In today’s fire climate, the chaparral ecosystem has been much maligned. Dense, evergreen chaparral shrubs that are adapted to long summer dry spells can support high-intensity crown fires, which often consume all above-ground plant parts. But chaparral shrub species are uniquely adapted to fire conditions—some species have seeds that germinate only in response to heat or chemicals in wood smoke, while other species have large underground root systems that aid in resprouting following a burn. Intense but infrequent, chaparral fires have always been a natural part of the landscape.
- Chaparral habitat occurs from about 300 to 3,000 feet in elevation and is found throughout much of California, occupying approximately 6 percent of the state’s land.
- Fire intervals in chaparral habitat were historically between 30 and 50 years, and fires were primarily started by lightning. With increased fire frequency—which is often a result of human activity—young plants burn before they can produce seeds, sometimes resulting in habitat conversion from native chaparral to non-native grassland.
Chaparral habitat is characterized by dense stands of drought-tolerant, woody shrubs that are adapted to California’s Mediterranean-type climate (hot, dry summers and cool, wet winters) by having thick, leathery, or wax-coated leaves that reduce evaporation. Although chaparral species are adapted to drought, severe or extended periods of drought can cause increased mortality or shifts in species composition. Extreme drought conditions can also increase the risk of fire and impair recovery after a fire.
Cycles of fire
Places to Visit
There are several locations around the Sacramento Valley that are open to the public, where you can see and learn about chaparral habitat for yourself. Chaparral occurs most often at mid-elevations. Here are our suggestions.
Stebbins Cold Canyon Reserve/Blue Ridge Loop Trail
Chaparral Plants for Your Garden
Some plants from chaparral habitat grow well in gardens and other landscapes. Here are some plants from our area.