Vegetation Communities

An elevation map of Yellowstone showing major rivers and lakes and vegetation communities
There are several vegetation communities in Yellowstone: higher- and lower-elevation forests and the understory vegetation associated with them, sagebrush-steppe, wetlands, and hydrothermal.

NPS/Yellowstone Spatial Analysis Center


Map Key

Green: Lodgepole pine forests

  • Dominate more than 80% of the total forested area.
  • Can be seral (developing) or climax.
  • Climax forests underlain by rhyolite.

Pink: Spruce-fir forests

  • Engelmann spruce/subalpine fir dominate older forests.
  • Usually found on moist and/or fertile substrates.
  • Climax forests underlain by andesitic soils.

Yellow: Whitebark pine forests

  • Major overstory component above 8,400 feet.
  • Major understory component of lodgepole-dominated forests from 7,000 to 8,400 feet.
  • Seeds are ecologically important food for a variety of wildlife species.

Purple: Douglas-fir forests

  • Associated with the Lamar, Yellowstone, and Madison River drainages below 7,600 feet.
  • Often less than 20 inches annual precipitation.
  • More frequent historic fire interval (25­­–60 year) than other forest communities in the park.

White: Non-forest

  • Includes grasslands, sagebrush, alpine meadows, talus, and hydrothermal environments.
  • Encompasses the moisture spectrum from dry sagebrush shrublands to wet alpine meadows.
  • Provides the winter and summer forage base for ungulates.

Other communities not shown on map

  • Aspen—found in small clones interspersed among the sagebrush/forest ecotone (transition zone) along the Yellowstone, Madison, and Snake river drainages.
  • Wetland—includes various grass, forb, rush, sedge, and woody species.
  • Riparian—typically streamside vegetation includes cottonwoods, willows, and various deciduous shrubs.

Last updated: October 4, 2016

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