Skip to main content

U.S. Forest Service

Evergreen Oak Woodlands or Encinal

This is a patch of evergreen oak woodland surrounded by grassland in the Canelo Hills. This is a patch of evergreen oak woodland surrounded by grassland in the Canelo Hills. This is typical lower encinal. Photo by Charlie McDonald.

This area of open evergreen oak woodland could also be called an oak savannah. This area of open evergreen oak woodland could also be called an oak savannah. Photo by Charlie McDonald.

These woodlands occur at elevations of 4,500-6,000 feet. Encinal is a Spanish word that roughly means “place of live oaks”. The woodlands are dominated by broadleaved evergreen oaks with an open understory of shrubs and herbs. At lower elevations, the encinal tree layer is open to very open with an herbaceous understory of grasses and low shrubs. At higher elevations the tree layer becomes nearly closed and a layer of shrubs may appear. Encinal trees are usually less than 30 feet tall.

Four dominant oaks occur in variable proportions. Emory oak (Quercus emoryi) and Arizona white oak (Q.arizonica) are more important in the lower encinal, while silverleaf oak (Q. hypoleucoides) and netleaf oak (Q. rugosa) are more important at higher elevations. Alligator juniper (Juniperus deppeana), redberry juniper (J. coahuilensis), and Mexican pinyon (Pinus cembroides)are also found in the tree layer. This is the most characteristic and widespread of the woodland plant communities in the Sky Islands region. It takes the place of pinyon-juniper woodlands that occur at similar elevations farther north.

Patch of evergreen oak woodland and adjacent grassland in the Tumacacori Highlands. This is a patch of evergreen oak woodland and adjacent grassland in the Tumacacori Highlands. Photo by Charlie McDonald.

Open evergreen oak woodland in the Tumacacori Highlands. Open evergreen oak woodland in the Tumacacori Highlands. Most of these trees are less than 20 feet tall. Photo by Charlie McDonald.

Here, the north-facing slope is evergreen oak woodland while the hotter and drier south-facing slope is grassland. Here, the north-facing slope is evergreen oak woodland while the hotter and drier south-facing slope is grassland. Photo by Charlie McDonald.

typical upper encinal. The oak trees are much taller in this evergreen oak woodland. This is typical upper encinal. Photo by Charlie McDonald.

upper encinal woodland. This patch of upper encinal woodland provides shade in Cochise Stronghold Campground in the Dragoon Mountains. Photo by Charlie McDonald.

Arizona white oak (Quercus arizonica). Arizona white oak (Quercus arizonica). Photo by Patrick Alexander at plants.usda.gov.

Emory oak (Quercus emoryi). Emory oak (Quercus emoryi). Photo by Susan McDougall at plants.usda.gov.

Silverleaf oak (Quercus hypoleucoides). Silverleaf oak (Quercus hypoleucoides). Photo by Susan McDougall at plants.usda.gov.

Netleaf oak (Quercus rugosa). Netleaf oak (Quercus rugosa). Photo by Patrick Alexander at polyploidy.net.

Further Reading

Bennett, P.S., M.R. Kunzmann and L.A. Graham. 2004. Descriptions of Arizona vegetation represented on the gap vegetation map. (PDF)