Climate, Fire, and Habitat in Southern California
Mediterranean climates and plant adaptations
The climate type in much of California is described as Mediterranean climate, with winter rains and dry, hot summers. Mediterranean climates are found in only five places in the world: California (extending into southern Oregon and northern Baja California, Mexico); the Mediterranean region itself; and the subtropical south or west coasts of Chile, South Africa, and Australia. All of these areas support uniquely adapted groups of plants and animals, and most of these places are prone to large wildfires.
The plant communities found in these areas are dominated by large, woody, evergreen shrublands. Individual plants have small thick waxy leaves to help retain moisture through the dry summers and have developed adaptations to their native fire regimes. Some shrubs have underground root crowns that allow them to re-sprout after a fire. Others are killed by fire, but produce seeds that can remain in the ground for many years, germinating in response to smoke, heat, and ash. Some species do both. During the first spring following a fire, it is common to see “fire followers”: annuals that germinate in response to a fire and produce beautiful flowers. They won’t be seen again until the next fire.
Fire-follower Phacelia brachyloba from Los Padres National Forest, Gerald and Buff Corsi, Cal Academy of Sciences