Every year as Southern California heats up, the threat of wildfires becomes ever more present. All it takes is a wayward ember for generations of green to be transformed into a charred moonscape overnight – trees to lonely carbon ghosts, and rolling hills to dusty ash. Even though these post-blaze landscapes may appear dead and barren, chaparral – the brush and shrubs that carpet our canyons – offers hope. These hardy plants, like black sage and California lilac, are the first to return after tragedy, slowly breathing life back. They also offer a home for larger trees to take root, providing the shade and structure for the return of oaks and manzanita to their former homes.
But sometimes, fire can be so intense the ground needs a little help to recover. That’s why, on a hot and sunny early summer morning, TreePeople, the Arroyo Seco Foundation and 17 volunteers gathered at the foothills of the San Gabriel Mountains along Big Tujunga Creek to collect seeds from the California buckwheat.
Lead by TreePeople’s Wildland Restoration Manager, Cody Chappel and Thierry Rivard from the Arroyo Seco Foundation, the volunteers meticulously harvested their bounty into paper bags. The volunteers made sure to take only a quarter of each plant’s seeds to provide their canyon home the life support it needs to thrive.
“It’s important that the seeds are collected from locations with similar climate and elevations to where they will be planted,” Cody explained to a small group of the volunteers, all waist-high in a sea of flowering buckwheat, “They’re better adapted to the conditions they’ll face. It gives them a fighting chance.”
A few days later, Cody opened the door to an office attached to the nursery at TreePeople’s Coldwater Canyon Park and sits at his desk. The bags carrying the weekend’s haul stacked like miniature Leaning Towers of Pisa, almost obscuring his face. He placed a handful of the buckwheat into a collection of sieves and began to work, shimmying and shaking the seeds loose from their husks. Once the seeds were freed, he started the routine over again to separate the seeds from the debris. The process is like panning for gold and the paydirt is almost as rewarding. “You can see ’em here,” he said through a smile, pointing at the tiny specs of black at the bottom of the tin. “Just a few more to go!” In the upcoming months, these tiny seeds will find a temporary home in TreePeople’s greenhouse before making their way back into our local mountains as part of our effort repair burn areas too damaged to heal on their own.
Cody has dreams for LA’s mountain landscapes, but he needs volunteers to make his vision come alive. You can make a difference– sign up for an event today.