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Mojave River Valley Museum
Plants of the Grand Canyon
There are approximately 1,737 known species of vascular plants, 167 species of fungi, 64 species of moss and 195 species of lichen found in Grand Canyon National Park. This variety is largely due to the 8,000 foot elevation change from the river up to the highest point on the North Rim. Grand Canyon boasts a dozen endemic plants (known only within the Park's boundaries) while only ten percent of the Park's flora is exotic. Sixty-three plants found here have been given special status by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Grand Canyon National Park contains 129 vegetation communities, and the composition and distribution of plant species is influenced by climate, geomorphology and geology.
Along the Colorado River and its perennial tributaries, a riparian community exists. Coyote willow, arrowweed, seep willow, western honey mesquite, catclaw acacia, and exotic tamarisk (saltcedar) are the predominant species. Hanging gardens, seeps and springs often contain rare plants such as the white-flowering redbud tree, haploppapus and flavaria.
Above the river corridor a desert scrub community, composed of North American desert flora, thrives. Typical warm desert species such as creosote bush, white bursage, brittle brush, catclaw acacia, ocotillo, mariola, western honey mesquite, four-wing saltbush, big sagebrush, blackbrush and rubber rabbitbrush grow in this zone.
Above the desert scrub and up to 6,200 feet is a pinyon pine, Utah and one seed juniper woodland. Within this woodland one can find big sagebrush, snakeweed, Mormon tea, Utah agave, banana and narrowleaf yucca, snakeweed, winterfat, Indian ricegrass, dropseed, and needlegrass.
Ponderosa pine forests grow at elevations between 6,500 feet and 8,200 feet, on both North and South rims. Additional species such as Gambel oak, New Mexico locust, mountain mahogany, elderberry, creeping mahonia, and fescue have been identified in these forests. Above 8,200 feet, spruce-fir forests characterized by Englemann spruce, blue spruce, Douglas fir, white fir, aspen, and mountain ash, along with several species of perennial grasses, groundsels, yarrow, cinquefoil, lupines, sedges, and asters, brave the sub-alpine climate.
Montane meadows and subalpine grassland communities are rare and located only on the North Rim. Both are typified by many grass species. Some of these grasses include blue and black grama, big galleta, Indian ricegrass and three-awns. The wettest areas support sedges and forbs.
Cacti / Desert Succulents
Cacti are flowering plants with green, fleshy stems which have a waxy coat to retain water. They have spines, as opposed to leaves, and some have glochids, which are tiny barbed bristles. Grand Canyon cacti most commonly have flowers of red, purple or yellow. The majority grow in the inner canyon, although several species are found on the rim. Some of the common catus species found in the park are the California barrel, fishhook, beavertail, desert prickly pear, claretcup hedgehog, Englemann hedgehog, and whipple cholla.
Ferns differ from other vascular plants in that they reproduce with spores rather than seeds. The fossil record in Grand Canyon reveals that ferns are the oldest living plant in the park. Fossil ferns found in the Hermit Shale date back 400 million years. Two species of fern commonly found near seeps and springs along the Colorado River are the maidenhair fern and the brittle fern. The Mexican Woodsia and Oregon Woodsia ferns are more rare and grow in moist soil crevices, on ledges and among boulders.
Some of the freshwater species found along the Colorado River and its perennial tributaries include coyote willow, arrowweed, seep willow, cottonwood seedlings and exotic tamarisk. Cladophora, a filamentous green algae, is abundant in the cool, clear river water. This algae is an important food source for aquatic invertebrates such as amphipods. Hanging gardens, seeps and springs often contain rare plants such as the white-flowering redbud tree, haplopappus and flavaria. Other freshwater species such as monkeyflower, watercress, columbine, sedges, horsetail and rushes are associated with seeps and springs. Sedges are the predominant freshwater species in stock tanks and ponds on the North Rim.
Some of the native grasses found in Grand Canyon National Park include Indian ricegrass, blue and black gramma, big galleta, and side oats gramma. Cheatgrass, smooth brome, red brome and Kentucky bluegrass are non-native, introduced species that often invade disturbed sites and compete with grasses indigenous to the park.
Trees & Shrubs
Trees and shrubs can be identified by their woody stems. There are approximately 200 species of trees and shrubs in Grand Canyon National Park. Most of these are found in the higher elevations of the park, on the South and North rims. Some of the tree species include the white fir, Engleman spruce, blue spruce, Douglas fir, corkbark fir, ponderosa pine, Utah juniper, alligator juniper, Colorado pinyon, quaking aspen, Fremont cottonwood, Gambel oak, and Arizona walnut. Some of the shrub species have compound leaves and they include creeping barberry, fernbush, honey mesquite, catclaw acacia, creosote bush, boxelder, and New Mexican locust. Shrub species with simple and alternating leaves are the chokeberry, big sagebrush, seep willow, birchleaf buckthorn, netleaf hackberry, Utah serviceberry, and desert bricklebrush.
Grand Canyon Park is home to hundreds of flowering plants. There are approximately 650 herbaceous (having little or no woody stem) wildflowers in the park. Some of the common species displaying a white flower are the sacred datura, evening primrose, tidy fleabane, yarrow, baby white aster, desert tobacco, watercress, and white violet. Some common yellow flowering wildflowers are broom snakeweed, yellow ragweed, hymenopapus, groundcherry, common mullein, Hooker's primrose, and blanket flower. Red or orange flowered plants include the globe mallow, red columbine, skyrocket, penstemon, Indian paintbrush, and crimson monkeyflower. Pink and purple wildflowers include the Rocky Mountain bee plant, fleabane, Palmer lupine, toadflax penstemon, Grand Canyon phacelia, and Rocky Mountain iris.
Mojave River Valley Museum