Feb 16, 2018
By Sandi Funke, MS Ed, Education Director
Though many of us were taken by surprise by the fires last fall, if the plants that live at Pepperwood could talk I bet they would say they were not that surprised. In fact, I bet they would say they were prepared. Our local vegetation has evolved a number of clever ways to regenerate after fire. In fires of low to medium severity, many of our plant friends have a fighting chance to not only stay alive but also thrive. Read on to learn what amazing mechanisms these verdant survivors exhibit to reside in our fire prone ecosystem.
As you probably recall from elementary school plants produce their own food through photosynthesis. Unlike us, plants cannot go get food. They produce green leaves, which contain chlorophyll and, through photosynthesis, which requires water and sunlight, make sugar. If a tree loses its leaves, it cannot feed itself.
Sprouting is one-way plants can regenerate after a fire and begin quickly feeding themselves. We are already seeing many trees and shrubs at Pepperwood sprouting. Just two weeks after the fires we observed coast live oak (Quercus agricolia) leafing out. Arm-like shoots reaching for the sun can arise from dormant buds above the soil surface or even below the leaf litter. Many of our chaparral plants are already sending up such growth. The charming toyon (Heteromeles arbutifolia) sends up stump sprouts around the base of the plant as do manzanita (Manazita spp.), leather oak (Quercus durarata), and coyote brush (Baccharis pilularis). Blue oak (Quercus douglasii), black oak (Q. kellogii) and Oregon white oak (Q. garryana), all found at Pepperwood, can also regenerate with stump sprouts and growth from root crowns. The root crown is the point at which the stem and the roots meet. Tanoaks (Notholithocarpus densiflorus), though not actually oaks, can regenerate in the same manner. Coastal redwoods (Sequoia sempervirens) can also regenerate from their root crown. You may have observed this if you have ever come upon a redwood tree “fairy ring.” Each of those, sometimes large, trees in a circle is a sprout from the same root crown. Amazingly, coastal redwoods also have dormant buds all along their trunks that spring to life from under the thick bark after a fire, carpeting the entire burnt trunk in a brilliant lime green.
Geophytes are a group of plants that grow from a type of thick underground storage organ. The leaves, stems, and flowers of geophytes emerge and then die back leaving little sign of their presence. The secretive storage organs of these plants are described generically as “bulbs” but include corms, rhizomes, true bulbs, and tubers. Pepperwood is home to quite a few geophytes including soap root (Chlorogalum pomeridianum), mariposa lily (Calochortus luteus), and our beautiful leopard lily (Lilium pardalinum subsp.pardalinum) as well as various iris species. As explained in a recent issue of the California Native Plant Society’s Fremontia magazine:
“Because of their underground storage organs, geophytes are well adapted to withstand the effects of fire. Growing deep in soil, the bulbs, corms, and rhizomes are protected and insulated from the heat. Fire benefits geophytes in a number of ways, and are actually dependent on its regular occurrence.”
Like just hanging out in an underground bunker during a disaster, geophytes can emerge and take advantage of the post-fire ecosystem after the smoke has cleared. At Pepperwood we are already seeing large bursts of early germinating soap lily and death camas (Toxicoscordian fremontii) taking advantage of the fire and promising brilliant white blooms in spring.
Seeds are another way shrubs and trees renew their plant community after a fire. Some seeds can well withstand fire while others lay in wait in the soil needing fire to germinate. The seeds of our chaparral shrub chamise (Adenostoma fasciculatum) actuallyneed heat to germinate. Sticky monkeyflower (Mimulus aurantiacus) seeds can also be coaxed to germinate by heat or smoke. A manzanita (Arctostaphylosspp.) seed’s hard seed coat requires a disturbance, such as fire, to break the seal and begin to germinate. Several flowers we hope to see for the first time this spring require fire. We’ll be writing about these in a future blog. Acorns in the canopy of oaks can survive low severity fires, but once they are charred, they cannot sprout. However, the ones that remain viable and un-burnt may have a better chance of survival as fire can reduce leaf litter, which can choke out baby oak seedlings by preventing acorns from reaching the soil surface as they germinate.
Large oak have thick fireproof bark. Redwood trees are very fire resistance due to their thick bark. In Pepperwood’s Redwood grove, we have found… Douglas fir trees are said to be moderately fire resistant depending on the intensity of the fire.
Corms are rounded thick underground stems that are often scaly. If you are a gardener, you may have planted corms before in the form of crocus or gladiolus. Rhizomes are plants with thick horizontally growing stems.
At Pepperwood, we call the sprouts coming from below the leaf litter “stump sprouts.”
Like the Sleeping Beauty fairy tale, Pepperwood may be home to quiescent natural beauties awaiting arousal. Seeds can be present in soil but lay dormant for years, even decades. Normal seasonal conditions such as rain and the warming of the soil will not entice some special seeds to grow. The seeds of our chaparral shrub chamise (Adenostoma fasciculatum) actually need heat to germinate. Sticky monkeyflower (Mimulus aurantiacus) seeds can also be coaxed to germinate by heat and smoke. Manzanita (Arctostaphylos spp.) seeds have a hard coat and need a force such as fire to break that coat and begin germination.
The seeds of certain post-fire endemic flowers, or “fire followers,” are triggered by chemical factors. According to researchers, like the kiss of a prince, charate and leachate compounds found in the burned wood stimulate germination. At Pepperwood, we’ll be searching for a few beauties, in particular, this spring.
Over the next few months and years, Pepperwood’s forest and chaparral ecosystems will be reviving themselves in a number of ways. If you want to see it for yourself join us for an upcoming public hike. https://www.pepperwoodpreserve.org/get-involved/classes-events/
Please stay in touch with Sandi Funkle's Educational BLOG at: https://www.pepperwoodpreserve.org/category/blog/
Pepperwood Preserve is a leader in forging solutions to advance the health of Northern California’s land, water and wildlife. Since June 2010, Pepperwood’s Dwight Center for Conservation Science has served over 40,000 visitors. We work with researchers from around the world to address challenges facing land and water managers today and we translate results into educational tools and practical solutions for our community. PEPPERWOOD AT A GLANCE: https://www.pepperwoodpreserve.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/02/2016-Pepperwood-at-a-Glance.pdf
Sandi Funke, EDUCATION DIRECTOR: Sandi oversees Pepperwood’s education programming. She develops and enacts evaluation plans, oversees staffing, and writes grants for programs. She has worked in science and environmental education since 1995. Working at the local, regional, and state level Sandi has taught, developed curricula, evaluated programs, and built capacity for programs to better serve California’s diverse populace. Sandi has a bachelor’s degree in environmental science and science and technology studies and a master’s degree in education specializing in environmental education curriculum. She is the chair of the Sonoma Environmental Education Collaborative and serves on the Diversity Special Interest Group for the North American Association for Environmental Education. In 2014 Sandi was recognized as a national Audubon TogetherGreen Fellow. Ms. Funke has been at Pepperwood since 2011. firstname.lastname@example.org (707) 591-9310 x 124
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