Fire-activated, or fire-following, species are those that require high heat in order to germinate. The young plants utilize the bare and open landscape produced by the fire which reduces competition from other larger plants. They also prefer charate, or ashy burned material, as a seed germination stimulant.

Catalina Island has many of these fire-followers many of which were seen in abundance after the 2007 Island Fire. The list includes Trasks’s yerba santa (Eriodictyon traskiae), Phacelia grandiflora (had not been seen on the island in over a century until the 1999 Goat Harbor fire), whispering bells (Emmenanthe penduliflora), golden yarrow (Eriophyllum confertiflorum), blue-twining snapdragon (Antirrhinum kelloggii), fiesta flower (Pholistoma auritum var. auritum), eucrypta (Eucrypta chrysanthemifolia), and island rush-rose (Helianthemum greenei, a federally threatened species). Fire poppy (Papaver californicum) is a fire-follower that was discovered after the 1999 Goat Harbor fire. It had never been recorded on Catalina Island before! 

Island rush-rose, Helianthemum greenei. Photo by L. Danner.

Fire poppy, Papaver californicum. Photo by F. Landis.

Three shrubs known to require fire for optimal seed germination are Catalina manzanita (Arctostaphylos catalinae, a Catalina endemic), feltleaf or island ceanothus (Ceanothus arboreus, a Channel Island endemic), and mission manzanita (Xylococcus bicolor). These plants have very hard seed coats that are scarified by fire and thereby “activated”.

Feltleaf ceanothus, Ceanothus arboreus, is a Channel Islands endemic and also a fire-follower. Photo by D. Knapp.

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