Our book, "Fire, Chaparral, and Survival in Southern California" offers an color identification guide for the most common chaparral plants. A more general identification guide for much of Southern California is James Lightner's excellent 2006 second edition of "San Diego County Native Plants."
Using Plant Lists
By Tom Chester
If you are interested in identifying plants of southern California, one has to be very careful about websites or guidebooks created outside southern California, since the species are very likely to be different, even though they look the same. For example, the webpage http://www.bahiker.com/flowers/yellow.html is a wonderful site for identifying the common yellow wildflowers in the San Francisco Bay area, but can easily lead one astray for identifying the ones in Southern California. If you try to identify one of our several yellow Mariposa lilies in southern California using that webpage, you’d erroneously think the identification was Calochortus luteus, which is confined to northern California and the northern Channel Islands.
Another example is the five species of "purple nightshade" in California, whose flowers all look very similar. In the Santa Monica Mountains area, the species is Solanum xanti. At the Santa Rosa Plateau in Riverside County, and in San Diego County, the species is Solanum parishii, Parish's purple nightshade.
The latter example shows that even plant guides created within Southern California can lead you astray if you don’t use one local to your subarea of Southern California. For example, you cannot reliably identify most species at the Santa Rosa Plateau by using a plant list or flower book from somewhere else, such as the Santa Monica Mountains. The "look-alike" species such as the purple nightshades will give you incorrect identifications. Only a small number of species are in common between two different places. Of course, those may be among the commonest species in each place, so using a picture book from elsewhere may help to identify the most common species. The closer the other area, the more matches there will be.
For a fairly complete list of webpages and books that show southern California flowers, see:
The Essential 64 Plants and Animals of Southern California Chaparral
This list is from our book "Fire, Chaparral, and Survival in Southern California" which you can receive as a member benefit or purchase from your local book store. The 64 species in this list are considered classic representatives of the chaparral ecosystem as found in southwestern California. Only the red diamond rattlesnake and the mountain mahogany hairstreak butterfly are uncommon, but are included because they represent definitive chaparral creatures in their group.
Download, print, and go out into the chaparral and check 'em off!
Although many species travel over and through the chaparral, only a few call it home year round. Here's are the basic chaparral bird list including year round residents and those that make extended visits: