What is a Tall Forb Community?

Few landscapes can match the beauty and profusion of wildflowers found in the lush, subalpine mountain parklands of the interior western States. Among the most unexpected and rarest of the high elevation plant communities is one dominated solely by large, luxuriant wildflowers, commonly referred to as the Tall Forb Community type. In the Tall Forb community trees and shrubs are relegated to the peripheral edges and don't invade or become established within the large tall forb "meadows" themselves. See Tall Forb (SRM 409) Cover Type [Excerpt] (PDF, 166 KB) from Rangeland Cover Types of the United States.

Probably the most striking feature of the Tall Forb Community is the abundance and remarkable variety of tall, luxuriant perennial wildflowers that make up the largest component of this community type. Up to 80 percent of the plant community composition is comprised of 16 inch to 48 inch tall wildflowers. Grasses, sedges, and annual forbs are a minor or infrequent component of this vegetation type. For more information, see Indicator Species in the Tall Forb Community Type (PDF, 97 KB).

Where mountain ranges receive substantial annual precipitation and snowfall, Tall Forb stands can be found on all aspects and slope gradients. The best Tall Forb sites have deep, dark, loamy soils (greater than 18 inches) with enough soil moisture to sustain season-long plant growth.

Where are Tall Forb Communities Found?

Tall Forb Community Distribution Map.
Distribution of Tall Forb Community (orange-colored areas) in the intermountain west.

Tall Forb communities are found in subalpine pastures between 7,200 and 10,300 feet in elevation where annual precipitation ranges from 30 to 40 inches. They are most extensive in areas where mid-summer thunderstorms of late July to mid-August coincide with the prime flowering season in the subalpine zone.

Geographically, the historic range and distribution of the Tall Forb type once extended throughout the mountainous regions of the western Wyoming up to the Idaho/Montana border to the north, then south through the central Wasatch Range of Utah in a fairly north-south distribution. Prior to the mid-1800s, Tall Forb stands once blazoned virtually uninterrupted across the 50-mile length of central Utah's scenic 10,000 to 11,000 foot Wasatch Plateau. Large fields also extended throughout the northern Wasatch Mountains all the way to the Utah-Idaho border and beyond.

Today, the still-glorious remnants of the Tall Forb community are spottily distributed within the original range but to a much lesser extent than at the height of former splendor. Possible, small remnant stands of the Tall Forb type have also been reported as far east as Gunnison, Colorado, and west as far as south-central Idaho.

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