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Celebrating and conserving the ecological richness of California's grasslands

California's Major Grassland Types

Valley & South Coastal Grasslands

Includes upland herbaceous vegetation in California’s Central Valley extending upslope to 700 or more meters in elevation in the foothills to the coast south of Santa Barbara. Predominately introduced annual species with less than 1% of the pre-European contact native grassland remaining.

North Coastal Grasslands

Occurs in areas influenced by the more moderate coastal conditions from San Luis Obispo County to Oregon.

Serpentine Grasslands

Similar to Valley Grassland, but on serpentine outcrops and soils.

Cold Desert Grasslands

Grasslands along the east side of the Sierra-Cascade Ranges with high elevations and a cold, dry climate.

Warm Desert Grasslands

The grasslands that lie between the Valley Grasslands and the Cold Desert Grasslands. Warm Desert Grasslands are often dotted with shrubs.

Source: Keeler-Wolf T, JM Evens, Solomeshch AI, Holland VL, Barbour MG. 2007. Community Classification andNomenclature. Pages 21-36 in California Grasslands: Ecology and Management. Stromberg MR, Corbin JD, D'Antonio, CM, Editors. University of California Press. 

Classification by Vegetation Alliance

CNPS Manual of California Vegetation classifies grasslands in a more descriptive fine-scaled fashion by categorizing the different species assemblages  or "associations" by grouping them  into "alliances.” Alliances are composed of associations found in repeating patterns across the landscape and named for one or more species that are either most dominant or most often present. Below are some examples of grassland alliances and the habitat description of where they are most often found. Follow the links to learn more or search in the Manual of California Vegetation Online

The alliances below are listed more or less by geographic extent in the state beginning with the most widespread. This is only a sampling of the many alliances. 

Needle grass - melic grass grassland /  Nassella [Stipa] spp. – Melica spp. Herbaceous Alliance

    Habitats: All topographic locations. 

Wild oats grasslands / Avena(barbata, fatua) [non-native] Herbaceous Semi-Natural Alliance 

     Habitats: [fields], rangelands, openings in woodlands

California goldfields - dwarf plantain - small fescue flower fields / Lasthenia californica - Plantago erecta - Vulpia microstachys Herbaceous Alliance

     Habitats: Ridges and slopes at all aspects. Soils are shallow loams and clays, especially on volcanic and serpentine substrates

Tufted hair grass meadows/ Deschampsia cespitosa Herbaceous Alliance 

    Habitats: Coastal bluffs, terraces, sand dunes and seasonally flooded areas of moderate salinity; montane to alpine wet meadows.

California oat grass prairie / Danthonia californica Herbaceous alliance 

     Habitats: Coastal bluffs, valley bottoms, floodplains, terraces, slopes, ridge tops


Idaho fescue grassland / Festuca idahoensis Herbaceous Alliance 

     Habitats: Many landforms, aspects, and soil types.

Blue wild rye montane meadows / Elymus glaucus Montane Herbaceous Alliance

     Habitats: Foothill and montane meadow edges, forest openings, and elevated flats. Soils may be intermittently flooded and have water tables that drop well below the surface during the growing season. 

White-tip clover swales / Trifolium variegatum Herbaceous Alliance

     Habitats: Vernally moist edges of pools, swales, and seeps. Soils are sandy to clay or clay loam, generally fine grained.

Desert needlegrass grassland / Achnatherum speciosum Herbaceous Alliance 

     Habitats: Lower slopes, swales, rocky hills, flat ridges, talus slopes, and , and in canyons, and on sandy or gravelly alluvial fans. Soils are coarse- textured with no profile development.


Source:

CNPS. [2019]. A Manual of California Vegetation, Online Edition. http://www.cnps.org/cnps/vegetation/; searched on [Day, Month, Year]. California Native Plant Society, Sacramento, CA.


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