|Several stupendously super-sized serpentine sunflowers stoutly standing in foreground. A couple orache visible in the background.|
Before the fire and all of last year, these were quite small plants, reaching maybe 1-2' tall with a couple dozen flowers. In many places, they end at 6-10" with just a few flowers. These plants were over 3' tall and each had a hundred or more flowers. What happened?
Last year there was a little bit of odd late-summer weather, with a few overcast cooler days (it is usually above 90 and not a cloud in the sky here). On those days, one very small seep that I had a columbine population in would fill up a couple tiny puddles that hadn't had water for months. After a couple times, I mentioned this to the reserve manager here and she pointed out that the plants around the seep don't transpire as much on cloudy days, so the water being put out by the seep was not being used up before it got to the ground.
What transpires less than plants in overcast conditions? Dead plants. Right after the Rocky Fire, the seep with the sunflowers was flowing again big time (it is much larger and had much denser vegetation around it than the one that I could see the changes before). The amount of water in this seep now is greater than it's been since April or so. While the sunflowers and Atriplex are past the end of the visible water in the seep by a few dozen yards, it is still flowing belowground and these are pretty much the first plants that would be getting any of that water, as all plants upstream are fried.
This was an cool and unexpected - though completely logical - thing to find in the aftermath of the fire. I'm sure its been described before, but it was really eye-opening to me to see how much water those plants were transpiring and just how much influence this had on the hydrology and the success of other plants far below them (it seems like asymmetric resource competition - the manzanita and willows above were dictating the reproductive potential of the sunflowers below).
I'll write a longer post about the Jerusalem fire (more lost experiments... but not all!) and some other interesting observations that I've had during my last couple days of wanderings. But I've got more field work to do now.