A range of habitats contributes to the abundance and variety of flora in the park. River margins, flood plains, rolling uplands and ravines are home to an unusual mixture of trees, shrubs and herbaceous plants. More than 420 species of plants have been recorded here.
Travel through a pine forest similar to those in the Sandhills region and continue the journey into an adjacent oak/hickory forest more often associated with the Piedmont. Enjoy a nearby cypress swamp and see cypress and live oaks, characteristic of the coastal plain, that are growing down-slope from galax, red oaks and Virginia pines, more typical of mountain habitats farther west.
The presence of Spanish moss also demonstrates the biological diversity of the park. Though common in the eastern parts of the state, Spanish moss reaches the western limits of its distribution at Cliffs of the Neuse. Draped in clusters from the limbs of cypress, oaks and other trees, it grows in moist areas along the river and creeks. Not really a moss but a rootless flowering plant in the pineapple family, Spanish moss obtains nutrients directly from the air.
Like the plant communities, animal life in the park is abundant and diverse. Observe opossums, raccoons, foxes and squirrels in the campground and along hiking trails. Spot river otter and muskrat swimming along the waterways. Reptiles and amphibians are equally at home in the wetland and aquatic habitats. Most of the snakes are nonvenomous. However, copperheads are present and visitors should use caution. Small nocturnal rodents and timid white-tailed deer are also in residence but are discrete and seldom seen.
Birds are an easy study in the park during any season and in any habitat. The northern parula nests in clumps of Spanish moss while the prothonotary warbler lives along the river. Fall and winter bring a host of migratory waterfowl to the area to join the native wood duck.