• Photo of early morning clouds hanging low in the valley with mountains of the Continental Divide stretched out above. NPS Photo/Schonlau

    Rocky Mountain

    National Park Colorado

Montane Ecosystem

The Montane Ecosystem occurs at elevations between approximately 5,600 and 9,500 feet. Dry, south-facing slopes of the Montane often have open stands of large ponderosa pines. Spacing of ponderosa pines is somewhat related to available soil moisture. Grasses, other herbs and shrubs may grow between the widely spaced trees on dry slopes. As the pines become old, their bark changes from gray-brown to cinnamon-red, and the bark releases a pleasant fragrance when warmed by the sun. The long needles of ponderosa pines are attached to the stems in groups of two's and three's.
North-facing slopes of the Montane escape some of the sun's drying action, so their soils contain more available water. As a result, the trees grow closer together and competition for sunlight produces a tall, slender growth form. The trees may be a mixture of Douglas fir, lodgepole pine, ponderosa pine and an occasional Engelmann spruce. A few shade-tolerant plants grow on the floor of the forest.
Montane soils with high moisture content may support groves of quaking aspen, whose leaves turn golden-yellow in the autumn and whose whitish bark is easy to recognize. Along streams or the shores of lakes, other water-loving small trees may be found. These include various willows, mountain alder, and water birch with dark-colored bark. In a few places, blue spruce may grow near streams and sometimes hybridize with Engelmann spruce. Flat Montane valleys may frequently have water-logged soil and be unable to support growth of evergreen forests.

Plants and Animals of the Montane Ecosystem

Ponderosa Pine Douglas Fir
Quaking Aspen Lodgepole Pine


Antelope Bitterbrush Wax Current
Kinnikinnick Big Sage
Common Juniper Rocky Mountain Juniper
Holly Grape

Herbaceous Plants:

Mountain Ball Cactus

Needle and Thread Grass


Geranium Whiskbroom Parsley
Blue Grama Pasque Flower
Gumweed Penstemon
June Grass Sedge
Mariposa Lily Spike Fescue
Miner's Candle Sulphur Flower
Dwarf Mistletoe Wallflower
Mountain Muhly Blue Columbine

Western Garder Snake

Mountain Bluebird Solitary Vireo
Western Bluebird Black-Billed Magpie
Mountain Chickadee Common Nighthawk
Red Crossbill Pygmy Nuthatch
American Crow Great Horned Owl
Golden Eagle Raven
Cassin's Finch American Robin
Northern Flicker Pine Siskin
Northern Goshawk Townsend's Solitaire
Steller's Jay Yellow-Rump Warbler
Tree Swallow Woodpecker (Downy and Hairy
Western Tanager Western Wood Pee Wee

Badger Yellow-Bellied Marmot
Black Bear Deer Mouse
Bobcat Porcupine
Chipmunk Bighorn Sheep
Nuttall's Cottontail Montane Shrew
Coyote Golden Mantle Ground Squirrel
Mule Deer Abert's Squirrel
Elk Meadow Vole
Skunk Long-Tailed Weasel
Mountain Lion Bushy-Tailed Wood Rat
Otter Moose

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