California Native Plant Society

A Manual of California Vegetation, Second Edition


Second EditionFirst EditionThe first edition of the manual, published in 1995, filled a void in California resource management. It has been adopted as the standard vegetation classification by state and federal agencies such as the California Department of Fish and Game, United States Forest Service, National Park Service, and United States Geological Survey. It also has become the standard reference for vegetation used by consulting firms and planners. The second edition of the Manual of California Vegetation, now published in 2009, will serve these needs better.

The 1,300-page book is a complete revision of the original 1995 edition published by CNPS. Based upon 14 years of rigorous surveying, analysis, description, and mapping of vegetation, it presents a refined picture of the state’s diverse vegetation patterns.

The new edition contains descriptions of over 450 different vegetation types. The descriptions have been expanded to include sections on life history strategies, quantitatively-based rules to distinguish between types, remarks on plant taxonomy, fire characteristics and other natural processes that shape the ecology of each type, and regional distribution information. Each alliance description is accompanied by a range map and a complete list of known plant associations. The manual also contains more complete descriptions on desert, mixed conifer, grassland, fen, vernal pool, and other wetland types.

The content is arranged in three main categories with vegetation characterized by trees, by shrubs, or by herbaceous vegetation. At the front of each section is an ecological key to the vegetation types, followed by their descriptions arranged in alphabetical order. The volume also contains an extensive set of references that alone totals 122 pages and attests to the meticulous research that went into producing this volume.

Introductory chapters on “What is Vegetation,” “The History of Vegetation Classification,” “The CNPS Approach to Classification,” and “Conservation and Management” are augmented by two additional chapters. One focuses on the changes in the book since the first edition; the other is a guide to interpreting the descriptions.

Four of the appendices include a comprehensive list of life history traits of the specific species identifying each type, a detailed fire regime table, a new national vegetation classification hierarchy applied to California, and a glossary. Two other appendices discuss reclassified or tentative vegetation types that have been defined or suggested in other studies.

The four indexes include two with scientific names for the vegetation and species, and two others—the California Wildlife Habitat Relationships System (WHR) and Classification and Assessment with Landsat of Visible Ecological Groupings (CalVeg)—to assist users familiar with those habitat classification systems.

The format of the vegetation descriptions and other information in the manual were developed following consensus by the Vegetation Committee and were written by three members of the committee following extensive review by over 100 ecologists and botanists. The descriptions reflect in-depth literature review and synthesis of all available information on California vegetation and are put into context of their rarity and conservation value by relating them to the Natural Diversity Data Base rarity coding system.

This book serves as a backbone to CNPS’s science-based approach to conservation by furthering the understanding of local variation, restoration, conservation, and management of vegetation throughout the state. Because of its breadth, it also provides a significant new source of California natural history and biogeographic information for plant lovers. It already is heralded as a major advancement in plant ecology and vegetation science by members of the Ecological Society of America’s vegetation section.

A web-based version of the first edition of the MCV has been maintained through the University of California at Davis. CNPS intends to establish a new web-based version by the end of 2010 to bring in all the new information from the second edition, to improve queriable tools, and to provide means for distributing new information. *Update: the Second Edition manual is online at

Beyond the Second Edition

It is the objective of the Program to continually improve and update the information in the classification. We have conducted two scientific forums - symposia sponsored by the Association of American Academy of Sciences, which have provided feedback to our committee regarding the usefulness of the classification.

The Program wishes to make the second edition of the MCV a flexible and adaptable tool by developing a means to regularly update it. As new information comes in via CNPS chapter, private organization, and agency inventory and mapping efforts, we will be entering the information into CVIS. Using CVIS as the information management tool, we will be able to update and download the new information and develop future editions of the classification in both hard copy and customized digital versions.

We are working to obtain additional funds to establish an upgraded web-based version of the 2nd edition book information and range maps, which will allow for queries, and for displaying photographs of each of the alliances. We have been able to enter certain sections of the new edition into a digital database with in-house staff assistance, and we need more funds to support this on-going effort. If you are interested in supporting this project, please contact the Executive Director or the Vegetation Program Director.

Currently, the second edition of the manual is published in hard-copy (Sawyer, Keeler-Wolf and Evens 2009). The book can be purchased directly through the CNPS online bookstore.


Vegetation Classification – List from DFG (PDF) – List of Alliances and Associations currently recognized by the California Natural Diversity Database and by CNPS.

MCV Classification – list from CNPS (PDF 196k) – List of Alliances and Stands currently described in A Manual of California Vegetation, second edition.


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