The Cove Fire burned nearly 31,000 acres not far from our house. This lightning-caused wildfire was finally contained on 8-16-17. Leonard and I are returning to an area on Modoc National Forest Road 40N11 each month to document the forest’s recovery. I documented our first visit at three weeks post fire in my 08-28-17 post “Resilience”. On 09-24-17, approximately seven weeks after the fire passed through our observation area, we returned to the site.
A wide variety of trees and shrubs were now showing signs of life. The California black oak shoots were larger and more prolific. Even more amazing were the number of shrubs (or small trees) that recovered. In some areas the ash-laden ground was almost covered with green including squaw carpet, chinquapin, currant, Prunus (Sierra plum and bitter cherry), Oregon grape, serviceberry, tobacco brush, wild rose, rabbit brush and Scouler’s willow.
One shrub we were particularly interested in was greenleaf manzanita (Arctostaphylos patula). Manzanita has a reputation for reestablishing quickly after a fire. However, on our 08-24-17 reconnaissance Leonard and I could find no manzanita sprouting. We wondered if this trip would find greenleaf manzanita returning to life. Happily there were manzanitas with green shoots coming from the base of burned plants. The manzanitas were not as advanced as other recovering shrubs, but many were revived. They just took a little longer than we expected.
Manzanitas (of which there are over 56 native species in California) have three methods of reproduction. Some have burls (swollen growths at the junction of the roots and stem from which sprouts may arise) which are fire resistant and from which sprouts can arise. If the root system of a manzanita is deep enough or the fire is cold enough new growth can develop from the roots. The third way manzanita reestablishes after a fire is through seed germination. Manzanita seeds remain dormant for decades. They require scarification from fire or other sources (scouring over rocks or other objects or passing through an animal’s gut, for example) to germinate. Close examination showed that the shoots of these two manzanita plants came from burls.
Leonard and I also saw three deer, butterflies, moths, dragonflies, other insects and several bird species. The resilient forest is on its way to recovery after the wildfire.
There were also grasses and wildflowers growing, which I will mention in my next post.