Humboldt Redwoods State Park

Adapted from: Humboldt Redwoods State Park: The Complete Guide
By: Jerry and Gisela Rohde, 1992, Miles and Miles Books, Eureka, CA


From windy ridgetop to fertile riverbottom, from shadowed canyon to sunny hillslope, the landscapes of Humboldt Redwoods State Park are covered with a blanket of plant life. Within this vast and varied area, differences in such influences as rainfall, elevation, and temperature have created several distinct environments that each support a specific association, or community, of plants. Although botanists would offer additional sub-categories, here are five basic plant communities that the layperson can easily identify and enjoy when exploring the park.

Redwood Forest:

The largest and most magnificent stands of redwood are found on canyon bottomlands. It is here that silts, rocks, and gravels -- alluvia -- have washed down from the surrounding mountainsides and formed compact, nutrient-rich masses of soil that rise in terraces above the creeks and rivers. Atop the packed sediment, great galleries of redwoods stand in shadowy silence, the air barely penetrated by sound or light. Other trees are scarce, although a few tanoaks and California laurels occasionally grow as an understory. A sprinkling of delicate California hazels often dot the lower forest, their spreading limbs contrasting with the redwoods' massive, vertical trunks. Sword fern is a common inhabitant, while bracken fern grows in sunny openings; lady fern, giant chain fern and five-fingered fern are sometimes found in moister locations. Near ground level is a wealth of flowers: early bloomers include milkmaids, calypso orchid and trillium, which are followed later in the season by Pacific windflower, smooth yellow violet, and vanilla leaf. Redwood violet, redwood sorrel and Siberian candyflower are often noticed since they bloom throughout the spring and summer.

Mixed forest:

On less-fertile canyon bottoms and lower hillsides, the coast redwood is joined by another large, thick-trunked tree, Douglas fir; the consorting conifers are often supported by a lower level of tanoak. Upslope, madrone begins to replace the redwoods, while the tanoak increases in height. Black huckleberry usually forms the main ground cover, although salal sometimes occupies wetter areas. Compared to the redwood groves, a different combination of flowers grows in the mixed forest. Fat false Solomon's seal, Andrew's clintonia, and redwood lily bloom in partly shaded areas while three members of the heath family, pipsissewa, bog and white-veined wintergreen, prefer deep shade. Some of the heath species exist in a non-green form, deriving their nutrients parasitically from other plants.

Prairies and Wooded Uplands:

The sunny grasslands and smaller openings found on upcountry hillsides are usually covered with bracken fern and grasses, along with a variety of colorful wildflowers that may include California poppy, firecracker flower, and blue dicks. Many of the grass species are non-natives introduced by the early homesteaders, but upper Look Prairie still contains a good sampling of the original grass cover. Trees and brush spread thickly over most of the hillslopes, often forming borders of lush foliage at prairie perimeters; Oregon white oak, California black oak, canyon live oak, madrone and Douglas fir are common constituents, along with such shrubs as blue blossom, snow brush, and hairy manzanita.

Riparian, Small Creek Canyons:

Humboldt Redwoods' many narrow creek canyons are home to a host of water-loving plants. In these shaded settings, trees and ferns predominate: mountain dogwood, bigleaf maple, and vine maple overhang the rocky streambeds, while red alder rises from the edge of the water. Giant chain fern, five-fingered fern, and lady ferns are often abundant, while openings feature California spikenard and western coltsfoot.

Riparian, Riversides:

The riverbanks along the lower South Fork Eel are intermittently lined with a wall of shimmering, rustling vegetation. In these locations, the plant life climbs through a succession of reeds, bushes, and graceful trees, leading the eye towards the towering, sentinel-like redwoods that rise from the higher benchlands. Giant horsetail and scouring rush mingle with Pacific red elderberry near the gravel bars, while ascending above them are willows, Oregon ash, bigleaf maple and black cottonwood -- their leaves and limbs woven into a tapestry. The riverside scenery changes at rocky outcroppings like Eagle Point on the South Fork Eel and High Rock on the main Eel.; here the boulder-studded banks host a number of showy cliff dwellers, including paintbrush, Diogenes lantern, and California fuchsia.

There are thousands of small settings within the park where a collection of plants congregates in singular splendor. A pause at almost any point along either a road or a trail will reveal some tree, fern, shrub, or flower that contains a spark of beauty which might otherwise be overlooked.

General Information


California Native Plant Society - North Coast Chapter
P.O. Box 1067 Arcata, CA 95518-1067
Last updated February 4, 1997

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