Monsoon Rains and New Opportunities

In the last month the eastern Californian Mojave has experienced record rainfall. Because of the regular patterns and consistent showers, seed collections have been picking up again and species like Pectis papposa, Bouteloua barbata, and Kallstroemia parviflora have been carpeting large parts of my field area. It’s an exciting time to be a field botanist! I recently collected from Rattlesnake Canyon, just north of Pioneertown, a village that has been chosen by filmmakers as the setting for many westerns and frequented by actor Roy Rogers.

-Rattlesnake Canyon-

Most recently, the Sawtooth Complex Fire came through the surrounding area, destroying stands of Joshua tree and scarring the landscape. The Joshua trees are now resprouting in some locations, but the damage is widespread and it will take many decades for the stands to recover. Because of the recent disturbance at the site, it seemed fitting to spend some time scouting for plants that are fire and grazing tolerant. There are several grazing permits in the area and I ran into a couple of local cowboys — the first people that I have encountered in the field in 7 months — that were looking for their cattle as I descended further down into the canyon. I was searching for Brickellia californica and Chysothamnus nauseosus, two fire-adapted species that also seem to respond well to grazing pressure. We managed to locate populations of both species that were fruiting and it felt great to make seed collections that I knew were great candidates for restoration on highly disturbed lands.

Last weekend I attended the Southern California Botanist Symposium at the Huntington Botanical Gardens inSan Marino,California. There were many talks given on restoration and threats to our native flora. One of the most interesting talks entitled, “The Current Role and Future of Biological Soil Crusts in the Face of Climate Change” by Jayne Belnap, Ph.D. For those unfamiliar with soil crusts, they are a layer of soil that is a living community of algae, fungi, and cyanobacteria. They exist in many arid environments, including the Mojave and Sonoran deserts. She explained how undisturbed soil crusts act as an impenetrable barrier to invasive plant seed; the appendages on many non-native seeds cause them to be trapped atop the soil crust, never allowing them to penetrate and germinate.

After hearing this talk, I’m convinced that one of the most effective methods of preventing the spread of exotic plant species is to prevent future damage to these soil crusts by reducing impact from development and vehicular soil disturbance. Manual and chemical methods of removal will only go so far if the continued degradation of these communities goes unhindered. I’m very grateful to my mentor for inviting me the symposium. I got to hear all of these interesting and poignant talks and meet many botanists that research plants that I see every day!

Rabbitbrush – Chrysothamnus nauseosus

I’m also taking two refresher courses in GIS that will give me more experience mapping populations and will expand my knowledge of the program. A big thank you to Dean Tonenna and everyone at the BLM who helped make these courses available to CLM interns. They will broaden our skill sets and help prepare us to manage our public lands as we look towards the future.

Aaron Sedgwick

Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden Office

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