Special Places

Mokelumne Wilderness Plant Life

The Mokelumne's uniquely varied vegetation is due to its span in elevation from 3,960 ft. - 10,380 ft; its rugged terrain; its variety of soil types; and its location at the junction of the northern sierra, southern sierra, and eastern sierra botanic provinces. Because of the remoteness, and ruggedness many outstanding examples of old growth virgin forest are present at all elevations.

From the shade of a pine, an example of Mokelumne Wilderness' diverse landscape includes conifer stands and a large clearing full of wildflowers and granite boulders.  Photography by Amy L. Reid.

Trees - The lower elevation plant communities include mixed conifers and chaparral, canyon live oak, and some black oak. Between 5,000 ft. and 8,000 ft., depending on slope and aspect, ponderosa pine transitions to Jeffrey pine, sugar pine transitions to western white pine, and white fir transitions to red fir. Mountain hemlock, lodgepole pine, and western "sierra" juniper become common around 7,000 ft. The elevations above 8,000 ft. become progressively more alpine in nature; plants in this region are influenced by extreme exposure to wind, sun, and cold. White bark pine, sub alpine fir, and western juniper are common tree species, with western white pine, mountain hemlock, and lodgepole pine found in sheltered areas.

Riparian zones are lush with willows and ferns, the occasional grove of quaking aspen, dwarf maple and alder. There are many wet meadows throughout the wilderness, each unique due to the differences in elevation, exposure, soil composition and soil depth, resulting in a wide diversity of annual and perennial plant life. A variety of wildflower species, sedges, and grasses inhabit these fragile wet areas.

Red blooming Indian Paintbrush and lavendar blooming Meadow Aster grow along the trail to Lake Winnemucca from Woods Lake.  Various wildflower blooms cover the hillside into the distance.  Photography by Amy L. Reid. Wildflowers - As soon as the snow begins to melt, flower watchers will find themselves following spring up the mountain. The lower elevations and south facing exposures will typically begin to warm up by May, with spring arriving in the highest elevations by mid July. The glacially carved landscape provides a wide variety of habitats. This results in a splendid diversity of flowering plants ; yellow monkey flower, columbine and tiger lily along streamsides, pinedrops and snowplant in the deep shade of the forest canopy, mountain pride penstemon and sierra primrose in rocky crags, and blue flag iris, lupine and gentian - corn lily in the meadow areas. Please avoid unnecessarily trampling the vegetation or picking wildflowers. Those who will follow you thank you.

Plant Communities - There are three major plant communities found in the Carson Pass / Round Top area alone. Sagebrush scrub grows on residual coarse textured soils found on volcanic ridges. The sub - alpine forest prefers deeper, coarse textured rocky soils. The arctic - alpine fell fields dwell on wetter rock or shallow coarse soils associated with moist rock outcrops.

Unique Remnants - The Mokelumne wilderness is at the northern limit of distribution for many alpine plants commonly found 100 to 200 miles south of here in the high sierra. Many other species reach their southern limit here. East Side sagebrush country as well as an alpine community of Great Basin plants were uplifted with the mountain range and separated from their ancestral communities in the deserts to the east. Because of the uniqueness and diversity of plant life, the Mokelumne Wilderness has several designated special interest areas.