Ecological Criteria

Climate Zones

Climate zones are based on general weather patterns over long periods of time. USDA Zone is based on annual low temperature, whereas Sunset Zone Sunset zone considers more specific small-scale climatic factors such as average high and low temperatures, precipitation, wind, cold-air settling, etc.
Find your USDA Zone.
Find your Sunset Zone.

Native Range

Jepson Bioregion describes the regions where a plant grows naturally. Bioregions are based on geophysical and climatic boundaries. Plants found in your bioregion are most likely to thrive with minimal interventions such as water, climate modification, and maintenance.
Find your Jepson Bioregion.


Soils can be described by many physical factors, including texture (percent sand, soil, and clay), porosity, pH, and amount of organic matter. The most important information for searching the CAPIS database is knowing whether your soil has any important characteristics such as poor drainage, heavy clay content, or is serpentine. More information about soil types will be added with future updates.
Learn about your soils at the NRCS Soil Survey Geographic (SSURGO) Database.

Sun and Water

These microclimate factors may vary across your site. Note that plants with like water needs should be grouped together and irrigated accordingly to avoid overwatering or underwatering. If minimal summer irrigation will be provided, select "Drought Tolerant." Plants that will experience seasonal flooding, such as those in stormwater management planters and swales, should be selected as "Flood Tolerant."

Design Criteria


Habit is the most basic piece of information about a plant, which can be broken down into five main categories: Trees, shrubs, herbaceous plants (annuals and perennials), groundcovers, and vines.

Mature Size

Since planting plans are often designed with a plant's mature size in mind, the height listed in the CAPIS database is the plant's height at maturity under ideal conditions. For long-lived trees or other slow-growing plants, this size may not be attained for many years so a closer spacing may be desired. Be sure to check growth rate information and plan accordingly.


Form differs from habit in that it is a more specific description of a plant's shape. For woody plants, the form describes the shape of the canopy, and for herbaceous plants it describes the shape of the flower or inflorescence, since this is the most prominent feature of herbaceous plants. Grasses and other herbaceous monocots that are grown more for their foliage than their flowers can be divided into tussocks and strap-leaved plants. Groundcovers and vines may be either woody or herbaceous, but since groundcovers are generally prostrate and vines take the shape of their support structure, these two forms of plants are considered separately as their own forms. See below for images of typical plant forms.


Flower Colors:

Photo Credits: 2008 Keir Morse | 2011 George Jackson | 2008 by Ken Gilliland | 2006 Steve Matson | 2008 by Ken Gilliland | 1994 Gary A. Monroe | 2007 Gerald and Buff Corsi California Academy of Sciences | 2008 Keir Morse

Flower Season describes the time of peak bloom, when the plant will deliver the most color. The CAPIS system currently breaks this into Spring, Summer, Fall and Winter, but more specific flowering season information will be added in future updates.


Foliage Colors:

Photo Credits: 2009 Ken Gilliland | 2010 Lee Dittmann | 2009 Ken Gilliland | 2010 Keir Morse

Texture is the general size or division of foliage, described by "coarseness or fineness, roughness or smoothness, heaviness or lightness, and thickness or thinness, which vary somewhat with the season of the year" (from Elements of Planting Design by Richard L. Austin). CAPIS lists texture as fine, medium, or coarse based on average leaf size.

Photo Credits: 2009 Barry Breckling | 2011 Barry Breckling | 2009 Neal Kramer

Foliage is also described either as deciduous or evergreen, and deciduous plants may provide fall color. California native plants typically deliver yellow fall color, but a few exceptions turn red.


Fruit is listed in CAPIS that is especially decorative, such as the bright red berries of Toyon (Heteromeles arbutifolia), or edible, such as the relatively small nut of California Black Walnut (Juglans hindsii and J. californica).

Photo Credits: 2012 Daniel Passarini | 2012 Daniel Passarini | 2009 Ken Gilliland | 2006 George W. Hartwell

Decorative Bark

Bark is considered decorative if it is patterned, colorful, or peeling, although this is a somewhat subjective category.

Photo Credits: 2006 Julie Wakelin | 2005 Steven Perkins | 2003 BonTerra Consulting