Trees and Shrubs

a reddish volcanic crater with sagebrush and pine trees growing along the rim and slopes
Limber pines and sagebrush near the Tree Molds Trail.

NPS Photo / Lauren Reid

The dominant trees at Craters of the Moon are limber pines and junipers. Rocky Mountain juniper grows among limber pines at elevations below 5,500 feet and become the dominant tree on the lava flows below 5,000 feet. Some Utah juniper grows in the lower elevations as well. Substantial groves of limber pine trees occur in the northern areas of the park.

Limber pines provide important cover and food for wildlife. The large pinenut seeds of limber pines have a high energy content and provide a critical food source for rodents and birds. Clark's nutcrackers are major dispersers of seeds, storing groups of seeds in the ground, which are sometimes raided by rodents. Limber pines are more abundant on a'a than pahoehoe flows, but are able to grow where water collects; especially where the trees are protected from the fierce high desert winds.

A few other species of trees are also found here, but in very limited numbers and geographical areas. The northern part of the monument contains some Douglas-fir and quaking aspen stands. Douglas-fir forests are found on the relatively steep, north-facing slopes of older cinder cones and along Little Cottonwood Creek. Quaking aspen groves are found in upland sites away from permanent streams.

Numerous shrubs thrive at Craters of the Moon. Examples include fernbush and syringa. In order to resist being robbed of moisture by wind, fernbush grows inside deep crevices in the lava. It has aromatic leaves that resemble the fronds of ferns and that contain an oily substance which also helps the plants retain moisture. The leaves have been used to repel insects. Deep crevices in the lava flows also provide the soil, moisture, and cooler temperatures needed for syringa, to grow. This medium-sized shrub bears numerous large white flowers with four petals. It is very fragrant and is the state flower of Idaho. Other common shrubs include sagebrush, antelope bitterbrush, and rubber rabbitbrush.

The dominant species of sagebrush at Craters of the Moon is mountain big sagebrush, which is part of a sagebrush steppe ecosystem that includes different types of grasses. Basin big sagebrush, three-tip sagebrush, early low sagebrush, and low sagebrush are also found here. Antelope bitterbrush provides browse for mule deer during the summer months, is a frequent host of thousands of tent caterpillars, and is identifiable by abundant yellow flowers and small, three-lobed leaves. Rubber rabbitbrush grows up to 6.5 feet high and produces yellowish-green flowers from June to September.


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Last updated: November 18, 2023

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Mailing Address:

Craters of the Moon National Monument and Preserve
1266 Craters Loop Road
P.O. Box 29

Arco, ID 83213


208 527-1300

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