Natural History Lost Valley Online Natural History Natural History


Drew Cressman

At the mention of the name Lost Valley the first image to come to mind may be just that: a valley, full of valley-like plants and valley-like animals. Most of these plants and animals found at Lost Valley Scout Reservation belong to an ecological community unique to this part of the world. They are all members of what we call the Chaparral environment.

Chaparral is an ecosystem, or lifezone that is typified by shrubby plants and evergreen Oaks that are especially adapted to warm, dry summers and cool, moist winters -- a combination that is found only in the mountainous regions of Southern California, at places like Lost Valley.

The Chaparral plant species commonly found here at Lost Valley include Coast Live Oaks, Mexican Manzanita, Thistle Sagebrush, Great Basin Sagebrush and Pine Golden Bush.

Other plants, not commonly associated with a Chaparral environment are also found here. These include California Wild Rose, Coulter Pines, and Valley Willow. These plants are parts of other ecological communities such as Forest or Creek Bed areas, which can also be found in parts of Lost Valley where soil and water conditions are slightly different.

But mostly, Lost Valley is Chaparral Country. This environment is the result of thousands of years of climatic and topographical influence on the evolution of various plant species.

The natural topography of the valley allows it to collect much of the rain water filtering down from the adjacent hillsides. This water helps bring much needed nourishment to the developing plant and animal life. These rains have flowed down the valley through specific paths and carved out the stream beds that now criss-cross the valley, leading eventually down to the lake and beyond. These creeks provide the valley’s plants with water from occasional storms during the otherwise hot, dry summer months.

These creeks allow several different ecological communities to exist side by side in Lost Valley. These include:

The Creek Bed Community, with its relative abundance of water and rocky, sandy soil. Plants found here, such as Willows, Watercress and many of our more delicate flowers, could not exist without this ready supply of water.

The Forest Community, found adjacent to and moving out from some source of water. Its rich soil supports numerous plants and trees including Coulter Pines and Mexican Elderberry. Some of the animals generally associated with the Forest Community include Squirrels and Stellar’s Jays.

And, of course, the Chaparral Community, that covers much of the valley and its surrounding hillsides. Without a regular water source, the plants here are tougher and have adapted to harsher conditions of wind, poor soil quality, snowy winters and little water during the summers.

Many of the Chaparral area plants are characterized by their small height, lighter appearance and the waxy texture of their leaves.

Without the tall trees of the Forest Community to block the winds, Chaparral plants such as the Great Basin Sagebrush must grow close to the ground to protect themselves from being injured by the wind. They also have an extensive root system, running deep and wide, to anchor themselves to the ground and to aid in collecting water whenever it becomes available.

Sunlight is also a problem. Because they have no trees or tall plants to provide them with shade, the Chaparral plants much have lighter-colored leaves that reflect away as much sunshine as possible. Darker leaves would absorb more of the light and cause increased photosynthesis. This forces the plant to use up more of its limited supply of water, so that the plant could loose too much water and die. The wax-like coating on many of their leaves, such as those of the Mexican Manzanita, also help to prevent water loss.

Chaparral and other life-zone communities found at Lost Valley Scout Reservation have existed for thousands of years. They are each the result of thousands of more years of evolution and selective adaptation brought on by environmental pressures. Even now, they are continuing to evolve, but at too slow a rate for our eyes to see -- even over our entire lifetimes.

As you visit Lost Valley keep this in mind. The valley is teeming with plants and animals that are constantly fighting for survival. Each individual species has developed during this fight to fill its own ecological niche, and in so doing has become an integral part of their own particular ecosystem. Each of these ecosystems -- Forest, Creek Bed and especially Chaparral -- have combined to form what we now call Lost Valley Scout Reservation.

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