Rainy winter season brings wildflowers, invasive plant species to recent burn areas

Some non-native plant species could be problematic

March 21, 2019

Ryan Fish

SANTA BARBARA COUNTY, Calif. - Spring has sprung, and so have beautiful wildflowers across Santa Barbara County. That being said, not all of the plant growth from this rainy winter season should be a welcome sight.


“It’ll definitely be a great year to get out [and see the wildflowers] because everything’s happy with all this rain,” says Dr. Heather Schneider, a rare plant specialist at Santa Barbara Botanic Garden.


The Botanic Garden offers a wide array of wildflowers that should bloom across California over the coming months.


In the hills above the Garden and across recent burn scars, wildflowers known as “Fire Followers” are set to bloom as well.


“Fire Followers are basically plants that exist most of the time as seeds in the soil,” Dr. Schneider said. “And following fire, they’re either triggered to germinate by the heat that breaks that seed coat or by the chemistry of the smoke and ash that gets into the soil.”


The Fire Followers don’t pose a threat to local plants, but some non-native plant species do.

“Things like these invasive annual grasses that are native to the mediterranean,” Schneider said. “They take over whole areas and create monocultures, and really cause ecological damage.”

These non-native plants could also be a fire hazard.


UC Santa Barbara ecology professor Carla D’Antonio says that in a month or two, a lot of these grasses on local mountains could become totally dried out and easily ignitable, making them a potentially potent fuel for fire.

And there are more of these grasses growing now than after a typical rainy season.


Schneider says while these flammable grasses and mustard plants are not as common in the Santa Barbara back country, they are already growing on the coastal hills between Santa Barbara and Ventura where the Thomas Fire burned.

“That’s a big problem because that’s an area where we had a shrubby community burn,” Schneider said. “And now it’s being replaced by these invasive annual plants that don’t hold the soil as well, they’re not good forage for native animals, and they’re flammable.”


Scientists are keeping a close eye on these grasses as they hope to manage fire safety.

“It’s a good opportunity to control weeds as we see new infestations moving in to burn areas,” Schneider said. “And to figure out where we can let nature take its course and where we might need to do more active restoration.”


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