Plants need to be well adapted to the varying temperatures, poor soil, and lack of moisture in the chaparral. Many plants are drought and fire resistant to cope with the climate. Other plants are dwarfed, which is caused by severe drought, poor soil, and extreme changes of climate. Wild fires also stunt the growth of plants.
The most common type of chaparral contains plants like large shrubs, corn oak, and scattered scrub that are densely packed together. This type of chaparral is called maquis in Europe and chamiso-redshank in California. Chamiso is the most common shrub in that area. Chamiso-redshank chaparral also contains plants like poison oak, small scrub oaks, manzanita, and sugar sumac.
The dominant plant in the maquis is the scotch bloom. The maquis also contains a wide variety of plants like wild olive trees, yellow gorse, small oaks, and white shadbush.
Another type of chaparral in Europe is called the garigue. Here, the soil is nutrient poor and can only grow scattered herbs, like thyme and rosemary, and small, woody shrubs. Garigue usually takes over areas of the maquis that have been destroyed by humans.
Similar to the garigue, the coastal shrub chaparral of California likes to take over areas of human destruction. Here plants like poison oak, sagebrush, coyote brush, and chaparral yucca can be found.
More open types of chaparral can be found in the mallee scrub of Australia and the fynbos of South Africa. In the mallee, dwarfed eucalyptus trees standing no taller than ten feet (3 meters) grow above a low cover of shrubs and porcupine grass. The fynbos is composed of mostly large shrubs like heathers and protea plants. This region contains only a few trees.
Two other types of chaparral are found on California's mountain sides, which are among the thickest in the world. Mixed chaparral covers slopes up to 5,500 feet (1,678 meters) high in elevation, in thick shrubs and trees that rarely grow over 15 feet (5 meters) tall. Some common trees and shrubs found in mixed chaparral are dwarf coniferous pines, scrub oaks, chaparral oaks, manzanita, mountain mahogany, and chamiso.
Montane chaparral covers slopes from 3,000 to 9,000 feet (915 to 2,745 meters) in elevation and is usually covered in chaparral that grows 10 feet (3 meters) high. Montane chaparral consists of dwarf coniferous trees and large shrubs like bitter cherry, manzanita, and whitethorn ceanothus.
For most of the year the chaparral looks like a colorless, lifeless desert. However, when the time and the conditions are right, the chaparral is dotted with colorful flowers. The mallee scrub has eucalyptus trees that bloom huge, bright, red flowers. The maquis is splashed with color when gorse plants bloom yellow and shadebush white flowers.
Between the end of January and the beginning of May, white blooms from the whipple yucca open and shine in the California chaparral. Also, in June, the large, brilliant yellow flowers of the fremonta plants bloom in California.
The fynbos chaparral of South Africa is home to 8,000 different flowering plants, 6,000 of which can be found nowhere else on earth. Some of these flowers include the proteas and the small, blue drip disa orchid.
Flowers are in bloom and plants grow in the spring when the soil holds the largest amount of water. Later, when temperatures heat up and the water in the soil evaporates, seeds set out by plants begin to mature. During the summer droughts, the seeds remain dormant. They wait until the rains begin and then start to sprout. Plants like these are called drought avoiders. They are adapted to conserve water and be able to live with as little amounts as possible. Other drought avoiding plants drop their leaves when the weather gets hot to avoid excessive evaporation.
In contrast to drought avoiders, there are drought tolerators. Examples of a drought tolerator are most evergreen shrubs. These plants do not start growing until after the rains have passed and water is deep in the ground. This deep ground water can be reached by the shrubs deep growing roots during droughts. These plants also have small, leathery leaves to reduce water loss. The chamiso is also a drought tolerator, but it is also a greasewood. Chamiso leaves produce a waxy substance when the weather gets hot, so the plant does not lose moisture. This grease is very flammable and is one reason why fires are a common occurrence in the chaparral. Fires, however, are beneficial and healthy to the chaparral. It improves vegetation and growth of dominant plants by getting rid of decaying matter that gets in the way of many plants.
In the spring following a fire, flowers, called fire-following plants by scientists, finally have room to grow and bloom in the burned ground. Flowers such as lilies, anemones, and gladiolus are examples of fire-following plants in South Africa. After a few years, space for these flowers to grow becomes limited as dominant shrubs, grasses, and trees take over again. Slowly these soft-stemmed flowers die out until the chaparral looks like it did before the fire. The chaparral will lack the beauty of these flowers until the next fire chars the land.