Plant Communities of California at the ENC
California’s varied topography, climate and soils have given rise to a remarkable diversity of habitats, with a corresponding diversity of both plant and animal species. The ENC showcases representative plants from 15 of California’s plant communities, although it does not come close to representing all of California’s amazing biodiversity!
Geological and climatic forces have created California’s topography and soils. Glaciation, sedimentary and volcanic deposits, movement along fault zones, the uplift of subterranean rock and sediment layers, and gradual erosion have created unique topographical features and an assortment of disparate bedrock and soil types.
California’s extensive range of latitude, along with the varied landscape features, climatic conditions, and geological substrates and soils that exist here has yielded a tremendous diversity of habitats, including alpine meadows, desert scrub, coastal wetlands, sandy beaches, dunes and bluffs, oak woodlands, diverse grasslands, moist redwood forests, spring-fed lakes, and freshwater streams, rivers, and marshes.
The factors that determine where and how a particular plant species grows are:
- Weather, including precipitation, temperature and wind
- Climate, including elevation, humidity, sunlight, heating effects and evaporation rates
- Substrate, including rock and shallow, sandy, loamy or muddy soil
- Local Effects, including fire, soil creep, frozen winter soil and disturbances from burrowing animals and human activities
Plants adapt to combinations of these factors by growing specialized leaves, bark, stem tissues and roots. With its exceptional range of these factors, California has more species than any other state in the US, as well as the greatest number of endemic (existing nowhere else) species. As a result, California is one of the top “hotspots” for biodiversity in the world.
Take a visual tour through the ENC’s Plant Communities
Coastal Sage Scrub
The Coastal Sage Scrub is a plant community typical of Southern California coastal bluffs and canyons. Coastal Sage Scrub is considered by many to be the most endangered plant community in the United States. It has extremely high levels of species diversity and endemism, and it contains a number of endangered species, including the California Gnatcatcher. Coastal Sage Scrub is located on highly valued, coastal real estate and is threatened by development. This ecosystem represents the struggle between preservation and development.
The Coastal Sage Scrub habitat extends from the South Coast Ranges to Baja California, mostly below 3000 feet and below the Chaparral Plant Community. It is characterized by drought adapted shrubs. About 10″ – 20″ of rain falls annually, and that drains quickly through the dry, rocky or gravelly soil. The growing season is 8 – 12 months annually.
Channel Islands Flora
The Channel Islands include 8 islands. Located off the coast of Orange and Los Angeles counties are, south to north, San Clemente, Santa Catalina, Santa Barbara and San Nicholas Islands. Located off the coast of Ventura and Santa Barbara counties are, south to north, Anacapa, Santa Cruz, Santa Rosa and San Miguel. The flora of each island is individual and often quite different than the species found on the mainland. This plant community grows under similar conditions as Coastal Sage Scrub (high humidity) with 15″ – 20″ of rainfall annually.
Chaparral is a Spanish word meaning “where the scrub oak grow.” This plant community is found in semi-arid areas such as the dry slopes and ridges of the Coastal Ranges from Shasta County south, and below the Yellow Pine Forest on the western slopes of the Sierra Nevada Mountains. This habitat is found in the Southern California mountains, as well. Soil here is rocky and gravelly or fairly heavy. Average rainfall is 14″ – 25″ each year. The annual growing season is 8 to 12 months. Brush fires race through this habitat frequently.