Southern California's chaparral is adapted to fire--or at least to natural cycles of fire. The progression of growth in an ecosystem is called succession. After a fire, with shrubs temporarily knocked back and more sunlight reaching the ground, annual wildflowers proliferate.
Indeed, several species are rare until a fire blows through and cues the seeds to germinate abundantly. I wrote about these fire-following flowers earlier this year for Chance of Rain. I hope you'll read the story.
I've been itching to see some fire-followers and other wildflowers, and check out how the Angeles Forest is regenerating in the wake of the Station Fire. So a couple weeks ago, I coaxed my 3-year-old into the car for a drive in the Angeles. Here's a slide show of what we saw, just from the road.
Thanks to Cliff McLean of the California Native Plant Society, San Gabriel Mountains Chapter for helping me identify the plants. I recommend his CD Field Guide, Common Plants of Eaton Canyon and The San Gabriel Foothills.
The flowers were beautiful, but I was troubled by some things I saw. First, despite many signs instructing people not to leave the road, people are hiking into the burn areas. Please know that if you do, you can tramp weed seeds from roadsides into not-yet infested areas.
The forest is especially vulnerable to weed colonization after a disturbance such as a fire. Weeds are no small matter; they can increase fire cycles to the point native plants can't recover. (Learn more about how human-caused fires threaten Southland ecosystems in my magazine story Sparking The Fires.)
You can see in a couple of the slides above that many weeds grow faster than native shrubs, allowing them to outcompete native plants.
The western stretch of Angeles Crest Highway (the La Canada entrance) is closed. You can access the Angeles through Big Tujunga Canyon, but the forest is closed to use, so stay on the road or face a $5,000 fine.
Click here for a larger version of the slideshow.
And check out this fun video about ecological succession: