Riparian forests are sometimes called the rainforests of California—not because they receive more precipitation than other areas, but because of the incredible diversity of plants, fish, and wildlife that they support. Riparian forest habitat is dominated by woody vegetation growing adjacent to a river, stream, or other flowing body of water. With Sacramento located at the confluence of two major rivers, riparian forest habitat is a major influence in our local ecology.
- The blue elderberry (Sambucus nigra ssp. caerulea), which grows in riparian forests, is an important plant for many indigenous people. The berries are used as a nutritious food source and provide dye for basketry materials, elder flowers are used medicinally, and the straight-growing branches can be used to make game pieces, flutes, and arrow shafts.
- Many riparian plant species exhibit special adaptations for growing in areas that are prone to flooding. They may have flexible branches to withstand high flows, the ability to grow roots from above-ground parts of the plant that help the plant absorb oxygen when water-saturated soil becomes anaerobic, or fruits or seeds that float on water to aid in dispersal.
- Only 5 to 10 percent of California’s riparian habitat remains today, and much of that is in a state of degradation. The majority of this loss is due to stream channelization, urban and suburban development, logging, grazing, and water diversion.
This habitat’s dense vegetative cover and availability of year-round water provide shelter and abundant food for both terrestrial and aquatic wildlife and fish. Common tree and shrub species such as Fremont’s cottonwood (Populus fremontii), willows (Salix spp.), red osier dogwood (Cornus sericea), and California wild rose (Rosa californica) create a multilayered canopy.
Water quality and erosion control
Native aquatic habitat
Native bird habitat
Places to Visit
There are several locations in and around the Sacramento Valley that are open to the public, where you can see and learn about riparian forests for yourself. Here are a few of our suggestions.
Cosumnes River Preserve
UC Davis Putah Creek Riparian Reserve
Riparian Forest Plants for Your Garden
Some plants from riparian forest habitat grow well in gardens and other landscapes. Here are some plants from our area.