Bush Poppy Is a Fire Follower! At the end of May, we were working on an article about the bush poppy (Dendromecon rigida) which resides at the north end of the Granada Native Garden. The bush poppy is interesting for a couple of different reasons. For one thing, it has bright yellow flowers that remain on the bush for several months, well into summer, and they contrast nicely with the grayish-green foliage. But also, the seeds that fall from the mature flowers are difficult to germinate into new plants. They need to be brushed by fire in order to stimulate the germination process, and so the bush poppy is among the first to appear after a fire. That’s why the bush poppy is called a “fire follower”; but there are many other plants that also require fire in order to prompt their appearance. (Click on a photo in order to enlarge it.)
Coincidentally, on June 1, the GNG was impacted by the fire which was started along the west side of the Arroyo Mocho. The bush poppy was toasted on one side, not severely, but it will be interesting to see if any seedlings pop up (oops, excuse the pun!) when/if the winter rains occur. (For a summary of the fire’s effects on the Garden, see the article “Fire! at the Granada Native Garden” posted in the June, 2014 Newsletter.)
Why Is Fire Important? The natural ecology of many native plants enables them to survive, and even flourish, after a fire. If they lack the needed conditions for their growth, many native plants may lay dormant in the soil for many years until a fire or some other disturbance triggers the plant’s survival mechanism. The tough seed coat of some seeds often protects them from being destroyed in a fire. But the fire also may crack open the seed coat and allow water to penetrate, giving the seed a chance to germinate. The ashes of burned wood are rich in potassium, phosphorus, calcium, magnesium and other plant nutrients. The bodies of insects, worms and other invertebrates and microbes that have been killed by the fire decompose and gradually release nitrogen into the soil. Thus, fire creates a slow-release fertilizer available to nourish newly sprouted seeds. Likewise, fire may destroy plant pests, such as bark beetles, root-eating grubs, and diseases such as anthracnose. Native Americans used controlled burns precisely to accomplish these goals. The fire burns off underbrush and allows sunlight needed by seedlings to reach the forest floor. There is also evidence that smoke itself contains chemicals from combustion products that induce germination. Finally, annuals and perennials that emerge soon after a fire provide the vegetative cover that helps to reduce the heavy erosion possible on steep mountain slopes after the protective cover has been burned off.
Other Fire Followers
The Cleanup Continues The worker bees at the Granada Native Garden have been busy removing sage, roses and currants that have been damaged by the fire. Amazingly, the deergrass (Muhlenbergia rigens), golden currants (Ribes aureum), box elder (Acer negundo), wild roses (Rosa californica) and matilija poppy (Romneya coulteri) are already showing recovery, only one month after the fire. Of immense help in the effort of clearing the debris have been Meenakshi and Malvika, both Granada High School students, who have spent several hours toting burned debris to the brush pile! It’s a dirty job, but somebody has to do it, and Malvika and Meenakshi, along with other GNG worker bees, have stepped up to do it!
The Adopt-A-Creek Spot Program Closely related to the Granada Native Garden in reclaiming the natural character of this section of the Livermore Valley is the Tri-Valley Adopt-A-Spot Creek program. The Friends of the Arroyos have adopted a 700-foot section of the Arroyo Mocho which runs alongside the Garden. The Livermore School District owns the creek, trail and garden property as part of Granada High School. Adopting a creek spot allows the participants to help improve water quality and aquatic habitat in neighborhood creeks. The removal of trash and litter helps improve the aesthetic beauty of our neighborhoods, while helping to reduce trash loads from the municipal storm sewer system. In fact, over the past year, GNG worker bee Dave has collected 1,253 gallons of trash left behind by careless people or carried by the wind into the arroyo and its environs. Believe it or not, this amounts to 1,942 pounds, almost one ton, of trash and debris! The Adopt-A-Creek Spot program is a great way to help improve our local environment and community. Join us, or learn more at http://www.TriValleyCreeks.org.