I’ve been working on the Irvine Ranch Conservancy’s Native Seed Farm where they grow plants for rehabilitating the lands burned by the 2008 Santiago Fire. Our recent tasks have involved harvesting seeds from various species endemic to the local coastal sage scrub biome.
The same fire opened the land for use. The farm exists on a plot that once grew avocados. Encroaching flames torched the grove before they turned to the east and threatened my home.
Volunteers and paid staff perform most of the chores. Idle farm workers with wages paid by the Irvine Ranch join for a few months every spring. This keeps them on hand while cash crops grow and there is little to do elsewhere.
Summer offers mercies to the chaparral hiker. One of these is the change of the colors of poison oak from a glossy green to an autumnal red. Poison oak cannot be called an herb or a shrub or a vine or a tree: it can be any of these. I know of patches where it sprouts as a bush and other places where it throttles a tree. There is a spot in O’Neill Regional Park where it stretches to the forest canopy as a large sapling. If there is shade, there is probably poison oak mixed in the ground cover. And if there is sun, it may well be there, too. The pretty leaves tricked one hiker I know to use them as a wipe. How could anything so beautiful cause suffering? was the reasoning that passed through her head. Toxicodendron diversilobum is a most devious plant, the closest thing I can think of as an argument for intelligent design if not by a benevolent creator, then by a demon.