1. What is chaparral?
Chaparral is a semi-arid, shrub dominated association of sclerophyllous (hard-leaved), woody shrubs shaped by a Mediterranean-type climate (summer drought, mild, wet winters), and infrequent, high-intensity fires (with natural intervals between fires being 30 to 150 years or more).
2. Why should we care about chaparral?
The chaparral biome supports most of the biodiversity in California, meaning huge numbers of species call it home. Without chaparral we would lose those species, much of the state of California would be covered by highly flammable, non-native grasses, and the already critical water supply in the state would be further reduced with the loss of watershed cover that native shrubs provide.
3. What's the chaparral biome?
If the term biome is properly used, the "chaparral biome" would only refer to the limited geographic region where chaparral actually occurs - in western North America. Therefore, to avoid confusion, the name should include a geographic reference such as the California Chaparral Biome, indicating the most characteristic location for chaparral. Unfortunately, a lot of folks get it wrong. See our Chaparral Biome page for more details.
4. Where does chaparral mostly grow?
Chaparral is primarily a California phenomenon (extends a bit into southern Oregon, notably in the Rogue River Valley, and sparsely south into Baja California). It is mostly found on the slopes of the coastal mountain range, along undisturbed coastal mesas, the western foothills of the Sierra Nevada, and large patches within conifer forests. See our distribution map here for more details.
5. Does chaparral exist in other places outside California, southern Oregon, and Baja?
Similar shrublands without the Mediterranean climate are found at higher elevations in parts of Arizona (such as in the Catalina Mountains above Tucson). The so-called "Petran chaparral" is found in the central Rocky Mountains and Northeastern Mexico. Chaparral-like shrublands that have several shrubs in common with California chaparral (i.e., manzanita and ceanothus species) are also located in west Texas and along the eastern sides of the mountains in central Mexico.
6. Where are some good places to see chaparral?
All four of California's southern national forests (Cleveland, San Bernardino, Angeles, and Los Padres) are mostly chaparral. Along the coast there are some remarkable maritime chaparral stands (from south to north in California) at Torrey Pines State Preserve, Elfin Forest Recreational Reserve, Caspar's Wilderness Park, Crystal Cove State Park, Santa Monica Mountains, and Elfin Forest in Los Osos.
7. How do I protect chaparral around and near my home? I keep being told to clear it because of fire danger.
There are many misconceptions about chaparral and fire. Unfortunately, many of these misconceptions from government agencies and conservancies. Clearing chaparral from around your home can actually increase fire risk. To learn why and how to protect our home from wildfire, please see our Protecting Your Home Page.
8. Is dense chaparral natural?
Large, contiguous stands of dense chaparral are perfectly natural. Unfortunately, many do not understand this and falsely think such large stands are the result of past fire suppression. To learn more about this, please see our Myths Page.
9. Didn't Native Americans burn the chaparral all the time?
No. If they did, chaparral would no longer exist as it cannot tolerate frequent fire. To find out more about Native American fire use in California, please see our Native American Page.
10. Why is the California Chaparral Institute suing Cal Fire (and other government agencies)?
In an effort to "do something" about wildfire risk, Cal Fire is planning on using herbicides, grinding machines, and prescribed fire to clear chaparral habitat. This will not only destroy fragile habitat but will actually increase fire risk. To learn more, please see our Cal Fire Page.