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Scientific Name: California Coastal Redwood Forest
Unique Identifier: CES206.921
Classification Confidence: 2 - Moderate

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Summary: This system occurs from the Klamath Mountains south to Monterey Bay, California. The coastal redwood forest generally can be found in areas of within the fog belt. In the northern portion, it occurs on upland slopes and in riparian zones and on riverine terraces that are flooded approximately every 50-100 years. In the southern portion of the range, annual precipitation may be as little as 500 mm, and the system is limited to coves and ravines. It is commonly found on moderately well-drained marine sediments (non-metamorphosed siltstones, sandstones, etc.). This system forms the tallest forests in North America, with individuals reaching 100 m high (tallest being 106-110 m [350-360 feet]). Typically, mature stands of Sequoia sempervirens produce a deep shade, so understories can be limited, but coarse woody debris from past disturbance can be quite large. Pseudotsuga menziesii is the common associate among the large trees. Tsuga heterophylla is found in old-growth stands in northern sections, and Notholithocarpus densiflorus occurs as a subcanopy in almost all stands (possibly as a result of fire suppression). Sequoia sempervirens mixes with Arbutus menziesii, Notholithocarpus densiflorus, Pseudotsuga menziesii and Umbellularia californica. The moist, coastal Chamaecyparis lawsoniana stands from southwestern Oregon and northwestern California, often mixed with Sequoia sempervirens, Pseudotsuga menziesii, or Tsuga heterophylla, are included in this system, as ecologically they function in the same way and have a similar overall floristic composition. Shade-tolerant understory species include Rubus parviflorus, Oxalis oregana, Aralia californica, Mahonia nervosa, Gaultheria shallon, and many ferns, such as Blechnum spicant, Polystichum spp., and Polypodium spp. Historically, surface fires likely exposed mineral soil for redwood seed germination. Less frequent disturbance can result in increases in Tsuga heterophylla in northern occurrences, as it is sensitive to fire and is a decreaser with fire and flood. Fire suppression has tended to result in increasing abundance of Notholithocarpus densiflorus, Umbellularia californica, Alnus rubra, Arbutus menziesii, and Acer macrophyllum; all respond favorably to fire, flood, wind and slides, becoming more abundant in areas of frequent disturbance.

Classification Approach: International Terrestrial Ecological Systems Classification (ITESC)

Classification Comments: Stands dominated or codominated with Chamaecyparis lawsoniana that are within 25 km (15 miles) of the coast are part of either California Coastal Redwood Forest (CES206.921) (extreme southern Oregon and northern California) or North Pacific Seasonal Sitka Spruce Forest (CES204.841) (central and northern coastal Oregon). Stands in these areas may or may not have redwood or Sitka spruce present. Stands away for the coast and not on serpentine soils are considered part of North Pacific Maritime Mesic-Wet Douglas-Fir-Western Hemlock Forest (CES204.002).

Component Associations
Association Unique ID Association Name
CEGL000041 Abies lowiana - Chamaecyparis lawsoniana - Pseudotsuga menziesii / (Mahonia nervosa) / Achlys triphylla Forest
CEGL000045 Chamaecyparis lawsoniana - Tsuga heterophylla / Gaultheria shallon - Rhododendron macrophyllum Forest
CEGL000046 Chamaecyparis lawsoniana - Tsuga heterophylla / Polystichum munitum Forest
CEGL000048 Chamaecyparis lawsoniana / Vaccinium ovatum Forest
CEGL000053 Abies grandis - Picea sitchensis / Gaultheria shallon / Polystichum munitum Forest
CEGL000082 Pseudotsuga menziesii - Sequoia sempervirens / Rhododendron macrophyllum / Vaccinium ovatum Forest
CEGL003172 Sequoia sempervirens / Notholithocarpus densiflorus / Vaccinium ovatum Forest
CEGL003173 Sequoia sempervirens - Pseudotsuga menziesii Forest


Land Cover Class: Forest and Woodland
Spatial Pattern: Large patch
Natural/Seminatural: No
Vegetated ( > 10% vascular cover):
Upland: Yes
Wetland: No
Isolated Wetland: No

Diagnostic Classifiers
Primary Classifier Secondary Classifier
Forest and Woodland (Treed)  
Toeslope/Valley Bottom  
Mediterranean Mediterranean Pluviseasonal-Oceanic
Intermediate Disturbance Interval  
F-Patch/Low Intensity  
Needle-Leaved Tree  
Sequoia sempervirens  
Long (>500 yrs) Persistence  

Non-diagnostic Classifiers
Primary Classifier Secondary Classifier
Montane Lower Montane
Lowland Foothill
Lowland Lowland
Marine Sedimentary  

At-Risk Species Reported for this Ecological System
Scientific Name
  (Common Name)
NatureServe Global Status U.S. Endangered Species Act Status
Lilium occidentale
  (Western Lily)
G1G2 LE: Listed endangered
Micranthes hitchcockiana
  (Saddle Mountain Saxifrage)
Phacelia argentea
  (Silvery Phacelia)
Strix occidentalis
  (Spotted Owl)

Vegetation Composition (incomplete)
Species Name Rounded Global Status Growth Form Stratum Char-
Domi-nant Con-stant
Cover Class %
Pseudotsuga menziesii G5 Needle-leaved tree Tree canopy    
Sequoia sempervirens G4 Needle-leaved tree Tree canopy    
Tsuga heterophylla G5 Needle-leaved tree Tree canopy    
Lithocarpus densiflorus G4 Broad-leaved evergreen shrub Shrub/sapling (tall & short)    

Animal Species Reported for this Ecological System
Scientific Name
  (Common Name)
Global Status U.S. Endangered Species Act Status Charact-
Aneides flavipunctatus
  (Speckled Black Salamander)
Aneides vagrans
  (Wandering Salamander)
Batrachoseps attenuatus
  (California Slender Salamander)
Neotoma fuscipes
  (Dusky-footed Woodrat)
Poecile rufescens
  (Chestnut-backed Chickadee)
Strix occidentalis
  (Spotted Owl)

Color legend for Distribution Map
Nation: United States
United States Distribution: CA
Global Range: This system occurs from the Klamath Mountains south to Monterey Bay, California.

Biogeographic Divisions
Division Code and Name Primary Occurrence Status
206-Mediterranean California C: Confident or certain

The Nature Conservancy's Conservation Ecoregions
Code Name Occurrence Status
14 California North Coast Confident or certain
15 California Central Coast Confident or certain

MRLC 2000 Mapzones
Code Name Occurrence Status
2 Oregon Coastal Range Confident or certain
3 Northern California Coastal Range Confident or certain
4 Southern California Coastal Range Confident or certain

National Mapping
ESLF Code (Ecological System Lifeform): 4202
ESP Code (Environmental Site Potential): 1015
EVT Code (Existing Vegetation Type): 2015

West Landfire Legend: Yes
East Landfire Legend: No

Element Description Edition Date: 14Jan2014
Element Description Author(s): P. Comer, T. Keeler-Wolf, M.S. Reid and G. Kittel

Ecological data developed by NatureServe and its network of natural heritage programs (see Local Programs) and other contributors and cooperators (see Sources).

  • Barbour, M. G., and J. Major, editors. 1988. Terrestrial vegetation of California: New expanded edition. California Native Plant Society, Special Publication 9, Sacramento. 1030 pp.

  • Barbour, M. G., and W. D. Billings, editors. 2000. North American terrestrial vegetation. Second edition. Cambridge University Press, New York. 434 pp.

  • CNRA [California Natural Resources Agency]. 2009. Protocols for surveying and evaluating impacts to special status native plant populations and natural communities. California Natural Resources Agency, California Department of Fish and Game, Sacramento. []

  • Comer, P., D. Faber-Langendoen, R. Evans, S. Gawler, C. Josse, G. Kittel, S. Menard, C. Nordman, M. Pyne, M. Reid, M. Russo, K. Schulz, K. Snow, J. Teague, and R. White. 2003-present. Ecological systems of the United States: A working classification of U.S. terrestrial systems. NatureServe, Arlington, VA.

  • Eyre, F. H., editor. 1980. Forest cover types of the United States and Canada. Society of American Foresters, Washington, DC. 148 pp.

  • Faber-Langendoen, D., G. Kudray, C. Nordman, L. Sneddon, L. Vance, E. Byers, J. Rocchio, S. Gawler, G. Kittel, S. Menard, P. Comer, E. Muldavin, M. Schafale, T. Foti, C. Josse, and J. Christy. 2008b. Ecological performance standards for wetland mitigation: An approach based on ecological integrity assessments. NatureServe, Arlington, VA. plus appendices.

  • Holland, V. L., and D. J. Keil. 1995. California vegetation. Kendall/Hunt Publishing Company, Dubuque, IA. 516 pp.

  • Keeler-Wolf, T. Personal communication. Senior Vegetation Ecologist, Wildlife and Habitat Data Analysis Branch, California Department of Fish and Game, Sacramento, CA.

  • LANDFIRE [Landfire National Vegetation Dynamics Database]. 2007a. Landfire National Vegetation Dynamics Models. Landfire Project, USDA Forest Service, U.S. Department of Interior. (January - last update) [] (accessed 8 February 2007).

  • PRBO Conservation Science. 2011. Projected effects of climate change in California: Ecoregional summaries emphasizing consequences for wildlife. Version 1.0. PRBO Conservation Science, Petaluma, CA. []

  • Save the Redwoods League. 2013. Past, present and future of redwoods: A redwood ecology and climate symposium. []

  • Sawyer, J. O. 2007. Forests of northwestern California. Pages 253-295 in: M. G. Barbour, T. Keeler-Wolf, and A. Schoenherr, editors. Terrestrial vegetation of California, third edition. University of California Press, Berkeley, CA.

  • Sawyer, J. O., T. Keeler-Wolf, and J. Evens. 2009. A manual of California vegetation. Second edition. California Native Plant Society, Sacramento CA. 1300 pp.

  • Sawyer, J. O., and T. Keeler-Wolf. 1995. A manual of California vegetation. California Native Plant Society, Sacramento. 471 pp.

  • Sillett, S. C., and M. G. Bailey. 2003. Effects of tree crown structure on biomass of the epiphytic fern Polypodium scouleri (Polypodiaceae) in redwood forests. American Journal of Botany 90:255-261.

  • Sillett, S. C., and R. Van Pelt. 2000. A redwood tree whose crown is a forest canopy. Northwest Science 74:34-43.

  • WNHP [Washington Natural Heritage Program]. 2011. Ecological integrity assessments for the ecological systems of Washington. Version: 2.22.2011. Washington Natural Heritage Program, Department of Natural Resources, Olympia. [] (accessed September 9, 2013).

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Data last updated: March 2019