Abstract. Mechanical damage by floodwaters is frequently invoked to explain the distribution of riparian plant species, but data have been lacking to relate vegetation to specific estimates of flood damage potential. This research uses detailed estimates of unit stream power (an appropriate measure of the potential for mechanical damage) in conjunction with vegetation cover data to test this relationship at 37 valley-bottom sites in the Transverse Ranges of Southern California. A computer program, HEC-2, was used to model the slope and the variation in flow depth and velocity of the 20-yr flood across the sites. Regression models tested the influence of stream power (and of height above the water table) on the woody species composition of 393 4-m cross-section segments of the valley-bottom sites. Results indicate that unit stream power does have a significant effect on the riparian vegetation, but that the amount of that influence and its importance relative to the influence of height above the water table varies between watersheds. Some species are found primarily in locations of high stream power, while others are limited to portions of the valley bottom that experience only low stream power.