It is similar to the English heath in many aspects, but with taller shrubs, typically 2-4 m high as opposed to 0.2-1 m for heath. A similar habitat type in North America is known as chaparral, though the kinds of shrubs involved are different.
Although maquis is by definition natural, its appearance in many places is due to destruction of forest cover, mainly by frequent burning that prevents young trees from maturing. It tends otherwise to grow in arid, rocky areas where only drought-resistant plants are likely to prosper.
The word comes from the plural of Italian macchia (English thicket). The extremely dense nature of maquis made it ideal cover for bandits and guerrillas, who used it to shelter from the authorities. It is from this meaning that the Second World War French resistance movement, the Maquis, derived its name. In Italian darsi alla macchia means becoming a fugitive.