Manual of
California Vegetation

In the King Range, Douglas fir and tan oak forests drape across the slopes, and sugar pines decorate the high peaks. Credit Robert Wick.

California’s guide to plant communities

First published in 1995, the CNPS Manual of California Vegetation (MCV) serves as California’s standard vegetation classification for biological consulting firms, planners, and state and federal agencies, including the California Department of Fish and Game, United States Forest Service, National Park Service, and United States Geological Survey.

Now in its second edition, the MCV is based upon 14 years of rigorous surveying, analysis, description, and vegetation mapping, providing a refined picture of the state’s diverse vegetation patterns. Because of its breadth, it also offers a significant source of California natural history and biogeographic information for plant lovers. Read on to learn more about the MCV.

About the MCV

More than 450 vegetation types described

More than 450 descriptions of vegetation types

Within each vegetation detail, you’ll find:

  • life history strategies
  • quantitatively-based rules to distinguish between types
  • remarks on plant taxonomy
  • fire characteristics and other natural processes that shape each type’s ecology, and
  • regional distribution information.

Each alliance description is accompanied by a range map and a complete list of known plant associations.

How it's structured

How it’s structured

The MCV 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 format of the vegetation descriptions and other information in the manual were developed following consensus by the CNPS 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.

Beyond the second edition

Beyond the second edition

CNPS works to continually improve and update the information in the classification. As part of this effort, 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 MCV is designed to be a flexible and adaptable tool. As new information comes in via CNPS chapters, private organizations, and agency inventory and mapping efforts, we will enter the information into a standardized statewide database with updates to the online MCV occuring on a regular basis.

Please note: The CNPS Vegetation Program would greatly appreciate your data  contributions. We’ll enter the data into our database, archive the information, and use it for future analyses. If requested, we can send you a hard copy database report summarizing the data you’ve provided.

Please send photocopies/scanned copies via post, email or fax to:

Julie Evens, Vegetation Program Director
2707 K Street, Suite 1
Sacramento, CA 95816
Fax: (916) 324-0475

Manual of California Vegetation

MCV Online

Visit the Manual of California Vegetation website


Support the MCV!

We’re fundraising to upgrade our web-based interface and integrate the MCV with other CNPS databases like the Inventory of Rare Plants, Calscape, and new data emerging from the Important Plant Area Initiative. If you are interested in supporting this project, please use the donate button below.


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