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Restoration Planting Design: Vegetation Structure

River Partners works with over 50 tree, shrub and herbaceous plants in their restoration designs. Each species offers unique resources for wildlife because of its structure, nutritional quality (leaves, flowers, stems, bark etc.) and invertebrate assemblage it attracts. Planting designs can incorporate a mix of species that will attract a high diversity of wildlife because of the multiple cover, nesting, and foraging habitats that are provided.

The structures of trees, shrubs and vines vary in obvious ways such as the height, width and diameters of the main stems. Among trees, shrubs or vines there are more subtle differences, such as the number of main stems and the angle of branching. Wildlife cue into these subtle differences and select optimal locations for nesting, foraging and cover habitat. Click on the individual riparian plants below to read more about the structure and wildlife value of the plants.

Valley Oak Woodland Valley Oak Forest Western Sycamore remont Cottonwood White Alder Goodding's Black Willow Oregon Ash Box Elder
Red Willow Arroyo Willow Buttonbush Sandbar Willow Coyote Brush California Blackberry Blue Elderberry California Rose


In restoration design, different plant communities are formed by varying the densities and species used, and by changing the ratio of trees, shrubs, and herbaceous species. This gives River Partners the flexibility to create a range of structural features by incorporating a multiple canopy layers. Tall trees form the highest canopy layer – the overstory. In riparian plant communities, this layer is formed by mature valley oaks, cottonwoods, sycamores, and black willows. The midstory is created by immature tall tree species, mid-size trees, and large shrubs. Common midstory riparian plants are box elder, arroyo willow, and oregon ash. Shrubs and vines make up the woody understory, such as coyote brush, elderberry, blackberry, rose and grape. The herbaceous layer is the lowest ground cover and is made up of grasses and non-woody broad leafed plants.

The ratio of trees to shrubs will determine the complexity of the forest canopies. A design with mostly tall trees will create a closed overstory, but this can be broken with clusters of shrubs to create openings in the forest and introduce a diversity of foliage, fruits and seeds to the habitat.

The density, spacing and type of plants used in restoration design will determine the kind of structures created that wildlife will use for cover and nesting. Shrubs with multiple stems for instance such as rose and willows can form dense thickets when several are planted together. Elderberry, which also tends to grow with multiple stems, is a trellising species, and can grow over smaller shrubs when planted close together. The combination of rose and elderberry create a more densely covered thicket. Vines can take on several growth forms and make connections between different plants and different canopy layers. Both blackberry and grape can spread throughout the forest, climbing over and through plants. Grape often climbs into the upper canopies and forms an overstory. The lateral branching of vines are preferred nesting substrates of many birds, and the dense layers of cover offer protection from predators. The variety of stem sizes, textures and foliage, attract a greater suite of insects which are a basic food source for wildlife.

Willow thickets Fruiting thickets Vine associations

Willow thickets

Fruiting thickets

Vine associations