River Partners' mission is to create wildlife habitat for the benefit of people and the environment.

Home » Resources » Riparian Ecology » Vegetation and Wildlife Habitat » Restoration Planting Design: Vegetation Structure » Closed and Open Canopies

Closed and Open Canopies

If several tall trees, such as cottonwood, are planted at high density, a well developed overstory will form. Unless plants can grow fast enough to form the tallest canopy, they must be able to survive the shady conditions of the lower canopy layers, such as the midstory and understory. The shade prevents many invasive weeds from establishing, but can also limit establishment of native species. Shade tolerant species such as blackberry or box elder can establish and grow under a closed canopy, but less shade tolerant trees and shrubs will thrive in openings where there is less canopy cover.

13-year restoration

13-year restoration

Closed canopy with blackberry understory

Thick herbacous understory thrives under open canopy

Often the edge between a closed canopy forest and a more open savanna or shrubland is a hotspot of wildlife diversity because there are multiple nesting and cover structures and heights, and a variety of flowers and fruits that provide food.