Yellow monkeyflower
(Mimulus brevipes)
Mulholland Highway:
Fire Followers
in the
Santa Monica Mountains

Los Angeles County

April 14-June 22, 1998

Mulholland Highway runs along much of the core of the Santa Monica Mountains National
Recreation Area, from Topanga Canyon on the east to Leo Carillo State Park on the west. The
Santa Monica NRA represents Los Angeles' premeire urban recreation area. Within its 150,000
acre boundary, there are over 600 miles of great hiking and riding trails and spectacular
photographic vistas that would make any other city green with envy.

Important to the ecology of the Santa Monicas is its dominant chaparral plant community. One
distinctive characteristic of this community is that after a fire, the first year of regrowth
is dominated by short-lived herbaceous plants. Compounds found in burned wood (charate or
leachate) stimulate the growth of a number of species such as Phacelias and Fire poppies
(Schoenherr, 1992). Providing vital cover for the barren slopes, these fire followers do much to
prevent erosion while other shrubs (root crown sprouters such as chamise) begin anew.

The wildflowers shown here, while not all classic "fire followers" (such as the owl's clover,
monkeyflower, or larkspur) represent species taking advantage of the abundant light and food
resources of a post-fire ecosystem. The following images were all photographed in the 1998
spring season after fires burned the area the previous fall. The photographs were all taken within
a two mile reach of Mulholland Highway, east of the scenic viewpoint that overlooks the National
Park Service's Diamond X Ranch holding (east of Soka University).

This trail leads past the remarkable field of bloom to the right and below. Found about a mile east of the Diamond X overlook, the intense glow of owl's clover is what first pulled my attention to this area.
(Photo taken April 14)
Owl's clover (Castilleja densiflora) and Globe gilia(?) (Gilia capitata)
(Photo taken April 14, including the images below)

Bleeding heart (Dicentra ochroleuca), above. This massive stand of bleeding heart (covering two
west-facing hillslopes) was found directly across from the Diamond X scenic overlook. This was
the only year it bloomed in such profusion. The next year, bush poppy (Dendromecon rigida)
overtook the scene.

(Photo taken April 14)

White snapdragon (Antirrhinum coulterianum), above, entwined in the burned branches of a
chamise bush (Adenostoma fasciculatum). The basal shoots of the chamise had already begun to
sprout from its root crown.

(Photo taken June 10).

Scarlet larkspur (Delphinium cardinale). These photographs, above, were taken June 22,
across from the Diamond X overlook.

Schoenherr, Allan A. 1992. A Natural History of California. University of California Press: Berkeley.


Revised: January 4, 2003

This site ©2003 Ann Dittmer.