There seems to be some flexibility in the application of the term ‘chaparral’ when it comes to gardening. Some definitions refer only to the small-leaved, drought-tolerant plants typical of certain climates whereas others define it as specific parts of California. Still others refer to the chaparral as a particular shared ecology and plant environment.
A biome is the term that refers to shared environmental elements. A chaparral biome would cover all the areas that have similar climates and conditions. These areas would likely support similar plants and many of those plants are likely to grow reasonably well in interchangeable geographical biomes.
The is an area with little ocean influence where there are hot, dry summers with little to no rainfall. Winters are relatively mild with few or no hard frosts and most of the rainfall. Different areas of the chaparral have varying soil compositions, but all are fast draining. Dry air, low rainfall and the daily wide temperature ranges of many of these areas make them wildfire prone. In addition to California, much of the Mediterranean, some of Australia, South America and South Africa are all part of the chaparral biome, whether they are considered ‘pure’ or not. Most often people think of the California dry-summer climate as the home of the western cowboy movie. Certainly much of the colorful history in the settlement of California did range across the chaparral areas.
We are located right in the prime area defined even in the most stringent terms as the chaparral. Whether you are a resident of Sylmar, Agua Dulce, Santa Clarita or Acton, you are right in the middle of the chaparral – as defined by even the most exacting geologists. In fact, the chaparral extends into Santa Barbara, through inland California up through Bakersville, Riverside, and Escondido, and right down through Los Angeles and throughout San Diego. There are different parts like the coastal, desert or the mountain chaparral. All are home to tough native plants that live with long periods of drought, wide daily temperature ranges and soil with little fertility.
Not only does the term carry the romantic, historic image of the old cowboy shows but chaparral plants are some of the toughest and durable plants for demanding environments. With the changing climates around the world, resilient, drought-tolerant plants are becoming more and more in demand in many gardens. The growing demand has encouraged plant breeders to expand the most decorative plants into extremely showy garden varieties. As a result there are more ornamental chaparral plants available for planting in demanding landscape environments.
These plants are beginning to find homes in gardens all over the world where drought and climate change are encouraging gardeners to seek resilient plants that can also be decorative in the landscape. This environment, once seen as nothing but ‘scrub’ land, is beginning to bloom into a fine source for drought-resistant garden material.