A Mediterranean climate has mild, wet winters and warm to hot, dry summers. It is generally agreed that this climate occurs in six distinct areas in the world, although true Mediterranean climate regions only occupy about 3 percent of the land area of the world. More than half of the total Mediterranean-climate regions on earth occur on the Mediterranean Sea. These include:
- The Mediterranean Sea and Basin: A total of 21 countries touch the Mediterranean Sea.
- Australia: The southern and western regions of the country.
- Africa: Morocco, north of Algeria, north of Tunisia, and the Cape Province area of South Africa.
- South America: The central coast of Chile and parts of Argentina.
- Coastal California and parts of Baja California, Mexico.
- Asia: Western Pakistan and parts of the Middle East.
Mediterranean-climate regions are found, roughly speaking, between 31 and 40 degrees latitude north and south of the equator, on the western side of continents.
Irregularity of the rainfall, which can vary considerably from year to year, is one characteristic of the Mediterranean climate. Rain does not fall evenly. As climate change becomes more pronounced, rainfall may be even more unpredictable.
Particularly distinctive of the climate are sclerophyll shrublands, called maquis in the Mediterranean Basin, chaparral in California, matorral in Chile, fynbos in South Africa, and mallee and kwongan shrublands in Australia.
Sclerophyll is a type of vegetation that has hard leaves, short internodes (the distance between leaves along the stem) and leaf orientation parallel or oblique to direct sunlight. They are specially adapted to prevent moisture loss.
In general, plants that are indigenous to any Mediterranean climate region are considered climate appropriate and are good choices for our area. However, the Mediterranean-climate regions of both Australia and South Africa have rainfall in the summer, so their indigenous plants require more summer water than our natives do. In fact, many CA native plants in suffer more from overwatering than under-watering in the summer.
Native plants are beneficial in general for the local ecosystem. They provide shelter and food for wildlife and support pollinators. Native plants attract a variety of birds, butterflies, and other wildlife by providing diverse habitats and food sources. They promote biodiversity and stewardship of our natural heritage.
In Mediterranean climates, the yearly life cycle of plants starts in the fall, after summer drought and dormancy.
An oft repeated myth is that Los Angeles, and Santa Barbara, are located in a desert. In fact, we have a Mediterranean climate. Understanding our climate characteristics and the plants that do best in our region, we can create landscapes that are beautiful and productive, while being water wise.