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 Comet Fire Report   Image Pages:  Page 1   Page 2   Page 3   Page 4   Page 5   Page 6   Page 7   Page 8   Page 9 
 Highlights From Comet Fire Image Pages 1 - 9:      Most Noteworthy Plant & Animal Images 
Ashes To Wildflowers: Image Page 3
Post-Burn Plant Succession Following Comet Fire East Of Palomar College,
Including Remarkable Leaf-Litter Ant, Other Insects, Spiders & Rattlesnakes
Compiled by W.P. Armstrong During Winter & Spring Months Of 2021
Plant names follow Checklist Of The Vascular Plants Of San Diego County by
Jon Rebman & Michael Simpson, San Diego Natural History Museum, 2006.

Tuesday 16 March 2021

As of 16 March 2021 there were numerous fire-follower seedlings and resprouting shrubs & perennals in the burned area. The rains of March really helped the recovery on the blackened, ash-covered slopes. In some areas, like above image, the annuals were very dense. In fact, one of the most prolific native fire-followers is common eucrypta (Eucrypta chrysanthemifolia var. chrysanthemifolia) in above image, a pleasant-smelling wildflower in the Hydrophyllaceae. It is now placed in the Boraginaceae in Jepson Manual along with many other fire followers, including Phacelia and Cryptantha.


Red Bush Monkey-Flower (Mimulus aurantiacus var. puniceus)
This Special Plant Of Coastal Sage Scrub Deserves More Information

White stigma is closed in left flower and opened in right flower.
One of the truly spectacular resprouting shrubs in the coastal sage scrub is red bush monkey-flower (Mimulus aurantiacus var. puniceus). Many people have no idea of the rich wildflower diversity of our endangered coastal sage scrub. For decades this species was placed in the snapdragon family (Scrphulariaceae), along with penstemons, paintbrush and owl's-clover. Now it is in its own family, the Phrymaceae. The two-lipped thigmotropic (contact movement) stigma closes with the slightest touch, presumably capturing pollen. It is closed in left flower and opened in right flower. You are probably wondering if it reopens after it has been touched, the answer is yes! By the way, I have never seen any resemblance between a monkey-flower and a monkey's face.

This is a hypothesis regarding the adaptive advantage of spreading stigma lobes that close together with the slightest touch of your finger or an incoming pollinator. This action decreases the chance of self pollination and favors cross pollination, especially if the incoming pollinator is covered with pollen from another monkey-flower blossom. When the bill or head of the hummingbird enters the blossom and touches the stigma it immediately closes. Pollen carried by the bird is trapped within the closed stigma lobes. As the bird probes for nectar deep in the corolla it also picks up fresh pollen from the anthers. But when it leaves, there is little chance of this newly acquired pollen touching the stigma because it is already closed, thus averting any self pollination. I cannot find the reference to support or substantiate my explanation, so I had better leave this as a hypothesis for now.

Note: Computer generated monophyletic clades based on chloroplast DNA have resulted in drastic changes to the Scrophulariaceae. Plantago, Penstemon, Veronica, Linaria, Antirrhinum, Keckiella, and Digitalis are now placed in the plantain family (Plantaginaceae). Mimulus with its thigmotropic stigma is placed in the lopseed family (Phrymaceae), along with lopseed (Phryma leptostachya), a native wildflower of the eastern U.S. These two genera appear very different; however, the changes are based on DNA similarities, not general appearance; however, I must say the general flower shape of lopseed does resemble those of Mimulus. Some references place shrubby monkey-flowers in the genus Diplacus. Traditional genera retained in the Scrophulariaceae include Verbascum and Scrophularia. Other cultivated genera placed in the Scrophulariaceae include Buddleja and Myoporum. Indian paintbrush (Castilleja), Indian warrior (Pedicularis), and owl's clover (Orthocarpus) are placed in the parasitic family Orobanchaceae with the broomrapes (Orobanche). Updating plant lists, reference books, herbaria, etc. to comply with all these changes is a monumental task. I have more detailed information and images about all these taxonomic changes at the following 2 links and why botanists now strive for consistent monophyletic groupings based on DNA sequencing. A good example of a genus that does not resolve into computer-generated, dichotomous, monophyletic branching is Acacia. That is why Acacia is now split into 5 genera (see below). This is also why the duckweed family (Lemnaceae), my favorite plant family, is now reduced to the subfamily Lemnoideae within the large arum family (Araceae).

  DNA Terminology & Monophyletic Taxonomic Groupings  
A More Detailed Summary Of Monophyletic Groupings
Placement Of Duckweeds In Arum Family Cladogram


Without getting too far from the primary objective of this post-burn survey it might be useful to explain why all of these names have changed drastically in recent years. Based on derived characteristics over time, modern phylogenetic trees (cladograms) of animal and plant groupings show all taxa descending from a common ancestor. This grouping is termed monophyletic. Starting with a common ancestor all the branching is typically in 2's (dichotomous), with every new branch (clade) giving rise to a pair of closely related sister clades. Each of these clades in turn gives rise to another pair of sister clades, and so on. Evolutionary relationships displayed in cladograms are not always dichotomous. Three or more branches may arise from a node (polytomy) when closely-related taxa cannot be completely resolved into dichotomies. This is clearly seen in the cladogram for the genus Acacia, of which we have a number of representatives in the Palomar College Arboretum.

This simplified dichotomous flow chart is NOT a computer-generated, monophyletc cladogram. It simply shows how the traditional genus Acacia was subdivided into groups in order to key out different species. Some of these species with prickles and stipular spines have been removed from the genus Acacia and placed in new genera. The original 1350 species now comprise 5 genera, with 960 (mostly Australian) species still retained in Acacia.

Computer-generated cladogram of Acacia showing five major monophyletic lineages (genera) in red. The group containing Mariosousa, Acaciella and Faidherbia is Polytomous. I.e. It doesn't resolve into dichotomies. Faidherbia is a monotypic genus that was formerly classified as Acacia albida. Original cladogram published in: Maslin, Miller & Seigler (2003), Australian Systematic Botany 16 (1): 1-18. The updated generic names follow B.R. Maslin (2008): "Generic and Subgeneric Names in Acacia Following Retypification of The Genus," Muelleria 26 (1): 7-9.

Plagiobothrys collinus var. californicus. Members of the genus Plagiobothrys are the true popcorn flowers. In my opinion, the flower clusters with distinct yellow centers (throats) resemble popcorn more than the flowers of Cryptantha species, particularly from a distance. Note: I once wrote an article about popcorn flowers and the editor could not see the resemblance to popcorn, so I included one Orville Redenbacher's Popcorn in the following image.

There were numerous seedlings of black sage (Salvia mellifera), especially at the summit and eastern burned slopes. Black sage hybridizes with white sage (S. apiana) where their ranges overlap (see following link).
  Sages Of The Genus Salvia  

The last thing I would have expected in my pitfall trap in the Comet Fire post-burn area is a dragonfly naiad! Some references use the word nymph for an immature dragonfly, but the correct word is naiad. Did a mature dragonfly lay an egg in one of my pitfall traps full of rain water? This is my only hypothesis to explain the presence of a naiad.


Friday 19 March 2021

Comet Fire burned area looking south toward Cerro de Las Posas and the highest peak, Mt. Whitney. Yes it has the same name as the highest mountain in California and contiguous lower 48 states at 14,505 feet. In my field botany class schedule I always included a field trip to Mt. Whitney and the students thought we were going to the Sierra Nevada!

Many of the resprouts among blackened boulders are nondescript and look alike. This one had sticky foliage and reminded me of a shrub I photographed many years ago. Luckily I still had the image on my ancient 20-year-old Dell desktop computer. It is called sacapellote (Acourtia microcephala). I knew it under the genus Perezia and the common name "purple heads." See following image.


California bee plant (Scrophularia californica ssp. floribunda) is sprouting throughout the burned area. Its leaves greatly resemble California goosefoot (Chenopodium californicum) on Image Page 1. The giveaway is last year's 6-7 foot flower stalk; however, these were mostly consumed in the fire. Scrophularia is one of the few original members of the snapdragon or figwort family (Scrophulariaceae) that was not moved to a different family. As the common name implies, this wildflower really attracts honey bees. A very hairy Scrophularia villosa is endemic to Catalina Island.

During the past 2 months, many interesting invertebrates have fallen into my pitfall traps. Probably the most remarkable was the leaf-litter ant (Stenamma); however, I have never seen this species of beetle (family Carabidae). See close-up at bottom of page. Considering the number of beetle species on our planet that is not surprising. To appreciate the number of beetles, see my following Trivia Note #89 submitted to Facebook:

Wayne's Trivia Note #89 (5 September 2013)

If all of the species of plants and animals were lined up at random, every fifth one would be a beetle. In other words, a conservative one-fifth (20 percent) of all the named (described) species of plants and animals on earth are beetles. Even more amazing, according to Camilo Mora, et al. [PLOS 9 (8) 2011], 86% of existing eukaryotic species on Earth and 91% of species in the ocean still await description. See the Wayne's Word Beetle Page

Mora C, Tittensor DP, Adl S, Simpson AGB, Worm B (2011) "How Many Species Are There on Earth and in the Ocean?" PLoS Biol 9(8): e1001127. doi:10.1371/journal.pbio.1001127

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