Excerpts from Jim Conrad's
Naturalist Newsletter

from the October 3, 2004 Newsletter issued from the Sierra Nevada foothills somewhat east of Placerville, California, USA

It's more than a coincidence that the vegetation's odor around here reminds me of Corsica. In the field of plant geography, the "Mediterranean Biome" is divided into five vegetation biome subtypes, and "Californian" is one of those five. A biome is "a major regional group of distinctive plants and animals, discernible at a global scale." North America's Eastern Deciduous Forest is often spoken of as a biome.

The Californian Mediterranean Biome Subtype is called chapparal in California. Chapparal consists of densely growing together, drought-resistant herbs, shrubs and small trees. Since we have tall Ponderosa Pines and California Black Oaks around us here, the vegetation here can't be called chapparal. Though there's a strong chapparal element in the vegetation here, real chapparal is found lower down where there's less rainfall. I think of the airy forest here as constituting a transition zone between the chapparal below and the taller, more luxuriant forest above.

One feature of the Mediterranean Biome and its five subtypes is that the vegetation is typically aromatic because the plants produce many fragrant oils. Often "fragrant" mean "smells like strong medicine." These oils, however they smell, typically taste bitter, and that keeps grazing animals from eating the plants. Such oil-producing plants also burn like crazy, so Mediterranean vegetation is especially vulnerable to wildfire.

You can read more about the Mediterranean Biome at www.botany.wisc.edu/courses/botany_422/Lecture/Lect10Mediterr.html.

The California Native Plant Society has a "Kid's Page" called "Chapparal and Fire" at www.cnps.org/kidstuff/chaparral.htm.