Chaparral is perhaps California's most emblematic vegetation type, forming broad expanses across coastal and inland foothills and constituting about five percent of the state's land cover (Hanes 1988). Paradoxically, maritime chaparral, a manzanita-dominated association found only in relatively small patches near the coast, is one of our most uncommon and highly threatened vegetation communities. Pajaro manzanita is endemic specifically to this region of the central coast. A second species, Hooker’s manzanita, is found only in the central and southern Monterey Bay area while a third, the burl-forming Brittleleaf manzanita, is restricted to the central coast.
Significant stands of maritime chaparral remain in the Burton Mesa region of Santa Barbara County, near Morro Bay in San Luis Obispo County, and in the Monterey Bay area at former Fort Ord and on sandhills adjacent to Elkhorn Slough. Maritime chaparral is protected as environmentally sensitive habitat under the California Coastal Act and under Monterey County's Local Coastal Plan (Monterey 1982). Occurrences are mapped as a rare natural community by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife in the California Natural Diversity Database (CNDDB).
Maritime chaparral patches in the Elkhorn Slough watershed occur within a matrix of coast live oak woodland, coastal sage scrub, and annual grassland as well as agricultural and rural residential development. At the present time there are 1700 acres of maritime chaparral in the 45,000-acre Elkhorn Slough watershed. It is a fire dependent vegetation type where many species are obligate seeders which require fire in order to reproduce. Species such as the rare manzanita species listed above are examples of species that reproduce only from seed. Although occasional germination from seed may occur in disturbed areas along trails, these species require fire to scarify seeds and expose mineral soil to allow for reproduction at an ecologically meaningful scale.
Maritime chaparral is threatened by removal and fragmentation due to development, encroachment by invasive exotic species such as pampas grass, iceplant, and blue gum eucalyptus, and gradual conversion to other habitat types, particularly live oak woodland.
The Elkhorn Slough Coastal Training Program hosts workshops and maintains an excellent resource for information on maritime chaparral ecology, conservation, and restoration. More information...
We are currently featuring the following species from this habitat: