Central Basin

Pink cedar glade flowers and rocky patch

Where We Live - The Central Basin

We are fortunate to live in one of the most ecologically diverse states in the United States. Murfreesboro is nestled in the dead center of Tennessee in the physiographic region known as the Central Basin, and more specifically, the Inner (or Nashville) Basin. The ecology of the Inner Basin is informed by what lies beneath: The rocks below our feet that, along with environmental factors, determine the plant communities that have developed here. The plant communities, in turn, determine which wildlife species find the habitat suitable for year-round residence, breeding, overwintering, just passing through - or not at all. 

Murfreesboro itself is dotted with wetlands, riparian areas, and other mesic areas - including along the West, Middle, and East Forks of the Stones River - and numerous springs, tributaries, and underground streams. Limestone glades, large and small, are also numerous within the city limits and the surrounding area. Historically, barrens (small areas of grassland with shallow soils and few trees) and savanna (larger grasslands with scattered trees and deeper soils) predominated. Fire suppression over the past two centuries has led to woody vegetation growing up in these areas. 

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  1. Geology
  2. Vegetation
  3. Wildlife

Fossil shell in limestone rock

Murfreesboro’s Geologic Structure

Map of Tennessee's Physiographic regionsThe Central Basin is an enclosed, depression that curves down into the bare flat limestone outcroppings of the Inner Basin and is surrounded by the Highland Rim. The Outer Basin is a unique transitional area that features characteristics of both the Highland Rim and the Inner Basin, including oak-hickory forest systems and karst sinkholes and caves. Beginning in the Ordovician period, roughly 450 million years ago, lateral movements of the earth’s crust (known as orogenic movements) caused pressure to develop that gradually lifted the sedimentary rock structures into a dome and fractured the layers of shale, chert, limestone, and sandstone that had been deposited over time. The eventual erosion of the upper layer of sedimentary rocks exposed the limestone bedrock underneath, after which the soluble nature of limestone caused erosion to occur at a quicker rate. The flat exposed limestone outcroppings associated with cedar glades, the movement of water along cracks in the limestone forming caves and sinkholes, and the bedrock that is exposed along the streams and rivers of this area are all a result of these geologic events over millions of years. (Reference: The Geological History of Tennessee by Robert A. Miller)

Murfreesboro sits in the middle of it all. 

Karst Characteristics

karst windowA karst system or topography is defined by the dissolution of limestone over time by slightly acidic water that creates underground fissures, caves, sinking creeks, sinkholes, and/or springs. Under Murfreesboro is a system of moving water, caves, and other karst features that results in an interesting study of water movement, sinkhole development, and specialized flora and fauna. The movement of water through these systems is much like a plumbing system, whereby water moves through cracks and seams like pipes and is deposited into large caves or caverns. A strong, mature and intact system does a good job of mitigating flooding, filtering water, and slowing the powerful force that is fast-moving water. (Reference: MTSU’S Center for Cedar Glade Studies)

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River, reflecting the rocks and trees opposite bank, flows behind a shrub with round white flowers

Conservation begins with understanding. Understanding leads to caring. Caring leads to activism.

What truly makes Murfreesboro unique can be found at the confluence of rock, water, and plant. Everything comes together to create systems that are globally rare or endangered - and that contribute to the character and health of our community. An intact, functional, and diverse ecosystem benefits ALL of life: Clean water, clean air, food, good soil, temperature regulation - and an energy that is healing and nourishing for us all. 

Conservation in Action logo: Leaf, water drop, critter in circle, with text
Your Outdoor Murfreesboro Natural Resources team is working to care for Murfreesboro's share of these unique systems with restoration projects, defining and managing parks natural spaces, and MIPP: the Murfreesboro Indigenous Plant Project

We welcome your help! Visit our Conservation in Action page to learn how you can help restore our natural areas and become a steward of our shared spaces!