Abstract. The goal of this research was to decompose polarimetric Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) imagery of upland and flooded forests into three backscatter types: single reflection, double reflection, and cross-polarized backscatter. We used a decomposition method that exploits the covariance matrix of backscatter terms. First we applied this method to SAR imagery of dihedral and trihedral corner reflectors positioned on a smooth, dry lake bed, and verified that it accurately isolated the different backscatter types. We then applied the method to decompose multi-frequency Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) airborne SAR (AIRSAR) backscatter from upland and flooded forests to explain scattering components in SAR imagery from forested surfaces. For upland ponderosa pine forest in California, as SAR wavelength increased from C-band to P-band, scattering with an odd number of reflections decreased and scattering with an even number of reflections increased. There was no obvious trend with wavelength for cross-polarized scattering. For a bald cypress-tupelo floodplain forest in Georgia, scattering with an odd number of reflections dominated at C-band. Scattering power with an even number of reflections from the flooded forest was strong at L-band and strongest at P-band. Cross-polarized scattering may not be a major component of total backscatter at all three wavelengths. Various forest structural classes and land cover types were readily distinguishable in the imagery derived by the decomposition method. More importantly, the decomposition method provided a means of unraveling complex interactions between radar signals and vegetated surfaces in terms of scattering mechanisms from targets. The decomposed scattering components were additions to the traditional HH and V V backscatter. One cautionary note: the method was not well suited to targets with low backscatter and a low signal-to-noise ratio.