Sierra Nevada Vegetation

he natural vegetation of the Sierra Nevada varies dramatically with elevation and from the west side of the range to the east side.

Changes in vegetation are driven primarily by climate and precipitation, with more drought and heat adapted vegetation types in the foothills and more cold adapted types in the higher mountains.

The map below shows the major vegetation types of the Sierra Nevada. Descriptions appear below the map.

See also:

Source: Adapted from map obtained from Information Center for the Environment (ICE), UC Davis


Cities, towns and agricultural areas, mostly in the Central Valley.


On the west side of the range, non-native annual grasses; located generally at the very base of the foothills. On the east side, typically native perennial grasslands located in valleys at the eastern base of the range.


Drought adapted scrub; including chamise chaparral (Adenostema fasciculatum), mixed chaparral (including, Quercus, Ceanothus and Arctostaphlos) and montane chaparral. Primarily in the lower foothills on the western side of the range, but with montane versions ranging up to 8-9,000 ft.

Foothill Woodland

A mixed woodland, primarily of digger pine (Pinus sabiniana) and blue oak (Q. douglasii), but also including valley oak (Q. lobata). Mixes freely with chaparral. Restricted to the lower foothills on the western side of the range.

Mixed Conifer

A mixed forest of conifers and some hardwoods; including ponderosa pine (P. ponderosa), sugar pine (P. lambertiana), incense cedar (Libocedrus decurrens), Douglas fir (Pseudostuga menziesii), black oak (Q. kelloggii), madrone (Arbutus menziesii), canyon live oak (Q. chrysolepis), giant sequoia (Sequoiadendron giganteum), etc. Primarily on the western side of the range at mid-elevations, but an eastern variety, primarily of Jeffrey pine (P. jeffreyii), also occurs.


A forest dominated by species of Abies above the mixed conifer forest. At lower elevations a mixed forest of white fir (A. concolor), sugar pine and ponderosa pine; at higher elevations a forest of red fir (A. magnifica) or red fir and lodgepole pine (P. contorta).

High Elevation Pine

Dense forest to sparse stunted woodland of high elevation pine species, including lodgepole pine (P. contorta), white bark pine, (P. albicaulis), limber pine (P. flexilis), and foxtail pine (P. balfouriana). Limited to higher elevations just below the timber line.


Alpine fell fields, tundra and bare rock at the highest elevations.

Pinyon-Juniper Woodland

An open woodland of pinyon pines (P. monophylla) and western juniper (Juniperus occidentalis); primarily on the east side of the Sierra.

Joshua Tree Woodland

An open woodland of Joshua Tree (Yucca brevifolia) and desert shrubs; only at the south east base of the Sierra, near Walker Pass.

Desert Scrub

A catch-all category of desert scrub communities, including Great Basin sagebrush (Artemesia tridentata), creosote bush (Larrea), shadescale, saltbush, etc.; only along the eastern base of the range.