Chaparral Spells Home to Animals Large and Small
- Chaparral is a characteristic plant community on the hot,
dry, exposed slopes of our region. Smelling faintly of sage and
coyote bush, it is chaparral that perfumes the still air of summer.
Seen from a distance, it looks like rumpled, gray velvet.
- Chaparral covers the flanks of POST’s Rancho Corral de
Tierra, pops up in patches along the slopes of Skyline Ridge
and thrives in the heat of Mt. Umunhum and Rancho San
Vicente in southern Santa Clara County. Left undisturbed it
can become too dense for humans to penetrate, making it a
fine place for animals. Deer, jack rabbits, coyotes, even mountain
lions frequent the chaparral. Grey fox, spotted skunks and an
array of rodents and snakes also find comfort in this habitat.
Chaparral is also the preferred home of California valley quail,
the state’s official bird.
- Chaparral grows where winters are mild and rainfall
limited to a few months each year. Plants such as sumac, poison
oak, scrub oak, chamise and manzanita dominate. California
coffeeberry, ceanothus and toyon are often found here. Even
yucca and cacti can be part of this shrubland plant system.
Viewed at close range in early spring, local chaparral puts on a colorful show
with California sage, sticky monkey flower, coyote brush and globe gilia.
- All these plants have tough, woody stems and small,
hard leaves for holding whatever moisture comes their way.
Historically chaparral has been subject to intense, but
infrequent wildfires. More recently such areas have been
ignited by arson, poorly tended campfires or stray sparks
from machinery, according to the California Chaparral
Institute. Like forestland, this shrubland habitat can
build up a fuel load of dead material in its understory,
making it vulnerable to wildfire; however,
chaparral is a fire-adaptive plant community, and
many plants return via root sprouts.
- Early settlers in California had no use for
chaparral; they called it “brush” and cleared it
away to make farming and grazing land. Today’s
residents clear chaparral to make way for
residential subdivisions. Loss of this unique
shrubland forces common animals to seek food
and shelter in suburbia. For these animals,
protection of chaparral is just as important as
that of oak woodlands or salt marshes. For
people, it is just a harder sell.
Saving Habitat Saves Fish . . .