Microphyll Woodlands and Why They Matter

Microphyll woodlands in California's Sonoran Desert.
California’s microphyll woodlands account for 95 percent of desert habitat for migrating birds.

Chances are that only the nerdiest among us know the term “microphyll,” the word used to describe a leaf with a single, unbranched structure.  Until now.

This week, CNPS is launching a public information campaign to spread the word about California’s microphyll woodlands, desert plant communities comprised of small-leaved trees like ironwood and palo verde. Here are two great reasons we think folks should care:

  1. This largely unknown habitat provides essential ecosystem services. The woodlands and their seasonal washes (streams) transport water, seeds, and other nutrients to nearby desert ecosystems. They are the veins of the desert supporting plant and animal life for miles.
  2. Microphyll woodlands comprise only five percent of the acreage in Sonoran Desert but account for 95 percent of the habitat for migrating birds!

Why Now?

With potential changes to the Desert Renewable Energy Conservation Plan, CNPS is working to defend existing and secure additional conservation measures for this little known but precious habitat. Over the coming weeks, we’ll be sharing valuable information and calls to action, so you can join us in this important work. This week, we’re excited to share our newest video featuring rarely seen drone footage of the woodlands. Please take a moment to watch and share this one-minute introduction to microphyll woodlands. 

Special thanks to the Rose Foundation for making this campaign possible!

Want to help?

Please consider making a donation today to support CNPS conservation efforts and our ongoing work to protect California’s desert ecosystems. It starts with plants!


  1. Great article on this rare vegetation community that provides so much habitat for wildlife. Virtual islands in the desert. Look forward to learning more about the conservation measures that are developed by this initiative.

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