Keystone Plants, and the Plants Beneath (Soft Landing)

Similar to permaculture principles where you layer the plants for a forest garden, having ground covers, plants and leaf litter under keystone tree species amplifies benefits for the ecosystem.

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Arizona Keystone Trees

  • Ironwood (Olneya tesota)
  • Oaks (Quercus spp)
    • Arizona White Oak (Quercus arizonica)
    • Canyon Live Oak (Quercus chrysolepis)
    • Belota (Quercus emoryi)
    • Gambel’s Oak (Quercus gambellii)
    • Gray Oak (Quercus grisea)
    • Silverleaf Oak (Quercus hypoleucoides)
    • Chinquapin Oak (Quercus muehlenbergii)
    • Mexican Blue Oak (Quercus oblongifolia)
    • Dunn’s Oak (Quercus Palmeri)
    • Sandpaper Oak (Quercus pungens)
    • Netleaf Oak (Quercus rugosa)
    • Toumey Oak (Quercus toumeyi)
    • Scrub Oak (Quercus turbinella)
  • Pines (Pinus spp)
    • Arizona Pine (Pinus arizonica)
    • Border Pinon (Pinus cembroides)
    • Pinon Pine (Pinus edulis)
    • Apache Pine (Pinus engelmanii)
    • Chihuahua Pine (Pinus leiophylla var. chihuanuana)
    • Ponderosa Pine (Pinus ponderosa var. scopulorum)
    • Southwestern White Pine (Pinus strobiformis)
  • Willows (Salix spp)
    • Peachleaf Willow (Salix amygdaloides)
    • Arroyo Willow (Salix lasiolepis)
  • Aspen
  • Cottonwood
  • Poplar


  1. Susan cox says:

    Mesquite aren’t considered?

    1. George@PW says:

      Hello Susan: I did not find Mesquites listed as a keystone species in the documents I reviewed, which was a surprise. At a minimum I would have expected Velvet Mesquite to be on the list.

      As Spadefoot Nursery notes in their tree guide: “More importantly, however, are the wildlife benefits of native mesquites, especially the velvet mesquite. The velvet mesquite possesses traits that our local fauna (insects, birds, mammals, reptiles) has evolved with. The non-native mesquites lack these traits. For example, in spring, the velvet mesquite attracts a host of insects because of extra floral nectaries and the timing of leaf break, and those insects are depended upon by migrating birds which evolved to time their migration in order to take advantage of this food source (the insects). The Lucy’s warbler (Leiothlypis luciae) is an example of a species that depends on native mesquites and their timing. The South American mesquites and their hybrids lack these traits entirely.”

      I welcome other comments and sources related to Mesquites as a keystone species.

      1. Elliott@PW says:

        A great tool to evaluate trees and shrubs is this website

        Oaks and willows are consistently the best hosts for caterpillar diversity. I also see locust, mimosa, and acacia, but no data for mesquite.

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