This is a very sad time for the Lemon Lilies of Tahquitz Valley in the San Jacinto Mountains. It’s another example of just how tough it is to be a Lemon Lily.
The Mountain Fire burned an area where Tom Chester and I counted a healthy reproducing population of 2,667 Lemon Lilies in 2009. This is probably half of all Lemon Lilies in the San Jacinto Mountains.
It includes an area in which I have been monitoring the lilies since 2010 and counted them in bloom just days before the fire. We took the high country hikers there to see Lemon Lilies during the Lemon Lily Festival — just 24 hours before the fire began.
Willow Creek in Tahquitz Valley is also home to some endangered mountain yellow-legged frogs that are inextricably linked to the same riparian habitat as the lilies.
In the last 100 or more years botanists have known about Lemon Lilies, forest fires have not been kind to them.
Because the bulbs are underground in a cool, moist environment, many may have survived fire when it flashed over the stream bed. We found Lemon Lilies growing in the stream next to the former YMCA Camp Lackey that burned during the Snow Fire in 2007. Because we had not done a count before the fire, I can’t comment on how that fire may have affected that population.
However, the Mountain Fire was of a magnitude many times greater than the Snow Fire. Even if the lilies survived the initial event, more devastating to them are flash floods and creek bed erosion as a consequence of deforestation of the surrounding peaks and ridges.
These events can scour the creeks of all top soil and/or bury them in debris. I suspect the frogs are impacted in a similar, if not identical, way.
In the Bracken fern meadow, we documented how the gophers were ravishing the lilies and speculated that drougt was exacerbating it. The addition of fire has created a triple-whammy scenario. If the lilies can recover from that then they are far more resilient than we imagined. We can only hope.
This makes the restoration effort in Idyllwild even more important. If we are successful it will not only help restore the lilies to their historical range and beautify Idyllwild but may provide a template for the restoration of Lemon Lilies in Tahquitz Valley. Thankfully, our seed bank in Idyllwild was not affected.
This is not the time to become despondent, but instead we must now become even more determined.
If you have any additional comments, observations or explanations related to local flora, email Dave Stith at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Editor’s note: Dave Stith and members of the Lemon Lily Restoration Committee, with the help of Kate Kramer, have submitted a letter to San Jacinto District Ranger Arturo Delgado requesting to have the Burned Area Emergency Response team address efforts to protect the lilies from mudslides and stream debris.
“The recent Mountain Fire is of great concern to us because of its potential impact to Lemon Lily habitat,” the committee wrote. “We know of at least one instance where scouring after a wildfire wiped out an entire Lemon Lily population in southeastern Arizona. We are concerned that the same type of event may occur in the San Jacinto Wilderness in the next rainfall event and we cannot afford to lose anymore habitat or occurrences of this species. To that end we would like to request that Lemon Lilies — and their riparian habitat — be considered in the upcoming BAER assessment of the Mountain Fire.”
Category: Idyllwild Botany