Nature Notebook, October 12, 2017


Smoke and fog permitting, the Orionid meteor showers, at a rate of about 20 an hour, peak on Saturday, Oct. 21. Look for Orion with his three-star belt on the eastern horizon in the early evening.

Fire has been an ongoing force in creating our communities’ beloved landscapes; grappling with its power to change our lives will take time for many of us. As fire transforms northern California habitats, how might it affect plants and animals? Drought and fire are conditions to which many native species have adapted over the years.

At this time of year, cooler temperatures and less light have triggered ancient patterns in native plants. Leaves fall as plants receive less moisture, and fall colors develop as cold temperatures destroy chlorophyll that provides green. Many plants have entered their dormant state after seeds have been produced and distributed by wind, animals and other mechanisms. The first rains will most likely bring up grasses, mushrooms and ferns; other plants will store moisture underground in bulbs.  

Animals may be able to move away from fires, retreating further into wildlands; colder temperatures also remind them to enter underground resting burrows. For many years, traditional communities lit fires to improve habitats for basketmaking plants such as bear grass and also to attract deer into the regrowth of burned areas. Fire ash will recycle nutrients into the soil for next year’s generation of wildflowers and shrubs.