Meadows; The Sponges of Yosemite

A landscape of meadows and snow covered mountains in the high Sierra

Meadows; The Sponges of Yosemite

“Walk away quietly in any direction and taste the freedom of the mountaineer. Camp out among the grasses and gentians of glacial meadows, in craggy garden nooks full of nature’s darlings. Climb the mountains and get their good tidings, Nature’s peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees. The winds will blow their own freshness into you and the storms their energy, while cares will drop off like autumn leaves.”   ~ John Muir

What are meadows?

Regarding this year, meadows are probably the most important ecosystem to mitigate the effects of melting snow water. Meadows act like sponges, absorbing water and holding it like an underground water tower. This allows incredible benefits such as filtering, most of San Francisco’s water is being filtered by Yosemite’s meadows. Although characterizing a meadow can be difficult, Nevada scientists have studied and come to a consensus on what makes a meadow:

  • A meadow is an ecosystem type composed of one or more plant communities dominated by herbaceous species. 
  • It supports plants that use surface water and/or shallow ground water (generally at depths of less than one meter). 
  • Woody vegetation, like trees or shrubs, may occur and be dense but not dominant. 

Working in the Meadows

As a biology assistant in the great gray owl project, I spend most of my days working in meadows ,a great gray owls preferred habitat. It is hard for me to describe the sense of calmness and serenity I feel when I am in the meadows of Yosemite National Park. As I arrived in May, I couldn’t believe most meadows were still covered in snow.

Seeing those barren white landscapes transform into luscious green meadows has been a magical experience. That was the first time I witnessed meadows, just hills of snow with water flooding the ground. I never imagined the transformation meadows would go through during my internship. 

These are the same two meadows, just 3 weeks apart. The melted snow opened space for wildflowers, grasses, sedges, and other types of vegetation.

Meadows: Biological Sponges

Meadows are biologically rich sponges. Although meadows are only at 3% of Yosemite National Park’s area, meadows contain a much larger proportion of Yosemite’s species. A large amount of the park’s wildlife populations, such as bears, mule deers, toads, butterflies, and birds, depend on meadow habitat to feed or breed. 

A great gray owl is perched on a tree

Great gray owls also call meadows their home

Oh Meadows!

Yosemite National Park offers the most beautiful meadows, full of life, energy, and wonder. I can’t help but feel at peace when I’m working in the meadows. I’m also very lucky to get to spend so much time in Yosemite’s meadows, with all its glorious wildlife and plant species. As the snow melts, the Merced river grows back to life. Now is the best time to see the wildflowers in Yosemite’s 3,000 meadows.

It is hard to imagine Yosemite without its meadows, probably all flooded.

Ackerson Meadow


Park MAPB 577 YN, Us C 95389 P-0C. Meadows – Yosemite National Park (U.S. National Park Service). wwwnpsgov.

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