The Mediterranean nature of Irvine

by Jenny Rigby

Irvine, like other coastal communities in California, enjoys a maritime Mediterranean climate. Our winters are cool and moist. Our summers are warm and dry.

The ocean moderates air temperatures and keeps them mild. When it comes to climate (and much more), Irvine is the sweet spot.


Unique in the world

We share our Mediterranean climate with four other regions in the world: the Mediterranean Basin, central Chile, South Africa’s Cape region, and southern and western Australia. All of these regions lie on the western or southwestern coast of a continent, between 30 and 40 degrees latitude north and south.

Surprisingly, just 2.25% of Earth’s land is influenced by a Mediterranean climate. Still, these lands account for 16% of the world’s entire plant species. In terms of biological diversity, they are treasure troves of rare species that occur nowhere else.

Mediterranean plant traits

The native plants in these regions show similar traits. They tend to have tough, drought-resistant leaves. Some are drought-deciduous, meaning they shed foliage in summer to limit water loss. Annuals, such as wildflowers, fast-track their life cycles. Their seeds survive summer drought and germinate once triggered by rain or fire. Roots tend to exhibit dual strategies. Seedlings produce tap roots that dig deep to access water. Older plants produce shallow root mats that absorb nutrients and light rainfall from the soil surface.

Plants for the garden

If you want to see plants from the world’s Mediterranean climate zones, visit a local nursery. There you will find top picks for drought-tolerant gardens — olives from the Mediterranean Basin, strawberry myrtle from Chile, aloes from South Africa, melaleuca and kangaroo paw from Australia, and sages from California.

Local habitats

Irvine’s open space preserves are home to a range of native habitats, including native grasslands, coastal sage scrub, chaparral, riparian and oak woodlands, and wetlands. As part of California’s Mediterranean ecosystem, these places help us celebrate our Mediterranean climate roots. They also protect our natural heritage.

Jenny Rigby, director of Acorn Group, is an award-winning interpretive planner, teacher and writer.


Plants from other Mediterranean Climates for your Garden

CENTRAL CHILE’S COAST - Native to Chile, rock purslane is a succulent that blooms in spring and summer. Fragrant magenta flowers sit on tall stalks that rise above the foliage.
SOUTH AFRICA’S CAPE REGION - Called a wandflower or fairy fishing rod, the dierama is a perennial evergreen from South Africa that produces bell-shaped flowers in a variety of colors.
MEDITERRANEAN BASIN - A small evergreen shrub, the rockrose is from the Mediterranean region. Its showy magenta or white flowers bloom from spring through summer.
AUSTRALIA’S WESTERN COAST - The twisting, shaggy bark of the Australia tea tree is a backdrop for its delicate white flowers that bloom in the spring. It is used as a hedge or planted on a slope.