Mountain Plant Life

Southern California has a Mediterranean climate. This means that the weather is warm and dry in the summer, and cool and wet in the winter. The San Bernardino Mountains are well known for their lush forests of tall pine trees, but there are many other types of plants that live here.

On the dry south side of the mountain, chaparral bushes cover the steep slopes. Chaparral is a bush or shrub, usually evergreen, with leathery leaves and very deep roots. Many types have sharp thorns. They can live in poor soil with very little water. This group of plants include manzanitas, scrub oak, chamise, and wild lilac. These are often joined by yucca plants, with their sword-like leaves and tall spikes of creamy white flowers.

Deep-rooted chaparral covers the southern face of
the San Bernardino Mountains.

Black oaks reach for sunlight from the cool, steep canyons.

Chaparral plants are important since their deep roots keep the soil in place, preventing mud slides and flooding. When soil washes or blows away, it is called erosion.

In shaded canyons, the environment is very different. Ferns, herbs, and willow grow along little creeks under tall sycamore, live oak, white alder, elderberry, and big-leaf maple trees. Occasionally, big-cone spruce grows in shady ravines, with long, wide branches reaching for sunlight.

  Along the rim of the mountains, especially from Crestline to Big Bear, ponderosa pine, sugar pine, Jeffrey pine, white fir, and incense cedar trees mix with black oak and dogwood to create the “yellow pine forest.” These beautiful woods have drawn many visitors to the mountains, beginning with Indian families thousands of years ago. Beyond the rim, on the very highest mountain tops, tough lodge pole and twisted limber pines dot the landscape.

The yellow pine forest is a mixture of oak, fir, cedar, and pine trees.

Notice the dry landscape of the Mojave Desert caused by the rain shadow effect.

Over the ridge of the mountain, the plants gradually change to adapt to the very dry habitat of the Mojave Desert. This is because the mountains block rain clouds from getting over them. This effect is called a “rain shadow.” Some of these hardy plants are pinion pine, western junipers, and Joshua trees. You may have tasted the seeds of the pinion pine. They are often roasted and sold as “pine nuts.”
Questions to Think About

1. Why is chaparral a good plant for hillsides?

2. What kind of plants live in the yellow pine forest?

3. Do you think mountains can affect the weather of places nearby? How?


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