Of the temperate places in the world, California represents almost all of the possible temperate biomes! The left half of the state is one continuous coastline, complete with islands, bays, estuaries, and almost every type of marine and brackish temperate aquatic environments.
The right half of the state tends toward temperate forest and, in many places, untouched mountanous regions that go on seemingly forever. In the middle is one of the worlds largest continuous valleys, with elevations that range from sea level to gradually rising foothills.
With it’s extensive and complex network of streams, lakes, annual snow packs and massive river systems, California has one of the widest range of freshwater enviroments in the world, including world class ski resorts, beautiful lakes and great rivers that drain through the Sacramento Delta into the vast San Fransicso Bay.
There are woodlands, with oak, grasses and shrubs, that served as the environment for the original “Robin Hood” film. The California Blue Oak is one of the most shapely and beautiful in the world.
If people are looking for grasslands (or chapparal), the most deadly forms of desert, an inland saline “sea”, and all of the transitional areas in between, California has something for them.
California is definitely a fine example of a sesonally arid biome. There are long periods of drought along with a history of droughts that have lasted as long as 20 years. In the wet season, however, California can have a devastating surplus of water, resulting in major areas that are periodically flood prone.
California’s climate has alternately been defined as “Mediterrinean”, desert, alpine, pastoral, oceanic and everything in between, depending on where a person has visited.
In the least detailed classification of biomes, California as temperate decidious forest in the north state, Chapparal in the mid state and Desert in the south state. Then there is that incredible coastline.
The decidious forest in the North State, depending on very clearly identifiable zones, the trees may be decidious (or lose their leaves in the Winter) or evergreen.
In the temperate forest, winters can be very wet and from cool to very cold, with every form of precipitation from snow to fog to hail. The winter storms can come off of the Pacific ocean in full force of hurricane level, or can build up in the form of very active thunderstorms, some of which approach tornadic levels in force. Fortunately, the valley is too narrow for significant tornadoes to build. Alpine temperatures are mild in the Summer, but the drought season leads to very high fire danger, with incredibly massive and almost unmanagable forest fires in inaccesible areas that are expected every year.
The Central Valley is predominantly some of the richest and most productive crop and farmland in the world. Winters are mild, with some very active Pacific Ocean and valley/foothill thunderstorms. Summers can be very hot in the valley, as compared to the higher elevations. Sacramento, the state capitol, is said to be the third hottest city in the nation as it sits at sea level and is prone to air inversions.
The chaparral extends from the costal mountains, through the mid valley and up into the eastern foothills from East to West. From North to south, this is generally the huge central valley and it’s foothills. This vast area is generally fed by the mild, wetter winter months, where brush, shrubs, deciduous trees, crops and grasses grow extensively, then dry out and become a hazard in the dry, hot Summer season. California also hosts a major amount of alien plant species, thanks to urban and suburban development and other intrusions past natural barriers. As a result, human allergic reactions are notoriously common in the Central Valley of California.
The desert of California is generally the southern third of the state. With little water resources of their own, the people of the southern desert, including the Los Angeles and San Diego metro areas, depend upon water from the north state that is transported by a central canal. This is classic desert, dangerous, hot in the day and cold at night, with very limited precipitation despite proximity to the largest stretch of ocean that sits between continental land masses on the planet. The famous and hardy desert shrubs, including “tumbleweed”, cactuses and a wide variety of very sturdy and somewhat dangerous insects, reptiles (including rattlesnakes) and animals reside in California’s desert.
Depending on elevation and general biome, California’s animals and other species will never be completely identified, but Cal Photos has an excellent interactive photo exhibit of California’s identified life forms.