Peter Weisberg


Tamarisk is arguably one of the nation's top ten nefarious weeds, and Nevada is unlucky enough to have more than its fair share of it. This shrub or small tree exerts many negative effects on ecosystems and human resources, including decreased native plant and animal diversity, an accumulation of salt in soils, increased water loss, narrowing and incision of river channels, and increased fire risk. Tamarisk is a halophyte, a plant species that is able to grow under extremely salty (saline) conditions, hence its alternative common name, saltcedar.

Singleleaf Pinyon

Singleleaf pinyon (Pinus monophylla) dominates much of Nevada's pinyon-juniper woodlands and was Nevada's state tree until it was replaced by the Great Basin bristlecone pine, which is not as widely represented geographically nor as important with respect to prehistoric and historic human use.

Salt Desert Vegetation of Nevada

Nevada's numerous mountain ranges are separated by broad valleys that at first glance appear inhospitable to life. However, surprisingly diverse desert scrub communities have adapted to this harsh environment and are an important food source for localized herbivore populations.

Pinyon-juniper Woodlands

Pinyon-juniper woodlands comprise one of Nevada's most extensive vegetation types, occupying 14,178 square miles, or approximately thirteen percent, of the state's land area. From Nevada's main highways, these woodlands appear as tree-covered hill slopes on distant mountain ranges.

Nevada Vegetation Overview

Nevada's unique geography and rugged topography have given rise to a diversity of vegetation types. Great Basin vegetation occupies the northern part of the state, a region of high, sagebrush-dominated valleys and numerous mountain ranges. Mojave Desert vegetation dominates the southern part, with the boundary between these two main ecological zones occurring roughly between Goldfield and Beatty.

Mountain Shrub Communities

Most mountain ranges of the northern hemisphere grade in elevation from one forest type to another in a steady progression from less cold-hardy to more cold-hardy trees, eventually giving way to alpine tundra where trees can no longer survive the extremely cold temperatures. The Great Basin mountain ranges of Nevada provide a notable exception to this rule. In most of these ranges there is no continuous forest zone above the pinyon-juniper woodland.

Utah Juniper

Utah juniper (Juniperus osteosperma) occurs in every county of the state, and it covers more acreage in Nevada than any other tree. It is extremely adaptable, occurring in low valleys as well as in high-elevation mountain shrub communities, ranging in elevation from 2000 to 8000 feet. Utah juniper is distributed over at least 200 mountain ranges and is absent only in the northernmost mountain ranges of the state.

Great Basin Bristlecone Pine

The Great Basin bristlecone pine (Pinus longaeva,) Nevada's state tree, includes the oldest living trees in the world (maximum recorded age of 4,844 years.) This species is characteristic of the subalpine zone in some Great Basin mountain ranges where it is the dominant tree species along with limber pine (Pinus flexilis). Present in many of the high ranges of Eastern Nevada, it is absent from most of Central Nevada west of the Monitor Range and from the northern ranges.

Great Basin Alpine Vegetation

Alpine tundra is broadly defined as the zone of low-growing herbaceous or shrubby plants found above the tree line (the uppermost elevation where trees occur). This definition is inadequate for the Great Basin, where subalpine forest is not always present to form a tree line. A more apt definition of alpine tundra in Nevada is the zone above the upper limit of sagebrush-dominated shrublands. Although many of Nevada's mountains rise above the upper limit of trees, most of these are covered in mountain brush or a sparse cover of low sagebrush.


Overgrazing in the nineteenth century set the stage for the invasion of the exotic grass species, cheatgrass (Bromus tectorum). Native to the Eurasian steppe, cheatgrass has become the dominant vegetation across much of the Intermountain West. This highly flammable species is able to displace native sagebrush-grassland vegetation through facilitation of frequent fires. The relationship between fire and cheatgrass is apparent when driving along Nevada's highways during summer.


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