Tunnel

Following hints from a friend I explored this area of old-growth Scrub-oak chaparral back in March. The light was not ideal and when I returned two weeks later to photograph it in better conditions, there was a sign posted at the use-trail, declaring the area off limits. It was disappointing of course, but I respect the closure. While I won’t disclose the location now, I’d still like to take the chance and write a little bit about what I’ve learned (so far) about old-growth chaparral during my classes with the California Chaparral Institute.

The old (and wrong) “common” knowledge is something like “chaparral needs to burn.” And while chaparral may be adapted to fire, and certain plants in it benefit from fire (fertile ashes, exposure to light when the thick roof of tall shrubs is removed – not exactly unique to chaparral though!), chaparral does not need to burn. Old-growth chaparral like the enchanted thicket of gnarly scrub-oaks in the photo below would not exist if fires were too frequent.

But with urban sprawl and human development, they are too frequent. And it’s not just the growth and size of chaparral plants that is crippled by too frequent fires – it’s their reproduction itself. Some plants need to build 15-25 years of leaf litter, in which their seeds will be able to successfully germinate. You could say that chaparral builds its own mulch. And that takes time.

Looking at the photo of this venerable Scrub-oak “forest” below makes me wonder how the shrublands of the chaparral can still be ignored by many as “brush”, instead of the largest and most valuable ecosystem of mediterranean climates. Isn’t this enchanted little forest beautiful? Isn’t it worth protecting? A big bold YES! to both from me. And that’s why I show this photo. I hope to be able to photograph and document more old-growth chaparral in the future, and share the pictures with the world.

Path through old growth Scrub Oak Chaparral
Path through old growth Scrub Oak Chaparral, San Diego, CA. March 2015.

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