Coastal Sage Scrub

Photo by Stephen Bowers
Coastal Prickly Pear
(Opuntia littoralis)

The coastal strip of San Diego has a long growing season resulting from its maritime influences and Mediterranean climate of mild wet winters and warm dry summers. The temperature ranges from a January minimum of 45 °F to an August maximum of 80 °F, with a yearly average of 62 °F. The majority of rainfall comes during the winter and early spring, with a seasonal average of less than ten inches. Blankets of coastal fog also add moisture to this semiarid desert environment via the condensation of water on the plants and soil. Fog also increases the humidity of the air, lowering the plants’ evaporation rate, which is especially vital during summer. It is common for fog to persist the entire day along the coast while temperatures inland soar, especially during June and July.

Coastal sage scrub plants are typically low-growing, nonscleraphyllous (soft) shrubs with many brittle branches and are sometimes referred to as soft chaparral. The roots of these plants exploit the upper soil layers for moisture, allowing for rapid growth after winter rainfall. Their growing season is usually longer than that for typical chaparral plants. Some species survive the dry summers and autumns by utilizing water from their succulent vegetation or by dropping their water-demanding leaves. At this time these deciduous plants may appear as dried dead bundles only to spring back to life with green foliage during the rainy season.

The dominant shrubs in this community are: California Sagebrush (Artemisia californica); California Buckwheat (Eriogunum fasciculatum); Black Sage (Salvia melifera); Deerweed (Lotus scoparius); Bush Sunflower (Encelia californica); Lemonadeberry (Rhus integrifolia) which is also a plant of the chaparral; Live Forevers (Dudleya spp.); Coastal Prickly Pear (Opuntia littoralis); and Bladderpod (Isomeris arborea).

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