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Catalina Island Conservancy


Photos, text and illustrations by Carlos de la Rosa

February 2008

"The Challenge of the Phoenix: The Rise of Catalina's Ecosystem after the Fire"

In the months following the fire of May 10th, 2007, Catalina Island's plants have responded with ages-long strategies shaped by evolution and the unique environment of the Island. Many trees and shrubs—completely scorched by the flames—now have sprouts from their bases. These emerge from the bulbous root systems that were protected by the soil from the rapidly advancing fire.

While the flames consumed their above-ground growth, root systems of many plants survived to start the next generation. Others depended on their long-lived seed banks, dormant for years, or even decades in the soil. In the case of these “fire followers,” the heat and smoke triggered the germination of their buried seeds. They then sprout into the desolate landscape, take advantage of the lack of competition, and flourish amidst the new wealth of nutrients in the ashes.

But life is not so simple on Catalina. There are other perils that threaten the new growth's survival. Browsing by non-native mule deer, if severe enough, will kill resprouting and germinating plants. Non-native invasive plant species will also take advantage of the lack of competition and the plentiful nutrients. Many of these invasive non-natives are able to out-compete the native plants, which lack natural defenses against the invaders.

It’s a race for survival, and we humans are part of it.

Come and explore with our restoration biologists the challenges and successes as our native habitats seek to “rise from the fire.”

Bloom here