Friday, May 1, 2009

Carbon Canyon

Last week, I got inspired by Karin Miller's California Blog photos of the wildflowers growing along Carbon Canyon Rd. between Brea and Chino Hills, CA. That's the area that suffered the large triangle complex fire last November. Her blog referred to the colorful flowers that were "springing forth from the ashes." Since a number of California wildflowers are abundant after a burn, I thought I'd go have a look for myself. I was afraid I might be too late, though, because we had just had several days of 100 degree weather.

I started out at the Brea end of the road where Carbon Canyon Regional Park is located. This is a large park that includes grassy areas, tennis courts, etc., but there is a nature trail at the east end of it. The hills were covered with Black Mustard, Brassica nigra, the yellow flowers in the photo above and definitely not native, and down in the wash there was plenty of Milk Thistle, also not native. There was Mugwort and lot of Mulefat, both of which are natives. The usual phacelias were there that I have seen on my other canyon walks, Caterpillar and Parry's. One that looked different is this one which I think is Desert Bluebells, Phacelia companularia.

Driving along Carbon Canyon Rd. I think I found the spot where Karin took her photos. I found all the same plants that she has in her photos, but something about them bothered me. They didn't look like natives that were naturally springing up after a burn. They looked more like the wildflowers you see along the desert roads where Caltrans has broadcast "native" wildflower mixes.

This orange sunflower is what made me most suspicious. I haven't been able to find it in any of my books. Maybe that's because it isn't native or at least not native to the Santa Ana River area. Oscar Clarke in his book Flora of the Santa Ana River and Environs, is very particular about what he calls a native. Even if a plant is native to the west or native to California but not native to the area covered in his book he calls it "introduced." I like that. I like to find nature as she really is and not as man has fashioned her. The wonder, the beauty of true native plants is that they do spring back to life after disaster. And they tell us something about the place where they are found, its character and its history.

At the northeast end of the road, I turned south to find the entrance to Chino Hills State Park. My plan was to have my picnic lunch there and hike around to see what I could find. It looked very inviting, but I didn't go in very far. No paved roads and I have had two flat tires in the last 9 months. But I did have my lunch in a nice quiet spot while I was entertained by the birds.

These three baby Says Phoebes were patiently waiting for Mom or Dad to bring them food. A Greater Road Runner crossed the road (naturally) and a Blue Grosbeak sat and watched me as I ate. As you can see the park is very bare and in the fall the Black Mustard would be all dried out. No wonder the fire raged out of control once it found its way into the park. It is these introduced species that add to the fire threat.


  1. LOL I love your comment on the road runner. This looks like another great day.

    DIL Az

  2. I was talking to someone about replanting burn areas with natives. I can't remember which agency he worked for. But he did point out things I hadn't thought of.

    1. Everyone agrees that replanting with natives is desirable. They want to replant with things that will grow and regenerate itself.

    2. It is very hard to predict in advance which areas will burn and need to be seeded. How do you order seeds a year in advance with no idea what kind of seeds you will need and in which quantity?

    3. Growers of native seeds tend to be smaller, which means they need to work with more suppliers.

    4. Growers vary in diligence in keeping non-native seeds out of the mix. The best growers often farm the smallest plots (labor intensive hand weeding) and supply the smallest quantities.

    5. People want to see something growing quickly after a fire. That might be a good thing, for controlling erosion. The mix must include something quick-growing, that (hopefully) will last only long enough for natives to become established.

    6. In a perfect world, they would plant only natives for that microregion. And there would be enough seeds & seedlings available 'just in time' and affordable on their budget. In reality, they scatter 'natives mix' and see what comes up in that spot.

    7. I asked, hypothetically, what would happen if people seed-bombed burn areas with appropriate seeds. They've got so much to worry about after a burn, and they have so little money and manpower to do it with. Yet, they are held accountable for everything, including erosion damage done by well-meaning people walking over the steep hillsides.

    I really felt sorry for the guy.