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Vegetation of New Mexico


Plants and vegetation of New Mexico
Plants and vegetation of New Mexico

Within the borders of New Mexico all the major biomes of the world can be found except for the tropical rain forest. Seven major life zones are present in the state. They range from Lower Sonoran to Alpine. From alpine tundra at the top of Wheeler Peak to sparse yucca at White Sands, present-day climates support a variety of forest, woodland, grassland, and desert scrub communities. Elevation, topography, slope orientations, and New Mexico’s location in the pathway of both tropical Pacific and polar continental air masses create a mosaic of vegetation giving the state unmatched scenic beauty. The Alpine zone ranges in elevations between 3,500 and 4,000 m (11,500 and 13,000 ft). This is above the timberline and supports grasses and shrubs. The Hudsonian and Canadian zones range in elevation from 2,600 to 3,700 m (8,500 to 12,000 ft) and are forested with mainly englemann spruce, alpine fir, and corkbark fir at the higher end and Douglas fir, white fir, and limber pine at the lower end.

Intermingled within these zones are large expanses of aspen that turn brilliant yellow in September. The Transition zone contains the ponderosa pine forest from elevations ranging from 1,700 to 2,600 m (5,500 to 8,500 ft). The next zone is the Upper Sonoran, which contains piñon pine and juniper woodlands, at elevations between 1,400 and 2,300 m (4,500 to 7,500 ft). This is the most extensive of all zones boasting about 7.8 million hectares (19 million acres) within the state. The major tree species found here are piñon pine, Utah juniper, alligator juniper, one-seed juniper, and rocky mountain juniper. It also contains a mixture of large to medium size oaks which are found in the foothills in the southern quarter of the state. The Lower Sonoran zone occurs at elevations of about 900 to 1,600 m (2,900 to 5,000 ft).

This zone contains many grasses interspersed with shrubs such as creosote bush, mesquite, four-winged saltbush and a variety of cacti. The plants in many of these zones can be found in other areas because of unique climatic conditions within a particular area.

Although the elements of New Mexico’s plant life have their origins many millions of years ago, today’s patterns and composition are the result of glacial climates that ended only 10,000 to 12,000 years ago, or reflect changes brought on by gradual drying and warming as the alpine glaciers receded. The perception of New Mexico as a desert, therefore, is largely incorrect. There are many pockets of plant life that retain vestiges of their former climates. Human impacts on these historical “gardens,” as well as on some of the younger cactus gardens, is a serious threat to New Mexico’s environment.

Perhaps the most serious threat to riparian vegetation along New Mexico’s water courses is the invasion of salt cedar, or tamarisk. This plant, native to the Middle East, was introduced into Texas in the late 1800s and has since spread along all of the major waterways and tributaries of the Río Grande and Pecos River. Its rapid growth and reproduction, combined with its ability to replace native vegetation and tap precious underground water, has classified it as a noxious weed. "New Mexico" © Emmanuel BUCHOT, Encarta, Wikipedia

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