Nifty Tidbits

Nifty Tidbits: by Chuck Rigby

Originally printed in the Aug. 14, 2002 edition of the Illinois Valley News

Plants have many methods for surviving fire. When a fire burns through there are many chances for plants to be able to regrow in the same area. Redwood trees have a fire resistant bark which prevents the vital fluid conducting tubes from being destroyed. If the fire is not too intense then the root systems which go deep, such as oak and maple, can provide for regrowth. Maple and willow trees have wind transported seeds which can provide for their regrowth from trees outside the burned areas.
One local tree actually requires fire for the seed cones to open and release their seeds . Knobcone Pine is not an abundant tree but it does grow in isolated stands in the Siskiyou, Klamath, and Coastal Mountains of SW Oregon and northern California. It is usually found on thin rocky soil sections and even grows in serpentine soil in some areas.
Knobcone Pine cones are attached directly to larger branches and the trunks of the trees. All other pines have cones out near the ends of branches where pollen can reach them easily for pollination. The cones are not symmetrical, like other pines, with the upper edge being more rounded with large knobby scales which protect the seeds. The lower edge of the cone is much flatter and smoother. These large scales will not open without fire and consequently often remain on the tree for years. As the trunk gets larger it will grow around the cones until they are partially embedded in the wood of the tree. This tree has been described as the tree that swallows its cones. Once a fire has moved through the cones will slowly open and release its seeds onto the cooled ground. As the tree has no commercial value, as yet, this quality of the species will allow it to survive because knobcones are not generally replanted after a fire.
Pinus attenuata Lemm. is the scientific name of the Knobcone Pine. “Pinus” is the Latin term for all pine trees and “attenuat” is Latin for thin or weak and was given because of the thin horizontal branches on the tree. “Lemm” is the abbreviated name for the botanist who described and classified the specimen. Knobcone was first discovered by Theodor Hartweg in 1847, who sent samples to England where it was grown. The only botanist named Lemmon which I could find was John Gill Lemmon who arrived in California in 1866. Lemmon was born Jan. 2, 1832 in Michigan and worked in school administrative positions before the Civil War. He served for the North during the war, was captured, and kept in the Andersonville Prison which is famous today for cruelty to its prisoners. After the war he traveled to California to recuperate and began collecting plants and publishing articles and books about plants in California. One of which, called Conebearers, is probably the first published record of Knobcone Pine. He was employed by the California State Board of Forestry. Lemmon also collected in Arizona and there is a Mt. Lemmon near Tucson named by him for his wife Sara who was a botanical artist.
S.W. Oregon has experienced fires in the past and will, most likely, in the future. It is a very destructive force which can cause much death among plants and animals. Given time the plants and animals will return and amaze us once again with their beauty and variety.