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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 4
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.

Monday 22 March 2021

My initial plan was to only include native species in my Image Pages for this post-burn survey: however, I will include naturalized plants in my alphabetical plant list on the Comet Fire Report Page. Many of the naturalized weedy species are prolific seeders in burned areas and some are already appearing after the Comet Fire. In fact, they can often completely take over the native species. Some of these include mustards (Hirschfeldia incana, Brassica nigra & Rapistrum rugosum), annual grasses (slender wild oat Avena barbata, red brome Bromus madritensis ssp. rubens, ripgut B. diandrus, & foxtails Hordeum species), asphodel (Asphodelus fistulosis), castor bean (Ricinus communis), and milk thistle (Silybum marianum). Fires can spread through previously burned areas and firebreaks covered by dense alien weeds, such as mustards and annual grasses. I used naturalized plants in my "keying out labs" and for "unknowns" in my Plant ID class (Botany 110) at Palomar College for many years. I brought introduced weedy plants into the lab room each week because I didn't want to pull up native wildflowers. I also created hint pages of illustrations and/or images to help students "key out" difficult plants with their textbook (Jepson Manual Of California Plants).

  Images (Mostly Weeds) For Unknowns In Botany110  

One of the sprouting plants on the ash-covered slopes has perplexed me since I started this project. Even though it is non-native, its identification became extremely challenging and deserves to be included. It doesn't fit any of the native wildflowers I am familiar with. The nearby Edwin & Frances Hunter Arboretum at Palomar College has an enormous collection of flowering plants from throughout the world. A few of these are readily naturalized from seed, so I decided to pursue this avenue to solve my plant mystery. I was reasonably certain it was in the legume family (Fabaceae), the 3rd largest family of flowering plants with about 20,000 species to choose from. Kew and Missouri Botanical Garden give higher totals because they have included a large number of "unresolved" species. These numbers are constantly changing depending on which reference you consult and when they were updated. My point here is that simply guessing the species name in the enormous legume family is simply not an option!

One fourth of all species of flowering plants (angiosperms) belong to these 3 plant families. In other words, if all the 250,000+ species of flowering plants on earth were lined up at random, every 4th species would be a sunflower (Asteraceae), a legume (Fabaceae) or an orchid (Orchidaceae)! If you happen to pick a legume, the odds that it will be one of the 2,000 species of locoweeds (genus Astragalus) is about one in nine!

Quite by accident, I remembered a flowering legume in the Palomar Arboretum called "darling pea" (Swainsona galegifolia) that I suspected might become naturalized and reproduce by seed. This species is a prolific reseeder in post-burn areas of Australia. The following image is from Huntington Botanical Gardens in San Marino, CA.

The above image certainly matches the plants in Palomar College Arboretum; however, the seed pods do not match the inflated pods in the following image from Australian National Botanic Gardens & Herbarium, a very reliable website.

  Australian Nat. Botanic Garden Image Of Swainsona galegifolia  

With input from horticulturist extraordinaire Tony Rangel, we concluded that our pink-flowered legume in the Arboretum is Tephrosia grandiflora. It is known as "pink bush pea" and is native to South Africa. The seed pods twist to forcibly eject the seeds unlike the pods of darling pea.

Tony Rangel also suggested that our mystery legume in the burned area might be Paraserianthes (Albizia) lophantha native to Southeast Asia and Southwest Australia. The leaflet size, shape & color matches; however, the seedlings may be too immature to show the characteristic bipinnate leaves. In addition this is definitely an invasive species in the Palomar College Arboretum and could very likely spread by seed to fertile ashy soil of the burned area.

The following 2 references state that this species reseeds after fire, and the seeds are dispersed by birds and ants. "Seeds can lie dormant in the soil for many years, germinating prolifically after a fire." So in conclusion, the evidence is pointing to Paraserianthes lophantha as our "mystery plant."

Gillian K. Brown, Elizabeth A. James, Catherine L. Simmons,and Collin W. Ahrens. 2020. "Recently Naturalized Paraserianthes lophantha subsp. lophantha Displays Contrasting Genetic Diversity and Climate Relationships Compared to Native Populations." Diversity Vol. 12: 1-20. DOI: https://doi.org/10.3390/d12110422 Full Text & PDF.

J. García-Duro, O. Cruz, M. Casal & O. Reyes. 2019. "Fire as Driver of the Expansion of Paraserianthes lophantha (Willd.) I. C. Nielsen in SW Europe." Biological Invasions volume 21, pages1427–1438. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s10530-018-01910-w Text & PDF

I posted my images of "unknown legume," including close-ups of new leaves, on iNaturalist. As of 12 April 2021, the general consensus appears to be Paraserianthes lophantha.

On 12 April 2021 I found Acacia baileyana in the burned area and the nearby unburned coastal sage scrub. The bluish bipinnate leaves with 2-4 pairs of primary pinnae are similar to the "unknown" legume. This Australian species is also known to reproduce by abundant seeds following fire and is considered very invasive in California. It is interesting to note that species in the genus Paraserianthes are closely related to the Australian genus Acacia, especially P. lophantha.

Burned & unburned branch of Acacia baileyana in and near burned area.


Two Species Of Australian Fire-Followers In the
Comet Fire Burned Area: ID Confirmed 10 June 2021

Both of these fire-followers came from trees introduced into the Palomar College Arboretum and adjacent hillsides. As of 10 June 2021 the Paraserianthes lophantha in burned are have much larger leaves typical of this species. They are both considered invasive weeds by the California Native Plant Society. They are a serious threat to the local coastal sage scrub, along with the perennial mustard (Hirschfeldia incana) and other introduced weedy grasses & forbs.
Why I Didn't Recognize Juvenile Leaves
Of Paraserianthes lophantha in Burned Area

Paraserianthes in burned area photographed 3 months apart.


Adult Paraserianthes lophantha in Palomar College Arboretum

Paraserianthes lophantha (Albizia lophantha) in the Palomar College Arboretum. The mature leaves have many more leaflets than the juvenile leaves of seedlings that appeared in burned area several months ago. As of 10 June 2021 the Paraserianthes in burned are have much larger leaves with numerous leaflets typical of this species.
Adult Paraserianthes lophantha in Full Bloom

Plume albizia (Paraserianthes lophantha). Although native to Australia, this species spreads readily by seed and becomes quite invasive in southern California. In my original Arboretum plant list it was named Albizia distachya and later changed to A. lophantha. It is now placed in the genus Paraserianthes.


An immature, native morning glory (Calystegia macrostegia). There are 3 subspecies (ssp.) listed for our area: arida, intermedia, and tenuifolia. They intergrade with each other based on degree of pubescence (hairiness), leaf shape and width of middle lobe of leaf. Botanist and mathematician Tom Chester has clearly shown that ssp. intermedia and tenuifolia are bogus taxa that represent the extremes in terms of pubescence and leaf width in ssp. arida. "Leaf size and width are clearly dependent primarily on moisture available to a given plant."

Conclusion: Under a dissecting microscope I can see varying degrees of hairiness on morning glories from Owens Peak and hills adjacent to Palomar College, especially on new growth. When I used the original "California Flora" by P.A. Munz (1959) this species keyed out nicely to Convolvulus aridus. In that edition there were no confusing subspecies to worry about until the supplement came out in 1968. So, in my opinion you can also call this species Calystegia macrostegia ssp. aridus and site Munz (1959) as your reference!


Friday 26 March 2021

Upper rocky slope of burned area looking south toward Cal State Univ. San Marcos.

One of the many species in the genus Lotus, another member of the huge pea family (Fabaceae) with trifoliate leaves; not to be confused with Asian water lotus (Nelumbo nucifera) of the family Nelumbonaceae. See following image of this post-burn species in full bloom.

Deerweed (Lotus scoparius var. scoparius), a native shrubby perennial found throughout the Palomar College Arboretum and adjacent coastal sage scrub. This is another species that thrives in burned areas and is actually grazed upon by deer. Much to the chagrin of botanists like myself, this genus has been renamed and the new scientific trinomial is Acmispon glaber var. glaber. In the desert var. brevialatus, the keel is longer than the wings. These name changes are difficult for people like myself that learned thousands of plants by their old scientific binomials and trinomials. It is difficult to replace the old memory banks with new names. At least most of the common names are the same.

Another species of Acmispon (Lotus) on the burned slopes: Acmispon strigosus. Unlike the upright, bushy deerweed, this species grows in flattened mats with tiny pinnate leaves.

By the way, in case you are wondering, the following image is the water lotus (Nelumbo nucifera) in a very different plant family. Along with water lilies (Nymphaea & Nuphar) it belongs to the primitive order of flowering plants, the Nymphaeales.

Water Lotus (Nelumbo nucifera): NOT IN BURNED AREA!

This is common eucrypta (Eucrypta chrysanthemifolia var. chrysanthemifolia), a true fire-follower with fern-like leaves and tiny white flowers. It has one of the most dense and luxuriant growths in the entire burned area. More images of this remarkable species are on the previous Image Page 3. I place the image here because this is how it looked on Friday 26 March 2021. For decades it was a member of the waterleaf family (Hydrophyllaceae), but now some molecular taxonomists have moved it to the borage family (Boraginaceae) based on DNA evidence.

Entrance to unknown nest. I did encounter a male trapdoor spider of the genus Aptostichus probably looking for a mate (see Image Page 2). I cannot be certain and I hesitate to guess without proof.

A small black spider wasp with black wings. It belongs to the spider wasp family (Pompilidae) along with the large tarantula hawk wasps of the genus Pepsis. This little wasp may be in the genus Auplopus that commonly prey on trapdoor spiders. This is quite interesting since I also found a male trapdoor spider in the same trap several weeks ago (see Image Page 2). The large tarantula hawk wasps with bright red wings are common in the local hills and especially on Owens Peak. In fact, I once brought a badly dehydrated tarantula home and nursed it back to health. One night it escaped and to my surprise a month later, it was walking into my office! By the way, I create my entire website with an old, text-based HTML editor called Arachnophilia! The logo is a spider.

  Tarantula Hawk Wasps Of The Genus Pepsis  

After spending $100 on tarantula accessories, my rescued tarantula preferred to hang out in an empty toilet paper roll. He also appeared to be afraid of the crickets I bought for him! I originally planned on letting him go when he was healthy, but there are so many tarantula hawk wasps on Owens Peak where I found him!

This is the smallest solpugid (sun spider or camel spider) I have ever caught in a trap, only about 10 mm in length. It belongs to the same class as spiders (Arachnida) but a different order (Solpigida = Solifugae). Although nonvenomous, this predator has a pair of massive jaws (chelicerae). Unlike most arthropods, the jaws open and close vertically rather than horizontally. Like a pair of powerful pruning shears, the jaws work independently and literally tear the prey to shreds. The long pedipalps in front of the body are tipped with adhesive organs which are used in climbing smooth surfaces, feeding, drinking and battling. Like spiders, the head and thorax are fused into a cephalothorax. At the top of the head are a pair of closely-spaced eyes. This arthropod has a voracious appetite and is a formidable opponent to other predators of similar size; however, this baby solpugid was so small when I released it that I couldn't help wondering if it would make to maturity.


Tuesday 30 March 2021

The naturalized Bermuda buttercup (Oxalis pes-caprae) from South Africa was already in full bloom on burned slopes by early March. It is naturalized worldwide and was actually named by Linnaeus in 1753. Its very effective methods of vegetative reproduction include underground stems (rhizomes) and copious production of small bulbs. I expect the native Oxalis californica to appear in the next few months.

Oxalis pes-caprae (O. cernua) has white underground stems called rhizomes that produce small, white bulblets. Each mature brown bulb can produce more than 20 more bulblets. This prolific bulb production is how this species has been transported to continents throughout the world. I originally thought these structures were tubers; however, they have overlapping brown scales typical of true bulbs, thus ruling out tubers and corms. Bulbs are common in monocot families including onions (Alliaceae) and lilies (Liliaceae). True bulbs are not as common in dicot plant families.

The following image shows 4 species of Oxalis in the local hills representing 4 major continents. The small-flowered O. micrantha is a relatively new naturalized species in San Diego County. In fact, it is not included in Checklist Of The Vascular Plants Of San Diego County (4th Edition) 2006. I might add that it has made its way to my home in Twin Oaks Valley without any assistance from me.

  Oxalis pes-caprae Terminology For Keying Out Lab In Botany 110  

Bush mallow (Malacothamnus fasciculatus): This beautiful native shrub is sprouting from seeds in great numbers, especially on the east slopes where fire burned toward a gated housing development in San Marcos. These shrubs will form a thicket of pink flowers by summer. Bush mallow belongs to the amazing hibiscus or mallow family (Malvaceae) that now includes many beautiful ornamentals and economically important plants, such as okra, cotton, cacao (chocolate), cola, durian, and kapok.

Bush mallow (Malacothamnus fasciculatus): Until I did this survey, I didn't realize this fire-follower spread by underground stems (rhizomes).

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