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 Comet Fire Report   Image Pages:  Page 1   Page 2   Page 3   Page 4   Page 5   Page 6   Page 7   Page 8   Page 9 
 Highlights From Comet Fire Image Pages 1 - 9:      Most Noteworthy Plant & Animal Images 
Ashes To Wildflowers: Image Page 6 (2021)
Post-Burn Plant Succession Following Comet Fire East Of Palomar College,
Including Remarkable Leaf-Litter Ant, Other Insects, Spiders & Rattlesnakes
Compiled by W.P. Armstrong During Winter & Spring Months Of 2021
Plant names follow Checklist Of The Vascular Plants Of San Diego County by
Jon Rebman & Michael Simpson, San Diego Natural History Museum, 2006.

Friday 9 April 2021

Camissoniopsis hirtella (formerly Camissonia hirtella). Called "field sun cup" or "hairy sun cup," this is another wildflower commonly found in burned areas. It belongs to the evening-primrose family (Onagraceae) that includes many beautiful wildflowers in San Diego County: Clarkias, Calif. fuchsia, fireweeds, and large-flowered desert and coastal evening-primroses.

Sandmat (Chamaesyce polycarpa) certainly has the smallest flowers in the burned area. What appear to be small white flowers are actually inflorescences containing minute, unisexual male & female flowers. This mat-like wildflower grew in the same area prior to the fire. Another species of sandmat C. albomarginata grows on nearby Owens Peak.

Sandmats are low-growing wildflowers that thrive on sun-baked sandy slopes. What appear to be tiny white flowers are actually inflorescences technically called cyathia. Each cyathium contains unisexual male & female flowers reduced to stamens and a single pistil (gynoecium).

  The Diverse Euphorbia Family  

This is the native nightshade Solanum douglasii, sometimes called Douglas's nightshade. It belongs to the nightshade family (Solanaceae), along with the tomato, potato, egg plant, petunias, tobacco, and chile peppers. Some nightshade fruits are poisonous; in fact, even the tomato was once considered toxic. A beautiful blue-flowered nightshade (S. parishii) also occurs in these hills (see next image).

Parish's nightshade (Solanum parishii).

Invasive Fire-Adapted Eucalyptus From Australia

Many Eucalyptus species are fire-adapted from their native Australia. Their seeds germinate in the ash-covered soil after a fire. In fact, numerous Eucalyptus seedlings have germinated after the Comet Fire. The seeds came from dozens of trees planted in the sage-covered upper slopes of the burned area. Because of the juvenile leaves on Eucalyptus seedlings it is difficult to determine the species. Many species were planted in the local hills many years ago. Here is a sample of fourteen of the more than 700 species of Eucalyptus in the world. The vast majority of species are native to Australia and Tasmania, and a few species extend north to New Guinea and the Philippine Islands. In my opinion they do not belong in our endangered coastal sage scrub.

1. E. erythrocorys
2. E. lehmannii
3. E. caesia
4. E. ficifolia
5. E. cosmophylla
6. E. globulus
7. E. eremophila
8. E. citriodora
9. E. sideroxylon
10. E. polyanthemos
11. & 12. E. camaldulensis
13. E. cladocalyx
14. E. nicholii
15. E. spathulata

Eucalyptus seedlings on upper slope of burned area.

In addition to seeds that sprout after fire, some species can also survive literally being on fire! When the trunk and limbs of most tree species are completely charred by fire, they seldom recover. Australian Eucalyptus can resprout from the trunk and limbs within three months following a fire. This is technically referred to as epicormic sprouting from dormant buds along the trunk and branches. The buds are located in sapwood tissue and are protected from fire damage by the bark. Epicormic sprouting after fire also occurs in our own native coast live oak (Quercus agrifolia), the namesake of Twin Oaks Valley. The thick, fire-resistant bark of these oaks provides protective heat insulation for the living cambial cells beneath the bark. Compared with other oaks, the relatively smooth-textured bark inhibits the fire from being carried up the trunk. Instead, the flames are gradually extinguished as the bark becomes blackened and charred.

Left (A): Epicormic Eucalyptus species in Palomar burned area (12 April 2021). Right (B): Epicormic Coast live oak (Quercus agrifolia) in San Dieguito Canyon following the Witch Creek Fire of October 2002.

Monday 12 April 2021

As of 12 April 2021 the Comet Fire post-burn succession was filling in the bare, ash-covered slopes in places; however, without more rainfall there were still a lot of barren areas. The recovery was not as luxuriant as other fire areas I have studied. The resprouting shrub in foreground is blue elderberry (Sambucus mexicana). It was previously placed in the honeysuckle family (Caprifoliaceae) but is currently placed in the adoxa (muskroot) family (Adoxaceae). Even the species name has been changed in the Jepson Manual (2nd Edition) to S. nigra ssp. caerulea. Most of the lush growth in distance is the super fire-follower "common eucrypta" (Eucrypta chrysanthemifolia var. chrysanthemifolia). This is unquestionably the most abundant wildflower in the entire burned area.

Another possible reason for the lack of wildflower diversity compared with other burned areas I have studied in San Diego County is the introduction of Eucalyptus and disturbance of the area (see following link to Witch Creek Fire in Escondido). I know this for a fact because I saw a much greater variety of wildflower species following a fire north of the campus and on the slopes of Owens Peak about 35 years ago. There are actually 2 possible reasons: (1) The burned area did not have the native seed reserve, and (2) The indiscriminate planting of introduced trees (especially Eucalyptus) may have impeded germination of native wildflower seeds.

Witch Creek Fire Home Page With Image Tabs 1-5
  Wayne's Word Ashes To Wildflowers Ecology Page  

Another noteworthy fire-follower wildflower. My original image did not include flowers. It only had the basal rosette of pinnatifid leaves and seedlings of Eucrypta chrysanthemifolia and Malacothamnas fasciculatus. After hours of deliberation I finally submitted the image to iNaturalist where it was identified as whispering bells (Emmenanthe pendulifora var. penduliflora). The inset of drooping, bell-shaped flowers is from Curtis Clark via Wikimedia Commons. This species was on my original plant list for the hills & valleys surrounding Palomar College, but I didn't recognize it without flowers. It is common in burned areas and also occurs in the Anza-Borrego Desert region. This species is very special to me because one of my favorite rock & roll songs of the 50s by the Del Vikings was "Whispering Bells."

Friday 17 April 2021

A Tobacco Plant Used By Native Americans

This is Nicotiana quadrivalvis (N. bigelovii var. wallacei), a tobacco species native to the western United States and utilized (and even cultivated) by native Americans. According to Lowell John Bean & Katherine Silva Saubel, Temalpakh: Cahuilla Indian Knowledge & Usuage of Plants (1972), it was smoked and used ceremonially by the Cahuilla. I don't recall seeing this plant in our local hills since the last major fire north of campus over 35 years ago.

The flowers of Nicotiana quadrivalvis are definitely open at night. Cauline (stem) leaves are clearly sessile without a petiole or clasping base. This rules out N. obtusifolia, N. acuminata and N attenuata. This species keys out under "corolla generally + - closed during day" along with the smaller-flowered N. clevelandii.

Some of the rock formations in the local hills show evidence of Native American inhabitants. Professor Emeritus Dr. Dennis O'Neil of the Behavioral Science Department found a number of Indian artifacts, including grinding stones (metates and bedrock mortars). His archaeology students have conducted some interesting field studies in the Arboretum and adjacent coastal sage scrub. Some of the native plants were undoubtedly utilized long before the hodgepodge of Eucalyptus were planted in this endangered habitat.

Bedrock mortars are found throughout San Diego County, especially where native oaks occur. There are also a few on the hill adjacent to Palomar College. The ones in photo are in the Palomar College Arboretum. Perhaps there were oaks nearby, or other edible seeds and roots were ground or mashed. Native people were definitely in this area long before the white settlers. The coastal sage scrub and nearby grassy hillsides contained a number of edible bulbs and corms, including brodiaeas (Dichelostemma) and golden stars (Bloomeria). Poisonous native bulb species, such as star lilies (Zigadenus), were avoided.

Carolina geranium (Geranium carolinianum). In the Second edition of the Jepson Manual Of California Plants (2012) this species is considered native in California and across the United States. Most of the showy "geraniums" in cultivation actually belong to the genus Pelargonium.

Carolina Geranium With Red Foliage May 2023

Naturalized Geranium dissectum in Twin Oaks Valley

The Beautiful Phlox Family (Polemoniaceae)

Navarretia hamata ssp. hamata. A very small, prickly wildflower of early summer with a distinct & unmistakable skunky scent. It is common along dirt roads on the north side of Owens Peak. For its unique odor it is given the common name of "skunkweed." The following image shows another species of Navarretia in the burned area.

Navarretia. Possibly abberant N. hamata? Another small, prickly "skunkweed," although this specimen doesn't have the strong skunk odor, at least according to my nasal sense receptors. Like the previous species (N. hamata), the anthers and pollen are blue. The flowers typically have 5 petals rather than 7. This one is unusual.

Another Member Of Phlox Family Photographed With Kodachrome
Film Following A Fire Adjacent To Palomar College (Circa 1970s).

Ground Pink (Linanthus dianthiflorus). I included this 50-year-old image that I took during one of my 1st springs at Palomar College to show how good scanned Kodachrome images really are. This beautiful fire-follower probably won't appear in the Comet Fire burned area because of insufficient rain or possibly its seeds are no longer in reserve. Tony Rangel has observed patches of it in the Arboretum during years with adequate rainfall. In fact, he said it would make a spectacular cultivated wildflower if it could be hybridized with a perennial!

Foothill needlegrass (Stipa lepida), a native perennial bunchgrass. It is also listed in some references as Nassella lepida. The local hills also have purple needlegrass (S. pulchra) and giant stipa (S. coronata). Most of the disturbed vacant fields of our area contain dense naturalized annual grasses, such as wild oats (Avena), bromes (Bromus), and foxtails (Hordeum).

Monday 19 April 2021

Native Post-Burn Plants With Inconspicuous Flowers

California polycarp (Polycarpon depresssum) is a small native plant with a long taproot and minute flowers. It often shows up in burned areas. Another slightly larger, weedy species native to southern Europe (P. tetraphyllum var. tetraphyllum) is common on the bridle path near my home in Twin Oaks Valley. Polycarpon belongs to the carnation family (Caryophyllaceae) along with some colorful ornamentals.

California threadstem is another native species that is common in disturbed areas, such as burns. Because of its very thin, many-branched stems it also goes by the name of "granny's hairnet." It belongs to the buckwheat family (Polygonaceae), along with buckwheat and rhubarb.

Polycarpon tetraphyllum var. tetraphyllum

California everlasting (Gnaphalium californicum), another interesting native plant of dry, disturbed areas with a strong, balsamlike odor. It belongs to the sunflower family, the largest plant family on our planet. There are several other species of Gnaphalium in the local coastal sage scrub, including G. bicolor and G. stramineum. In the Jepson Manual of California Plants (2nd Edition, 2012), Gnaphalium species have been moved to Pseudognaphalium, except for G. palustre.

Another everlasting called cotton-batting plant (Gnaphalium = Pseudognaphalium stramineum). I don't know how well this plant would work for stuffing pillows! It is growing with black sage (Salvia mellifera), one of the dominant shrubs of the coastal sage scrub.

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