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U.S. Forest Service

Sky Island Plant Communities

When you climb a Sky Island mountain in the summertime, you start in the desert where the daytime temperature may reach 120° Farenheit and you end up on a mountaintop where the temperature is perhaps 75° Farenheit and you feel comfortable wearing a jacket. This dramatic change in only a few miles results in equally dramatic plant changes. It is estimated that going up 1,000 feet in elevation is roughly equivalent to going 165 miles to the north, so in only a few miles climbing you can see plant changes equivalent to traveling hundreds of miles northward.

A graphic representation of the Pinaleno and Huachuca Mountains displaying the changes in plant communities with elevation. Each Sky Island is a unique ecosystem with a series of plant communities ranging from desert to sub-alpine as you go up in elevation. The Pinaleno Mountains have the most plant communities in the shortest distance of any mountain range in North America.

The Sky Islands connect the Sierra Madre of Mexico with the Rocky Mountains of the United States. The Sierra Madre is relatively warm compared to the Rocky Mountains and as you might suspect the higher elevation Sky Island plant communities have more in common with the Rocky Mountains while the lower elevation communities have more in common with the Sierra Madre.

Major Sky Island Plant Communities

Next: Sky Islands of the Coronado National Forest…