Plants

A lily with white petals and a fuzzy yellow center
Smokey mariposa lily

Tye Hafner

Extreme topographic differences and a striking elevation gradient (ranging from 1,360 feet (412 m) in the foothills to 14,494 feet (4,417 m) along the Sierran crest) create a rich tapestry of environments, from the hot, dry lowlands along the western boundary to the stark and snow-covered alpine high country.

This topographic diversity in turn supports over 1,200 species (and more than 1,550 taxa, including subspecies and varieties) of vascular plants, which make up dozens of unique plant communities. These include not only the renowned groves of massive giant sequoia, but also vast tracts of montane forests, spectacular alpine habitats, and oak woodlands and chaparral.

The richness of the Sierran flora mirrors that of the state as a whole--of the nearly 6,000 species of vascular plants known to occur in California, over 20% of them can be found within Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks.

 
Sierra Nevada elevation gradient showing corresponding vegetation zones.
Graphic representation of Sierra Nevada vegetation zones from the oak woodlands and chaparral shrubland in the low-elevation foothills, to mid-elevation montane forests, subalpine forests that extend to the upper limit of tree growth, and the alpine zone that includes perennial herbs and shrubs.

Illustration by Justin Hofman and Meryl Goldin Rose

Vegetation Zones

While the parks' vegetation is diverse and complex, it can be categorized broadly into the following zones:
  • Foothills (includes oak woodland and chaparral shrubland)
  • Montane Forests (lower to mid-elevation conifer forests)
  • Subalpine (forest that extends to the limit of tree growth - treeline)
  • Alpine (perennial plants that grow at the highest elevations)
Vegetation changes dramatically along a west-east elevation gradient from the lowest elevation oak woodlands up to ancient foxtail pines, stunted whitebark pine, and alpine perennial herbs at the highest elevations. Visit the links below to learn more about these vegetation zones.
 
Foothills vegetation includes oak woodlands and chaparral shrublands.

Foothills Vegetation

The foothills oak woodlands and chaparral shrublands are habitat for a variety of plants and animals. Visit in spring to see wildflowers.

Ponderosa pine are at the lower range of the montane forest.

Montane Forest

Ponderosa pine are at the lower range of the montane forest and benefit from periodic fire. Giant sequoias also grow in montane forests.

Whitebark pine is characteristic of the Sierra subalpine forests.

Subalpine Forest

Whitebark pines are characteristic of the Sierra subalpine forests. Learn more about these and other treeline pines. Photo by Peggy Moore.

This showy sky pilot plant grows in rocky areas above 11,000 feet in the southern Sierra

Alpine

This showy sky pilot plant grows in rocky areas above 11,000 feet. Alpine plants must be tough to endure cold temperatures, wind, and snow.

 
Many plants or types of vegetation occur across a range of elevation zones. Learn more about wetlands, invasive non-native plants, and plants of conservation concern and how park managers inventory, monitor, and manage them.
 
Wetland in Kings Canyon National Park

Wetlands

Learn more about why wetlands and meadows are so important.

Bright yellow flowers

Invasive Non-native Plants

Non-native plants crowd out natives, changing habitats. Find out what we're doing to reduce impacts.

A clump of mosses

Plants of Conservation Concern

We're working to learn more about plants in these parks that are rare, at the edge of their range, or have a limited distribution.

Last updated: October 3, 2017

Contact the Park

Mailing Address:

47050 Generals Highway
Three Rivers, CA 93271

Phone:

(559) 565-3341

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