261 California Coastal Chaparral Forest Shrub Province


Southern California coast, 10,300 mi2 (26,700 km2)


Land-surface form.--This province includes the discontinuous coastal plains, low mountains, and interior valleys adjacent to the Pacific Ocean from San Francisco to San Diego. Elevations range from sea level to 2,400 ft (730 m).

Climate.--The climate is characterized by hot, dry summers and rainy, mild winters. Annual temperatures average 50 to 65F (10 to 18C). Annual precipitation ranges from 10 to 50 in (260 to 1,280 mm), with a pronounced summer drought. This coastal province has a more moderate climate than the interior and receives some moisture from fog in summer. Fire is common, usually set by lightning during the summer dry season.

Vegetation.--Plant communities are well marked in this province. Several tree species are endemic to the region, including the Monterey cypress, Torrey pine, Monterey pine, and Bishop pine. The coastal plains and larger valleys have sagebrush and grassland communities. A riparian forest containing many broadleaf species grows along streams. On the hills and lower mountains, there is sclerophyll forest consisting of low trees with small, leathery leaves that can withstand the lack of summer precipitation. Live oak or white oak woodland is found here. On steep hill and mountain slopes too dry to support oak woodland or oak forest, much of the vegetation is scrub or "dwarf forest" know as chaparral, which varies in composition with elevation and exposure. It consists of chamise and various manzanitas that are adapted to periodic occurrence of fire. Exposed coastal areas support desertlike shrub communities called coastal scrub, dominated by coyote bush, California sagebrush, and bush lupine. Toward southern California, sages become abundant within coastal scrub communities.

Most of the coastal plains and interior valleys have been converted to urban use or irrigated agriculture. Citrus, grapes, avacados, nuts (such as almonds and walnuts), and deciduous fruits are grown extensively. Irrigated alluvial soils are also highly productive of vegetable crops. Bluegum eucalyptus and other species imported from Australia are abundant along roadsides and much of the coastline as well as farther inland.

Soils.--The soils of this region are mostly Alfisols and Mollisols. They are high in bases and quite fertile when soil water is adequate.

Fauna.--The brushy rabbit is common, as is the opossum, North America's only marsupial. Several species of seals and sea lions live along the California coast, and sea otters often float among kelp, feeding on sea urchins. The blue whale, the world's largest animal species, is found in California's coastal waters.

Coastal California is a major migration route for both water and land birds. From midsummer through winter and spring, thousands of shore birds, ducks, and geese inhabit coastal estuaries, lagoons, and mudflats. Other birds include the lesser goldfinch and golden-crowned sparrow.