Winter Plants of the Sierra

There are more than 3,500 species of plants native to the Sierra Nevada Mountains ecosystems. Among them are hundreds of rare species and species growing only in the Sierra Nevada. A biome is a distinctive complex of plant communities created and maintained by climate. The Sierra Nevada Mountains have chaparral, sub-Alpine forest, and Alpine meadow biomes. There are plants distinct to each of these climate regions. Many perennial plants lie dormant in winter and begin to grow with spring's warmth.


Ceanothus is sometimes called California Lilac and is native to North America. It is an evergreen shrub or small tree that adapts to cold by becoming deciduous. Ceanothus blooms white, blue or pale pinkish-purple in small clusters that cover the bush in spring. Its fragrance is intensely sweet. Ceanothus was used as a medicine for lymph disorders and tonsillitis by California Indian tribes.


This tree grows in the 7,000-foot elevation of the Sierra Nevada Mountains and is evergreen in winter. It grows to 120 feet and has gray bark with a twisted appearance. Juniper berries are small, hard and purple and are a valuable winter food for several bird species.


The common sagebrush goes by many names such as mountain sagebrush, big sagebrush and California sagebrush. It is a course, hardy, silver-gray bush with yellow flowers. Sagebrush is in the Artemisia plant family. It has a strong fragrance and bitter taste, which discourage animal browsing. This plant is hardy in the winter on the eastern slopes of the Sierras.

Mountain Hemlock

This wintertime plant of the Sierras is an evergreen coniferous pine tree that grows 60 to 120 feet tall. The tree bark is gray, and the crown grows in a graduated slender conical shape. The needle-like leaves are pale blue-green. The small cones, much like pine cones, are dark purple at bloom, changing to red-brown within seven months.


Beginning at 3,000-foot elevation in the Sierras, the biome is called the lower mountain forest zone, and this is where the Incense-cedar tree grows. It is a coniferous tree in the cypress family that grows 120 to 160 feet tall. In wintertime Sierra, the strong, spicy fragrance of this tree is pronounced.


The twisting branches of manzanita are a dark red or orange wood, and it produces small red fruit that appear similar to apples. It is an evergreen shrub that grows in the lower chaparral regions of the Sierras. The plant's berries are ground up and used as coarse meal for cooking or the juice is rendered for cider.

Keywords: winter sierra plants, sierra nevada mountains, sierra plants

About this Author

Joan Norton, M.A., is a licensed psychotherapist and professional writer in the field of women's spirituality. She blogs and has two published books on the subject of Mary Magdalene; "14 Steps To Awaken The Sacred Feminine:Women in the Circle of Mary Magdalene," and "The Mary Magdalene Within."