Fire Ecology for Non-Scientists: Fire Followers

This is the third article in our Fire Ecology for Non-Scientists series. Read the the first on The Fire Triangle & Fire Behavior and the second on Renewal for Pepperwood’s Trees and Shrubs.

Fire Ecology for Non-Scientists: Fire Followers

By Sandi Funke & with contributing research from Preserve Ecologist, Michelle Halbur 

La Belle au bois dormant 
“The beauty in the sleeping wood”

Brewer’s calandrinia, photo by Doreen L. Smith

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.

Brewer’s calandrinia

One of the diminutive lovelies we hope to see is the Brewer’s calandrinia (Calandrinia breweri). This sweet little purple flower blooms from March through June.  It belongs to the purslane family and looks like something you might find in a home garden, such as the common red maids (Calandrinia menziesii).


Phacelia, photo by Neal Kramer

Sweet scented phacelia (Phacelia suaveolens) is another charming fire follower we hope will make itself known. This purple flower grows on a coiled stem sending its tiny blossoms popping out like notes in a symphony. It blooms late May or June.

Cobb Mountain lupine

Like almost any organization in California that values wildflowers, we of course love lupines. With their proud stalks of pink, purple, and blue flowers, they await bees to open their promising triangular packages of pollen. They are a true banner of spring. How exciting that we may be adding one more lupine, Cobb Mountain lupine (Lupinus sericatus), to the mix. This lupine has rounded, almost Dr. Seuss-esk, leaflets. It blooms March through June.

Redwood lily

Redwood lily, photo by Vernon Smith

We might also see redwood lily (Lilium rubescens) which does not actually require fire to germinate. It might however, become more abundant now that the dense overgrown forest has been thinned due to the fire. Despite its name, it can be found in chaparral, preferring serpentine soils. This plant is not common in California so we will be sure to be on the lookout for it in July through August.


References and additional helpful resources:

• Calflora – Database of wild California plants
• USDA – Effects of Fire on Flora

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