feet, Grandfather Mountain is the highest peak on the Blue Ridge Escarpment. Defined by sharp, rocky peaks, Grandfather Mountain supports excellent occurrences of many rare high-elevation community types and an exemplary assemblage of rare plant and animal species.
Federally Endangered plant species include spreading avens (Geum radiatum) and Roan Mountain bluet (Houstonia Montana). Federally Threatened plant species include Heller’s blazing-star (Liatris helleri) and Blue Ridge goldenrod (Solidago spithameaea). Federal Species of Concern include mountain bittercress (Cardamine clematitis), tall larkspur (Delphinium exaltatum), Carolina saxifrage (Saxifraga caroliniana), Gray’s lily (Lilium grayi) and a liverwort (Sphenolobopsis pearsonii).
Federally Endangered animal species include Virginia big-eared bat (Corynorhinus townsendii virginianus), Carolina northern flying squirrel (Glaucomys sabrinus coloratus) and spruce-fir moss spider (Michrohexura montivaga).
Federal Species of Concern animal species include eastern small-footed myotis (Myotis leibii), Appalachian cottontail (Sylvilagus obscures), Alleghany woodrat (Neotoma magister), southern water shrew (Sorex palustris punctulatus), Southern Appalachian northern saw-whet owl (Aegolius acadicus), and Southern Appalachian black-capped chickadee (Poecile atricapillus practica).
Note: A Biosphere Reserve is not land controlled by the United Nations. The Grandfather Mountain Stewardship Foundation makes its own decisions regarding the operation of its business and management of its resources without any input from the United Nations.