Monday, October 5, 2015

Adenostoma fasciculatum (chamise or greasewood): Worthless Brush or potential Nurse Plant ???

My subject here, Chamise or Greasewood is a much demonized shrub in the Chaparral Plant Community. Quite often it is blamed for most of the catastrophic wildfires in Southern California and often accused of being an invasive take over of habitat from more desirable shrubs and trees in it's very own native habitat. So much of what is misunderstood by the public has likely been the fault of  Journalists, Politicians, the very Departments and Agencies in charge of  land management oversight and those bought and paid for Scientists who back the business interests of corporate agencies who should know better.

(Image: Mine)

Adenstoma fasciculatum Chamise & Cuyamaca Cypress
Inspiration Point off Hwy 79 south of Julian California

These are simply some pictures I took from last weekend on our trip once again to Julian California. Admittedly in my past, I too had negative feelings or impressions about this plant and others, but most of it was based on the ignorance I also learned in School. What I love looking for when hiking and exploring outdoors are specific nurse plant examples [older well known ones and newer yet to be discovered ones] when I'm out in the bush. Always looking for which plants may be the best parent plants for use in practical application in habitat restoration or in community planting of the urban landscape. This poor shrub in the photograph above is also called by a purposeful derogatory name as Greasewood because it has a high content of volatile organic compounds, but then so do most other plants. But it conveys the idea that Chamise is worthless for nothing else than burning. A reality check here should reveal to you that all plants made of organic matter will burn. Just look at those colder Boreal Forests locations near the Arctic circle, even those of Temperate and Tropical rainforests. They all burn with great ferocity given the right circumstances. But this chaparral plant's mere presence will invoke the usual hatred by many an fire ecology expert and landowner determined to eradicate it in favour of what many humans consider plants with more eye-candy appeal. Often blamed for the reasons and causes of catastrophic wildfires and chocking out the more desirable plants, this in reality couldn't be further from the truth. 

image: Mine

Inspiration Point, Hwy 79 south of Julian
The reality is that this plant will grow where many others won't or can't. It most often will be one of the last holdouts in drought, holding down the soil erosion where others fail and disappear. In fact, during wetter times the Chamise allows itself to be colonized by many ectomycorrhizas which actually facilitate the higher succession plants like Pines and Oaks to grab a foothold in pioneer territory, even other chaparral like California Holly or Toyon as seen in the photo here to the right. Below the high country town of Idyllwild California in the San Jacinto Mountains while driving east along Hwy 74 through the San Jacinto River Canyon, you can see on the lefthand side of the road which would be the south facing slopes on the north side, numerous Toyon shrubs within the Chamise. Without the presence of Chamise, such srubs would never make a foothold by pioneering out into virgin territory without Chamise. Eventually if times are favourable and long enough, the Chamise itself will become the victim of succession through the chocking action of competition of the very seedling in it's care as will eventually happen with the Cuyamaca Cypress in the photograph at the top and below. 
image: Mine (2015)
This young Cuyamaca Cypress above is sandwiched between Chamise and Mountain Mahogany chaparral which clearly are helping support this immature cypress to adulthood. These Saplings were everywhere in the chaparral. Conventional practice by forestry and Timber agencies would have stripped the land bare prior to planting believe that such chaparral actually kills rather than nurse along such important forest species. 

image: Mine (2015)
This one appeared all by itself in an opening in the chaparral, but that doesn't mean there were no underground connections going on as far as a mycorrhizal grid network for them to tap into. In this photo, take a look in the background just above the Sapling central tip in the photo and slightly to the left of another sapling emerging through the Chamise. Clearly Chamise has been a mother tree success story here for Cuyamaca Cypress. In fact underneath and inside the canopies of the Chamise were several broken truffles of the Mycorrhizal fungi Pisolithus tinctorius from the crop of truffles which appeared this past Spring. A special note on Southern California's Ectomycorrhizal Fungal Diversity on surprising hosts came from the US Forest Service. Under a subheading with the same name, comment on observation of Ectomycorrhizal colonization on Chamise (Greasewood) was noted to occur in particularly wet years such as El Nino events. If true, then this coming year's El Nino event predictions for SoCal could be a window of opportunity for habitat restoration if anyone is actually paying any attention to this. This is an opportunity that has not really presented itself in almost two decades.
Ectomycorrhizal Fungal Diversity
Chamise (Adenostoma fasciculatum) normally forms arbuscular mycorrhizae with all genera found in the region. However, during wet years (El NiƱo), we found EM associated with its roots and EM fungi in the stands (Allen and others 1999b). There was a high diversity of fungi ranging from Cenococcum and Balsamia spp. (ascomycetes) to a variety of basidiomycetes such as Pisolithus sp., Cortinarius spp., and Hysterangium separabile. We also found a new species of Rhizopogon: R. mengei (Allen and others 1999a). This is an important finding, since all other known species of Rhizopogon are associated with conifers. In addition, we sequenced the dominant fungus found on the root tips of chamise, and this fungus was an unknown species of ascomycete, most closely related to Sarcocypha emarginata (97 percent similarity in the sequence alignment of the 5.8S region, 63 percent similarity in ITS1, and 59 percent similarity in ITS2), a common fire-following fungus."
This last line in this research article's paragraph about Adenostoma fasticulatum and the other possible or potential yet to be  discovered plant host to Mycorrhizal colonization relationships is really an understatement. Just think, what if the world's Scientific community had actually been pursuing such responsible biomimetic research these past decades as opposed to the obsession with an artificial version of plant care concerned only with Patents for product, manufacturing product, slapping a label on product and charging outrageous prices for artificial product which is not nearly as effective as the real deal found in Nature ? Quite possibly we wouldn't be living in the present wrecked world we all are forced to endure as a result of the misuses and abuses of Industrial Science. 
"There are clearly plant/fungal symbiotic combinations that we do not understand and have yet to explore."
USFS: "Biodiversity of Mycorrhizal Fungi in Southern California" 
Prior to the trip to Inspiration Point south of Julian, it had rained fairly heavy from recent Monsoonal Thunderstorms the week before this week's visit, but it hadn't been long enough and soaking enough to trigger any summer emergence of truffles this time. But at the very least I did find numerous broken dried out truffles with mature chocolate brown spores easily dislodged when rubbed from their compartmentalized interior casings. At least this was proof the system was still functioning in this spot. This cannot be said for my former collecting grounds on the outskirts of Anza a year ago.

image: Mine

Pisolithus tinctorius or Tom Volk's Dog Turd Fungus
The photograph below is of the actual single living parent tree for which all these seedlings originated that the 2003 Cedar Fire did not take completely down, although the old scars are still present. I collected one cypress cone this time to see if I can germinate some seeds and out plant the seedlings as an experiment on the hillside near my home here in Sweden. I'd love to see if they will take this climate's prolonged dark winter and long cold periods. In the photo's background of course you can clearly view Scissor's Crossing of Hwy 78 and San Felipe Road in the desert below. 

Image: Mine (2014)

Mostly I wanted to expose here the importance of Chamise and it's value to land managers and large land owner's who otherwise are prone to stripping such plants from their landscape mistakenly believing they are making an improvement. I have no problem with creating defensible space around their homes and other dwellings or even wishing to create what they consider more desirable trees and shrubs, but the Chamise is an asset in this area and not the enemy. Old school bigoted ideas and biased assumptions promoted for decades by ignorant land managers have got to be rejected. I'll provide a few more links, although I appreciate many will find such boring. Not the fault of the subject matter, but mostly the researchers who by nature never have been great communicators to the public as a whole. That in itself is one of the biggest problems of most of this world's leadership in general. As a final note, the use of Chamise in the urban landscape would be limited or none at all. Most of this post was to direct attention away from the negatives about this chaparral plant and it's important purpose within the Southern California Chaparral landscape. It's importance in covering the land quickly after fire and important role as a nurse plant or mother tree for other ecosystem succession plant life. The decades of conventional land management wisdom have been a failure, now perhaps acknowledging the reality of how the programmed mechanisms in Nature really work is the only hope left for humankind. 

Photo by Pete Veilleux - Big Sur wilderness - October 2016
The photo above was posted on the California Chaparral Institute's Facebook page by member Fred DeVault. It's an incredible example of how well chaparral works for forestry as opposed to the long standing ignorance as advanced by giant timber interests. So is this survival f the fittest or rather survival of the mutually cooperative ? To further illustrate how an ecological succession of a climax forest progresses, here is an animation video provided by Buck and Sons Landscape Services.
Ecological Succession of the Climax Forest

There is something extremely important to remember here. The Cedar Fire (2003) tore through massive amounts of both  old growth Chaparral and Forested regions of San Diego County mountains. Many of these beautiful pristine places of ecological climax succession took hundreds of years of long term gradual development to reach such an old growth state. But it took one unfortunate irresponsible act which triggered a massive catastrophic event over a mere couple weeks to almost completely destroy it all. To help illustrate in human terms, most of this world's Sports Stars, Hollywood Film & TV  Celebrities, Popular Political Personalities, Nobel Prize Winners, all manner of other world renowned Heroes etc spend decades building up their careers and reputations to attain what most people would consider a celebrity climax status of sorts later in life. Many times these stars crash and burn their reputations through one senseless act which becomes public. Often times most never recover. If they do it takes many more decades if they have the luxury of that kind of time and even then their celebrity fame never mirrors their former glory. We now live in a time like that where ecological circumstances have changed drastically where recovery may not heal as programmed over and over for thousands of years with no problem. Understanding the biological mechanical components for recovery are more important than ever because life on earth no longer has the luxury of time on their side anymore.

 One of my favourite images of  Adenostoma fasticultaum - Chamise with Trichostema lanatum - Woolly Blue Curls which can most commonly be seen growing together in the lower slopes of the San Jacinto Mountains  west of Mountain Center near Idyllwild California. Especially when hiking the South Fork Canyon Trail off Hwy 74.

Image by Bert Wilson of Las Pilitas Native Plant Nursery
Further Reading References
California Chaparral Institute 
Ectomycorrhizal fungal diversity separating the wheat from the chaff
USDA Forest Service: "Biodiversity of Mycorrhizal Fungi in Southern California"
When Mycorrhizae debunks the Scientific Orthodoxy on what & who they'll colonize
And finally, what motivates human hatred of specific organisms in the Natural World ?
Human mistreatment of the Natural World is a mirror of the way they treat each other