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Posts Tagged: plants

Car fumes, weeds pose double-whammy for fire-loving native plants

In September 2013, a few months after the Springs Fire blazed through the Santa Monica Mountains in Southern California, a team led by Justin Valliere started laying out plots to study how the combination of invasive weeds and air pollution would impact the resurgence of native plants that usually flourish after a wildfire. Their tests tried to mimic nitrogen coming from vehicle exhaust in nearby Los Angeles. Photo by Justin Valliere, UC Davis

Wildflower displays threatened

Northwest of Los Angeles, springtime brings native wildflowers to bloom in the Santa Monica Mountains. These beauties provide food for insects, maintain healthy soil and filter water seeping into the ground – in addition to offering breathtaking displays of color.

They're also good at surviving after wildfire, having adapted to it through millennia. But new research shows wildflowers that usually would burst back after a blaze and a good rain are losing out to the long-standing, double threat of city smog and nonnative weeds.

A recent study led by Justin Valliere, assistant professor in the UC Davis Department of Plant Sciences, found that native wildflowers and other plants that typically flourish following a fire were, instead, replaced by invasive plants on land that received the kind of nitrogen contained in vehicle emissions.

Shooting stars, or Dodecatheon clevelandii, is typical of the native plants that bloom in even higher abundance following a fire and a good rain in the Santa Monica Mountains of southern California. Photo by Justin Valliere, UC Davis

“Many native plants in fire-prone areas rely on fire, and some are entirely dependent on it. Some are even most abundant after a fire,” said Valliere, a UC Cooperative Extension specialist in invasive weed and restoration ecology. “But we found that these fire-following species may be especially vulnerable to the combination of nitrogen pollution and invasive plants.”

That's part of the reason why native plants in these mountains have been declining.

Seeds – banked in the soil and waiting to sprout

The problem faced by native plants can be compared to a drawn-down bank account: Funds withdrawn are not being replaced.

It starts with fire, an important ecological process, Valliere said. Flames burn through plants on the surface and return their nutrients to the soil. Seeds sleeping in the ground wait for the next rain to sprout, then use those nutrients to grow.

“Plant diversity is often highest in growing seasons immediately after a site burns,” he said.

But invading plants have many advantages over native ones. They often sprout earlier, grow faster and create more seeds, all while tolerating drought.

“They're like cheaters,” Valliere said. “They don't follow the same rules.”

Nitrogen, too, is an important piece of every plant's nutrition. They all get a fertilizing boost from nitrogen that floats up in vehicle emissions and falls to the ground. But the invaders use nitrogen and other nutrients to grow faster, winning the race for water and sunlight. As a result, fewer native plants reach maturity, producing fewer seeds that keep their populations thriving.

When the bank balance reaches zero

The 2013 Springs Fire gave Valliere a unique opportunity to study the combined impacts of wildfire and extra nitrogen. He and colleagues from UC Riverside and the National Park Service created test plots in the Santa Monica Mountains where the fire had burned. Then, they added nitrogen to the soil to mimic the amount and type that LA's smog would deposit. Over the study's three years, native plants that typically would have flourished after wildfire instead declined even faster in the plots with added nitrogen.

Native seeds sprouted, but didn't flower. Over time, the soil's bank of seeds drew down.

In spring of 2015, the area that had been burned by the 2013 Springs Fire was again in bloom. The clearwater cryptantha shown here, or Cryptantha intermedia, is a native plant that blooms all over California. It is especially abundant in the coastal south. Photo by Justin Valliere, UC Davis

“Each seed has one chance to flower and reproduce,” Valliere said. “If a seed grows and gets outcompeted, that seed has lost its chance to replenish the seed bank.”

Without the chance to replenish their bank account, native plants will die out, and the whole ecosystem will be thrown out of balance.

“There is inherent value in biodiversity,” Valliere said. “These invasive weeds could prevent the re-establishment of native shrubs after fire, sometimes forever altering the plant community.”

The loss of native plants can have cascading effects on the larger environment, he added. Problems can include the loss of native bees that feed on the flowers, and mudslides when rain makes hillsides unstable.

This problem is likely to repeat in similar areas where biodiversity is highest after wildfires – including parts of the Mediterranean basin, southern Africa and Australia. The addition of city smog “could have serious consequences for the biodiversity of fire-prone ecosystems worldwide,” Valliere warned.

Read the paper, “Nitrogen deposition suppresses ephemeral post-fire plant diversity,” by Justin Valliere, Irina Irvine and Edith Allen.

This article was first published on the UC Davis Department of Plant Sciences website.

Posted on Wednesday, February 21, 2024 at 9:54 AM
  • Author: Grace Fruto, UC Davis
  • Author: Trina Kleist, UC Davis
Focus Area Tags: Environment, Natural Resources

Gearing Up for 13th Annual UC Davis Biodiversity Museum Day

Meet the scientists! Ask questions! Plans are underway for the 13th annual UC Davis Biodiversity Museum Day, a free "Super Science...

Entomologist Jeff Smith, who curates the Lepidoptera collection at the Bohart Museum of Entomology, shows butterfly specimens to guests. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Entomologist Jeff Smith, who curates the Lepidoptera collection at the Bohart Museum of Entomology, shows butterfly specimens to guests. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Entomologist Jeff Smith, who curates the Lepidoptera collection at the Bohart Museum of Entomology, shows butterfly specimens to guests. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Billy Thein of the California Raptor Center introduces a golden eagle to the crowd at a recent UC Davis Biodiversity Museum Day. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Billy Thein of the California Raptor Center introduces a golden eagle to the crowd at a recent UC Davis Biodiversity Museum Day. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Billy Thein of the California Raptor Center introduces a golden eagle to the crowd at a recent UC Davis Biodiversity Museum Day. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

The Center for Plant Diversity creates a
The Center for Plant Diversity creates a "petting zoo" at which folks can pet a pine cone. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

The Center for Plant Diversity creates a "petting zoo" at which folks can pet a pine cone. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Posted on Tuesday, January 9, 2024 at 4:38 PM
Focus Area Tags: Environment, Innovation, Natural Resources, Yard & Garden

Gearing Up for UC Davis Biodiversity Museum Day: Crowdfunding Is First

This is a winter event you won't want to miss. The event: The 13th annual UC Davis Biodiversity Museum Day, a Super Science Day. It's an...

Crowdfunding is underway for the UC Davis Biodiversity Museum Day.
Crowdfunding is underway for the UC Davis Biodiversity Museum Day.

Crowdfunding is underway for the UC Davis Biodiversity Museum Day.

At the 12th annual Biodiversity Museum Day, children delighted in the science at the Bohart Museum of Entomology. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
At the 12th annual Biodiversity Museum Day, children delighted in the science at the Bohart Museum of Entomology. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

At the 12th annual Biodiversity Museum Day, children delighted in the science at the Bohart Museum of Entomology. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Professor, entomologist and UC Davis doctoral alumna Fran Keller, seen here in the Bohart Museum of Entomology, discusses black widow spiders during the 12th annual UC Davis Biodiversity Museum Day. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Professor, entomologist and UC Davis doctoral alumna Fran Keller, seen here in the Bohart Museum of Entomology, discusses black widow spiders during the 12th annual UC Davis Biodiversity Museum Day. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Professor, entomologist and UC Davis doctoral alumna Fran Keller, seen here in the Bohart Museum of Entomology, discusses black widow spiders during the 12th annual UC Davis Biodiversity Museum Day. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Posted on Tuesday, October 10, 2023 at 5:09 PM
Focus Area Tags: Agriculture, Economic Development, Environment, Innovation, Natural Resources, Yard & Garden

Of Bugs and Plants and Eagles...and More...

Of bugs and plants and eagles...and more... The 12th annual UC Davis Biodiversity Museum Day, set Saturday, Feb. 18 on the university campus, will...

The Bohart Museum of Entomology's live petting zoo draws scores of visitors. Here a youngster gets acquainted with a stick insect, aka walking stick. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
The Bohart Museum of Entomology's live petting zoo draws scores of visitors. Here a youngster gets acquainted with a stick insect, aka walking stick. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

The Bohart Museum of Entomology's live petting zoo draws scores of visitors. Here a youngster gets acquainted with a stick insect, aka walking stick. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

The Center for Plant Diversity, aka Herbarium, located in the Esau Science Hall, includes a petting zoo. Visitors can
The Center for Plant Diversity, aka Herbarium, located in the Esau Science Hall, includes a petting zoo. Visitors can "pet" pine cones. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

The Center for Plant Diversity, aka Herbarium, located in the Esau Science Hall, includes a petting zoo. Visitors can "pet" pine cones. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Raptor Center volunteer Billy Thein introduces the crowd to a golden eagle during a UC Davis Biodiversity Museum Day. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Raptor Center volunteer Billy Thein introduces the crowd to a golden eagle during a UC Davis Biodiversity Museum Day. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Raptor Center volunteer Billy Thein introduces the crowd to a golden eagle during a UC Davis Biodiversity Museum Day. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Know your plants! This group of young visitors at the UC Davis Arboretum and Public Garden display gets acquainted with plants. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Know your plants! This group of young visitors at the UC Davis Arboretum and Public Garden display gets acquainted with plants. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Know your plants! This group of young visitors at the UC Davis Arboretum and Public Garden display gets acquainted with plants. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Posted on Tuesday, February 7, 2023 at 3:05 PM
Focus Area Tags: Agriculture, Economic Development, Environment, Innovation, Natural Resources, Yard & Garden

Your water-efficient landscape doesn’t have to be barren

Volunteers rate the landscape plants during the Fall Open House at the South Coast Research and Extension Center in August 2022. All photos by Saoimanu Sope.

UC climate-ready landscape trials identify low-water yet attractive plants

Good news: roses can be a part of your water-efficient landscape. Lorence Oki, UC Cooperative Extension environmental horticulture specialist in the UC Davis Department of Plant Sciences, identified rose cultivars that remain aesthetically pleasing with little water.  

Oki is the principal investigator of the Climate-Ready Landscape Plants project, which may be the largest irrigation trial in the western U.S., and the UC Plant Landscape Irrigation Trials (UCLPIT), the California component of that project. These projects evaluate landscape plants under varying irrigation levels to determine their optimal performance in regions requiring supplemental summer water.

“There are some assumptions that pretty plants use a lot of water, like roses,” Oki said. “Everyone thinks they need a lot of water, but we've found some that don't, and they still look great. A water-efficient landscape doesn't need to look like a Central Valley oak-grassland in the summer. It can look really attractive.”

In 2021, Oki's team at UC Davis identified Lomandra confertifolia ssp. pallida "Pom Pom" Shorty and Rosa "Sprogreatpink" Brick House® Pink as two of the best low-water plants in the trial. 

An Austin Pretty Limits® Oleander growing in the 3-meter spacing deficit irrigation plot in the 2022 landscape irrigation trial at the South Coast Research and Extension Center.

“The useful tip or information that is shared at the end of each trial is the selection and designation of plants as Blue Ribbon winners. These are the plants that looked good with an overall rating of 4 or higher throughout and were on the low (20%) water treatment,” said Natalie Levy, associate specialist for water resources, who manages the project at the UC ANR South Coast Research and Extension Center.

How plants earn a blue ribbon

Each trial year, the selection of new plants is based on research recommendations and donated submissions from the nursery industry. The landscape plants are trialed in full sun or 50% shade cover.

Irrigation treatments are based on the rate of evaporation and plant transpiration (evapotranspiration) measured through a local California Irrigation Management Information System (CIMIS) weather station that provides a reference evapotranspiration (ETo) rate.

Three levels of irrigation are provided to the plants equal to 20%, 50%, and 80% of ETo. The volume of water applied is the same at each irrigation based on soil characteristics, but the interval between applications varies with weather and the treatment. Using this method, irrigations for the 20% treatment are less frequent than the 80% treatment.

“The 20% treatment during the 2022 trial was irrigated an average of once per month while the 80% treatment was irrigated weekly,” explained Levy.

During the deficit irrigation trial, monthly height and width measurements are taken to determine the plant growth index. Monthly qualitative aesthetic ratings on a scale of 1 to 5 are determined for foliage appearance, flowering abundance, pest tolerance, disease resistance, vigor and overall appearance.

A second round of flowering abundance and overall appearance measurements are also taken to capture more of the blooming period. For example, UCLPIT identified in the 2020 trial at South Coast REC that the "Apricot Drift" rose had a mean overall appearance score of 3.5 out of 5, deeming it “acceptable to very nice” and a low water use plant within the Water Use Classification of Landscape Species or WUCOLS guide.

Project expands options for landscape planting

Nathan Lo, staff research associate, and Natalie Levy take monthly plant growth measurements (length, width and height) of the Center Stage® Red Crapemyrtle.
While attending UC Davis as a master's student, Karrie Reid, retired UCCE environmental horticulture advisor for San Joaquin County, assisted Oki with landscape water conservation research. The landscape plant irrigation assessments were initiated at UC Davis in 2004 and the UCLPIT project, now in its 20th year, originated from her master's thesis project from 2005 to 2007. A CDFA grant supported duplicating these fields at the South Coast REC in 2017.

“(WUCOLS) only has 3,500 plants in it. There are guesses that there are close to 10,000 cultivars in urban landscapes in California, if not more,” said Oki. “WUCOLS also didn't have numerical ratings. Instead, you'll see verbal ratings like ‘low water use' or ‘high water use.'”

The UCLPIT project has not only developed numerical recommendations for irrigation, but it has also added new landscape plants that are compliant with California's Model Water Efficient Landscape Ordinance. In fact, UCLPIT's data is one of the few sources that can be used to supplement WUCOLS.

Geographic diversity of trial sites adds to knowledge base

In addition to UC Davis and South Coast REC in Irvine, the trials have expanded beyond California as the Climate-Ready Landscape Plants project and is in progress at Oregon State University, University of Washington, University of Arizona and Utah State University thanks to a USDA/CDFA grant awarded in 2020.

Lloyd Nackley, associate professor of nursery production and greenhouse management at Oregon State University, is the principal investigator of the trial in the Portland metro area, which is entering its third year.

“People know that there are drought tolerant plants, but there are many. We're trying to highlight lesser known or newer varieties. And even though the trial is three years, most gardeners would hope that their garden lasts longer than that,” said Nackley.

One of the observations that Nackley recalls is of the Hibiscus Purple Pillar plant. Unlike the trial at South Coast, the Purple Pillar did not perform well in Oregon in the spring.

“It wasn't until August that we saw the plant bloom and begin to look like what we saw from South Coast in April,” Nackley said.

Jared Sisneroz, a research associate from UC Davis, uses a LI-COR instrument to measure the stomatal conductance of a leaf on an Oso Easy® Urban Legend® Rose plant.

Ursula Schuch, horticulture professor and principal investigator of the trial taking place at the University of Arizona, was also surprised at the range of performance among different plant types and the effects of irrigation, heat and temperature.

“This research will reassure green industry professionals that they can stretch their water budget to successfully cultivate more plants, watering them according to their needs instead of irrigating every plant according to the highest water-using plants,” said Schuch.

Although research is only conducted in the West, the hope is that there will be trials in other regions of U.S.

Doing so would yield comprehensive information about the plants and their performance in different climates. As extreme weather events persist in the U.S., disease pressure and risks do too. Trials throughout the country would provide location-specific data regarding disease susceptibility. 

To learn more about the UCLPIT research project, visit https://ucanr.edu/sites/UCLPIT/

Posted on Tuesday, January 17, 2023 at 11:18 AM
Tags: climate (14), climate-ready (1), drought (171), irrigation (23), Karrie Reid (5), landscape (13), Loren Oki (6), low (1), plants (44), sustainable (13), UC Davis (348), water (84), water-use (1)
Focus Area Tags: Environment, Natural Resources, Yard & Garden

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