Shelledy Elementary

Plants and Trees

Colorado Life Zones: Seasons, Plants, & Animals

Step 1: Choose One of the Life Zones or Choices Below

Life Zones Menu Bar
Colorado Life Zones General Information Interactive Elevation & Life Zone Diagram Colorado Maps: Life Zones and More Semidesert Shrublands (West CO) Shortgrass Plains Life Zone (East CO) Foothills Woodlands & Shrublands Montane Forests Life Zone Subalpine Life Zone Alpine Life Zone Riparian Life Zones

Riparian Life Zones: Seasons, Plants, & Animals

Step 2: Choose a Topic from the Riparian Life Zones & Scroll Down

General Information
General Information

Riparian Life Zones Tamarisk Russian Olive
Tamarisks & Russian Olives: Problem Trees

Riparian Life Zones Fish

Riparian Life Zones Awesome Adaptations
Awesome Adaptations

Riparian Life Zones Plants Trees of the Riparian Life Zones
Plants and Trees

Riparian Life Zones Mammals

Riparian Life Zones Birds

Riparian Life Zones Reptiles and Amphibians
Reptiles & Amphibians

Plants & Trees of the Riparian Life Zones

Different kinds of plants live by ripirian areas at different elevations. Click on the choices below or scroll down to see the riparian plants and trees that live in the different elevations.

yampa_river Riparian Plants and Trees of the Lower Elevations

Riparian Life Zones Plants Trees Higher Elevations Riparian Plants and Trees of the Higher Elevations

Riparian Plants of the alpine Riparian Plants of the Highest Elevations

Colorado Life Zones General information Interactive Life Zone Diagram Colorado Life Zones Maps Semidesert Shrublands Life Zone West CO Shortgrass Prairie or Plains Life Zones Foothills Woodlands and Shrublands Montane Forests Life Zone Subalpine Life Zone Alpine Life Zone Riparian Life Zones Colorado Life Zones General information Interactive Life Zone Diagram Colorado Life Zones Maps Semidesert Shrublands Life Zone West CO Plains Life Zones

Plants & Trees of the Riparian Life Zones: Lower Elevations

Plains, Semidesert Shrublands, & Foothils Life Zones: Rivers, Lakes, and Ponds

The mountain streams merge or come together to form rivers. The rivers weave down through the foothills, semidesert shrublands, and plains. Rivers also flood in the late spring and form important marshlands and ponds.Rivers form important riparian habitats in the dry lands. Cottonwood and willow trees grow along the banks of the river and create shelter and homes for many animals. Many insects live there and provide important food for fish, birds, amphibians, and other animals. Grasses and shrubs grow by the river and produce lots of seeds and food for animals to eat. Many animals visit the rivers to drink for a short part of the day and return to the dry plains or semidesert shrublands. The rivers create green stretches of land across an often dry landscape. Click here to learn more about how rivers are formed.

Most lakes at the lower elevations are actually man-made reservoirs. Humans divert or take water from the rivers to keep reservoirs full for fishing, swimming, boating, irrigation, and drinking water.

One exception to this is the playa lakes on the Great Plains. Playa lakes can form in low areas of the plains. When the snow melts or large rain storms come, low areas fill up and form playa lakes. Many dissappear soon after they form by either evaporating into the air or soaking into the ground. The water that soaks into the ground refills the underground aquifer under the plains. Playa lakes provide important water for the plants, migratory birds, and animals of the plains.

Semidesert Riparian River Corridors

Colorado river going through the semidesert shrublands

Semidesert Riparian River Corridors

Yampa River going through the semidesert shrublands

Great Plains Riparian River Corridors River flowing through the Great Plains Great Plains Playa Lakes Playa Lake on the Great Plains

Cottonwood Trees

SW CO Plants

BC Adventure


Cottonwood trees

Sandbar Willow

SW CO Plants

Willow growing on the banks of a river

Other trees

Box Elder


River Birch


Single Leaf Ash Choke Cherry

& more trees

Other trees and shrubs Different kinds of grasses Grass growing by a pond in the foothills

Other Plants





Water Cress


Other Plants


Poison Ivy

Golden Currant

Wild Licorice

Mare's Tail


& Many More

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Awesome Adaptations: Cottonwood Trees

Cottonwood trees are a very important part of the riparian life zones at the lower elevations. Cottonwoods grow really fast and can get hundreds of feet tall. They can grow so fast because Cottonwood makes soft wood, meaning it has a loose wood grain and is easy cut or break. In fact, the last place you want to be during a strong wind is by a large cottonwood tree. Large branches have been known to fall in strong wind gusts. Cottonwoods got their name because in late spring the trees create lots of white fluffy seeds that blow easily in the wind. The seeds collect together in what looks like large piles of white cotton. Cottonwood trees need lots of water to survive and are usually only found by lakes, streams, rivers, natural springs, or large wetland areas. Cottowood trees' roots help hold the dirt in place on the sides of the rivers and help slow down erosion.

Cottonwood trees create lots of important shade and shelter for animals during hot summer days. The leaves provide food for some animals. Birds peck out holes in the tree to build a nest, to lay eggs, and to eat bugs hiding in the tree. Racoons and other animals find shelter in dead hollow sections of the trees or fallen trees. Large birds of prey like bald eagles and hawks make their nests in the trees and use the trees tall height to help them spy on the animals below, to keep their chicks safe from other predators, and to help take off flying.

In the western part of the state, many riparian life zones that were once dominated by cottonwood trees and willow trees are being taken over by non-native tamarisks and russian olives. The tamarisks and russian olives do not provide the food or shelter that the cottonwood does. Without the cottonwood trees, many animals are losing their home and one of their food sources. The cottonwood tree is important to the health of entire riparian habitats at the lower elevations. It is essential we stop the spread of tamarisks and russian olives and restore the areas with native cottonwood trees and willows. For more information click on Tamarisks & Russian Olives: Problem Trees.

Cottonwood trees Cottonwood trees
Cottonwood Tree Cottonwood seeds

Plants & Trees of the Riparian Life Zones: Higher Elevation

Montane Forests and Subalpine Life Zones: Rivers, Streams, Lakes, and Ponds

Lots of snow falls on the montane and subalpine forests over the winter. The snow melt keeps the forests wet for much of the summer. In the late spring and early summer, mountain streams collect the snow melt from the damp hill sides and run at full force. Some snow melt collects in lakes, ponds, and marshlands. Beavers build dams across mountain creeks and create small ponds and marshlands. Beavers provide important habitats for moose and other animals, help keep the streams clear, and prevent too much erosion. By the end of summer the land starts drying out, lake shorelines start dropping, ponds and marshlands dry up, and less water flows down the mountain streams. The forest gets ready for another winter of white gold, snow. Click here to learn more about how rivers are formed.

Lodgepole Pine

SW CO Plants

Tree Book

BC Adventure

Lodgepole pine forest by a mountain stream


SW CO Plants

Barrenground Willow

SW CO Plants

Willow growing in a mountain stream

Aspen Tree

SW CO Plants

Tree Book

Bird & Hike LV

Aspen trees by a mountain lake

-More Trees

-Mountain Alder

-Red Maple

-Narrowleaf Cottonwood

-Choke Cherry

-River Birch

-& more trees


Different plants and shrubs

Colorado Blue Spruce

SW CO Plants

Colorado Blue Spruce


SW CO Plants


Aquatic Plants





Aquatic plants


Moss covering rocks by a waterfall

Parry's Primrose

SW CO Plants

Parrys Primrose

Rocky Mountain Columbine

SW CO Plants

Denver Plants

Rocky Mountain Columbine

Wild Flowers

Wild Iris

Marsh Marigold

Bog Violet



Checker Mallow


Golden Glow

Indian Paintbrush flowers by a mountain stream

More Flowers

Elephant's Head




Monkey Flower


Shooting Star &Many More

Elephant's Head Lousewort
Different kinds of Grasses Different grasses

-More Plants



Poison Ivy




Corn Lilly &Many_More

More kinds of plants
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Plants of the Riparian Life Zones: Highest Elevations

Alpine Life Zone: Streams, Lakes, and Ponds

Snow rules the land for most of the year high in the alpine tundra. In the late spring snow does start melting. Hidden streams may flow under the sheets of snow. If you are ever snowshoeing or skiing in the mountains in the late spring, you need to be very careful because the snow can collapse and you can really hurt yourself. The water pools into crystal clear alpine lakes, and the streams continue down the mountainsides. By the middle of summer enough snow melts for the land to show. Many grasses, alpine willow, and other small plants turn the alpine tundra bright green. Flowers paint the mountain sides with color. The plants must bloom quick because by early fall, snow can start falling on the alpine tundra again.
Alpine Lake
Alpine Lakes Alpine lake Alpine Streams Alpine stream

Indian Paintbrush

SW CO Plants

Indian Paintbrush


SW CO Plants


Alpine Flowers

Star Gentian





Alpine Fireweed

& Many More

Flowers by an alpine stream

Barrenground Willow

SW CO Plants

Alpine willow by marshlands and ponds
Different kinds of grasses Grass growing by the bottom of an alpine lake.

Other Small Plants

Other Small Plants
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