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Encyclopedia > Chaparral

Chaparral is a shrubland plant community found primarily in California, USA, that is shaped by a Mediterranean climate (mild, wet winters and hot dry summers) and wildfire. Similar plant communities are found in the five other Mediterranean climate regions around the world, including the Mediterranean Basin (where it is known as maquis), central Chile (matorral), South African Cape Region (known there as fynbos), and Australia (Western and Southern). Shrubland is a habitat type dominated by woody shrubs. ... A biocoenosis (alternatively, biocoenose or biocenose), termed by Karl Möbius in 1877, describes all the interacting organisms living together in a specific habitat (or biotope). ... Official language(s) English Capital Sacramento Largest city Los Angeles Area  Ranked 3rd  - Total 158,302 sq mi (410,000 km²)  - Width 250 miles (400 km)  - Length 770 miles (1,240 km)  - % water 4. ... A Mediterranean climate is a climate that resembles those of the lands bordering the Mediterranean Sea. ... The Mediterranean Basin refers to the lands around and surrounded by the Mediterranean Sea. ... Maquis (French) or macchia (Italian; plural macchie) is a shrubland biota in Mediterranean countries, typically consisting of densely-growing evergreen shrubs such as sage, juniper and myrtle. ... The Chilean Matorral is a terrestrial ecoregion of central Chile, located on the west coast of South America. ... Fynbos (Afrikaans for fine bush) is the natural vegetation occurring in a small belt of South Africa, mainly in the South-western Cape. ...

The word chaparral is a loan word from Spanish. The Spanish word comes from the word chaparro, which means both small and dwarf evergreen oak, which itself comes from the Basque word txapar, with the same meaning. Basque (native name: Euskara) is the language spoken by the Basque people who inhabit the Pyrenees in North-Central Spain and the adjoining region of South-Western France. ...

Chaparral, Santa Ynez Mountains, near Santa Barbara, California
Chaparral, Santa Ynez Mountains, near Santa Barbara, California

A typical chaparral plant community consists of densely-growing evergreen scrub oaks and other drought-resistant shrubs. It often grows so densely that it is all but impenetrable to large animals and humans. This, and its generally arid condition, makes it notoriously prone to wildfires. Although many chaparral plant species require some fire cue (heat, smoke, or charred wood) for germination, chaparral plants are not "adapted" to fire per se. Rather, these species are adapted to particular fire regimes involving season, frequency, intensity and severity of the burn. Chaparral plant community; Santa Ynez Mountains, CA; April 2002. ... Chaparral plant community; Santa Ynez Mountains, CA; April 2002. ... // Genus Quercus Subgenus Quercus Typical oaks. ...


Ecology of fire in chaparral

Chaparral is one of the most fire-prone plant communities in North America. As a consequence, since an increasing number of developments are pushing into the backcountry along what is known as the wildland-urban interface, management of the system has become increasingly important.

There are two assumptions relating to California chaparral fire regimes that appear to have caused considerable confusion and controversy within the fields of wildfire and land management: first, older stands of chaparral become “senescent” or “decadent” implying they need fire to remain healthy (Hanes 1971), and second, fire suppression policies have allowed chaparral to accumulate unnatural levels of fuel leading to larger fires (Minnich 1983).

The perspective that older chaparral is unhealthy or unproductive may have originated during the 1940s when studies were conducted measuring the amount of forage available to deer populations in chaparral stands. However, according to recent studies, California chaparral is extraordinarily resilient to very long periods without fire (Keeley, J.E., A.H. Pfaff, and H.D. Safford 2005) and continues to maintain productive growth throughout pre-fire conditions (Hubbard 1986, Larigauderie et al. 1990). Seeds of many chaparral plants actually require 30 years or more worth of accumulated leaf litter before they will successfully germinate (e.g. scrub oak: Quercus berberidifolia, toyon: Heteromeles arbutifolia, holly-leafed cherry: Prunus ilicifolia). When intervals between fires drop below 10 to 15 years, many chaparral species are eliminated and the system is typically replaced by non-native, weedy grassland (Haidinger and Keeley 1993, Keeley 1995, Zedler 1995). Binomial name Quercus berberidifolia Liebm. ... Binomial name Heteromeles arbutifolia (Lindl. ... Binomial name Prunus ilicifolia Nutt. ...

The idea that older chaparral is responsible for causing large fires was originally proposed in the 1980’s by comparing wildfires in Baja California and southern California. It was suggested that fire suppression activities in southern California allowed more fuel to accumulate which in turn led to larger fires (in Baja, fires often burn without active suppression efforts). This is similar to the argument that fire suppression in western United States has allowed ponderosa pine forests to become “overstocked.” In the past, surface-fires burned through these forests at intervals anywhere between 4 to 36 years, clearing out the understory and creating a more ecologically balanced system. However, chaparral has a crown-fire regime, meaning fires consume the entire system whenever they burn. Detailed analysis of historical fire data has shown that fire suppression activities have failed to exclude fire from southern California chaparral as they have in ponderosa pine forests (Keeley et al. 1999). In addition, the number of fires is increasing in step with population growth. Overall, chaparral stand age does not have a significant correlation to its tendency to burn (Moritz et al. 2004). Low humidity, low fuel moisture, and high winds appear to be the primary factors in determining when a chaparral stand burns.


In Southern California chaparral forms a dominant habitat. Members of the chaparral biota native to California, all of which tend to regrow quickly after fires, include: Downtown Los Angeles Skyline Southern California, also colloquially referred to as SoCal, is an informal name for the megalopolis and nearby desert that occupies the southern-most quarter of the U.S. state of California. ...

Species See text Ceanothus L., is a genus of about 50-60 species of shrubs or small trees in the buckthorn family Rhamnaceae. ... Chamise--Fire-loving Plant Chamise is the most common shrub in the chaparral neighborhood. ... Binomial name Adenostoma fasciculatum Hook. ... Binomial name Quercus berberidifolia Liebm. ... Binomial name Quercus wislizeni A.DC. The Interior Live Oak (Quercus wislizeni) is an evergeen oak, highly variable and often shrubby, found in the large areas of California in the United States. ... Binomial name Rhamnus californica Eschsch. ... Binomial name Rhamnus californica Eschsch. ... Species See text Garrya is a genus of about 18 species of flowering plants in the family Garryaceae, native to North and Central America and the Caribbean. ... Species See text See Manzanita (album) for the Mia Doi Todd album. ... Species - Birchleaf Mountain-mahogany - Hairy Mountain-mahogany - Littleleaf Mountain-mahogany - Curlleaf Mountain-mahogany - Alderleaf Mountain-mahogany - Catalina Island Mountain-mahogany Mountain-mahogany (Cercocarpus) is a small genus of five or six species of deciduous shrubs or small trees in the Rosaceae, native to the western United States and northern Mexico... Binomial name Heteromeles arbutifolia (Lindl. ... Species many, see text For the potato-like vegetable, see yuca. ... Binomial name Yucca whipplei Torr Our Lords Candle (Yucca whipplei) is a Yucca native to southern California and Baja, Mexico. ...


  • Haidinger, T.L., and J.E. Keeley. 1993. Role of high fire frequency in destruction of mixed chaparral. Madrono 40: 141-147.
  • Hanes, T. L. 1971. Succession after fire in the chaparral of southern California. Ecol. Monographs 41: 27-52.
  • Hubbard, R.F. 1986. Stand age and growth dynamics in chamise chaparral. Master’s thesis, San Diego State University, San Diego, California.
  • Keeley, J. E., C. J. Fotheringham, and M. Morais. 1999. Reexamining fire suppression impacts on brushland fire regimes. Science 284:1829-1832.
  • Keeley, J.E. 1995. Future of California floristics and systematics: wildfire threats to the California flora. Madrono 42: 175-179.
  • Keeley, J.E., A.H. Pfaff, and H.D. Stafford. 2005. Fire suppression impacts on postfire recovery of Sierra Nevada chaparral shrublands. International Journal of Wildland Fire 14: 255-265.
  • Larigauderie, A., T.W. Hubbard, and J. Kummerow. 1990. Growth dynamics of two chaparral shrub species with time after fire. Madrono 37: 225-236.
  • Minnich, R. A. 1983. Fire mosaics in southern California and northern Baja California. Science 219:1287-1294.
  • Moritz, M.A., J.E. Keeley, E.A. Johnson, and A.A. Schaffner. 2004. Testing a basic assumption of shrubland fire management: How important is fuel age? Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment 2:67-72.
  • Zedler, P.H. 1995. Fire frequency in southern California shrublands: biological effects and management options, pp. 101-112 in J.E. Keeley and T. Scott (eds.), Brushfires in California wildlands: ecology and resource management. International Association of Wildland Fire, Fairfield, Wash.

See also

The California chaparral and woodlands is a terrestrial ecoregion of central and southern California (United States) and northwestern Baja California (Mexico), located on the west coast of North America. ... Maquis (French) or macchia (Italian; plural macchie) is a shrubland biota in Mediterranean countries, typically consisting of densely-growing evergreen shrubs such as sage, juniper and myrtle. ...

External links

  • California Chaparral Field Institute

  Results from FactBites:
Chaparral Biome (215 words)
The chaparral biome is found in a little bit of most of the continents - the west coast of the United States, the west coast of South America, the Cape Town area of South Africa, the western tip of Australia and the coastal areas of the Mediterranean.
Lay of the land: The chaparral biome has many different types of terrain.
Chaparral is characterized as being very hot and dry.
ACS :: Chaparral (0 words)
Chaparral is an herb that comes from the leaves of the creosote bush, an evergreen desert shrub.
The term "chaparral" refers to a plant community dominated by evergreen shrubs that have small, stiff leaves and grow in dense clusters to heights of 4 to 8 ft in the American West and Southwest.
Chaparral is also made into a tea, which is bitter and has an unpleasant taste, or a tincture (a solution of chemicals from chaparral leaves dissolved in alcohol).
  More results at FactBites »



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