After the Station Fire: Stem Malformation in Turricula

The photograph above is of an example of a bizarre malformation in plants known as stem fasciation — in this case in Turricula/Eriodictyon parryi (Poodle-dog bush). The normally round stem of the plant has been transformed into a thick ribbon-like structure, many times the size of a normal stem. The photo is from a recent trail run in an area burned by the 2009 Station Fire.



This is the second time I’ve found a plant with a fasciated stem in a burn area. The first was at Sage Ranch following the 2005 Topanga Fire. In this case the fasciated stem of a wreath plant (Stephanomeria) was a contorted spiral several feet tall.

There are many mechanisms which are reported to cause fasciation; among them a bacterium, stress, chemical or mechanical damage, and inheritance. It may or may not be coincidence that both of these examples were found in burn areas — about two and a half years into recovery in the case of the Turricula, and a year in the case of the wreath plant.

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After the Station Fire: Turricula Leaves

Turricula leaves

Turricula (Poodle-dog bush)* sprouting on “Edison” road between the West Fork San Gabriel River and Shortcut Saddle.



The serration of the edges of these sprouting leaves is more pronounced than in older plants, but in my experience the toothed leaf margin is present to a varying degree on most plants. This may not always be evident because the leaf margin tends to roll under with age. The minutely hairy, densely clustered lanceolate leaves and pinnate veining are distinctive.

The leaves become more fuzzy and gray-green with age, eventually turning yellow-brown and then gray as they wither. The mature stalks of Turricula can be several feet tall.

From Sunday’s run from Shortcut Saddle in the San Gabriel Mountains, near Los Angeles.

*The taxonomic name for Turricula parryi (Poodle-dog bush) has changed to Eriodictyon parryi. The Jepson Manual: Vascular Plants of California, Second Edition (2012) has returned Turricula to the genus Eriodictyon, as originally described by Gray. According to the Wikipedia entry for Turricula (April 11, 2012), “… molecular phylogenetic analysis carried out by Ferguson (1998) confirms that Turricula should be treated as a separate genus within a clade (Ferguson does not use the term “subfamily”) that includes Eriodictyon, and also the genera Nama and Wigandia; Eriodictyon is the genus to which Turricula is closest in molecular terms, and is its sister taxon.” I use “Turricula” and “Poodle-dog bush” interchangeably as a common name.

Related posts: Contact Dermatitis from Turricula parryi (Poodle-dog Bush), Turricula Along Angeles Crest Highway, Real-World Turricula Testing

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After the Station Fire: Real-World Turricula Testing

Turricula (Poodle-dog bush) along the Valley Forge Trail. July 16, 2011

In a real-world test of Turricula (Poodle-dog bush)* exposure, during a recent training run at Mt. Wilson approximately 30 runners ran a mile-plus section of trail overgrown with Turricula. Reactions varied from none at all, to at least one runner who had a strong reaction similar to my first bout with Turricula several weeks ago.

Here are some runner comments:

“I can’t believe it, but I had very little reaction. Just a few little bumps. You saw how careful I was trying to be. Maybe not man-handling it helps.”

“Not much sleep for the last two days…arms, legs, and abdomen burn way worse than Poison Oak. By nightfall the blisters break and ooze.”

“I finally had a mild reaction today, red rashes that turned into very small blisters…”

“Absolutely nothing happened, I’m either not allergic to it, or the soap & brush took the top layers of skin off and the poison with it.”

“I’ve got the stuff in my left eyelid (I must have rubbed my eye after hand contact with T. while carefully trying to part it as I inched my way down VF); I’ve got it on my stomach at waist band and lower, and I’m waiting for my legs, although I may get lucky there.”

Since I’d had a strong reaction before, I expected the worst. Fortunately my reaction was relatively minor. Like several other runners, I had a same-day irritation/inflammation along the waistband of my running shorts. In addition the top of one ankle and a small area on the inside of one arm developed a very mild rash. It was barely noticeable, and cleared up completely in about five days.

There are several possible reasons I didn’t have a strong reaction this time. Even though contact was unavoidable, I did not run in areas where the Turricula was the most dense, and I attempted to avoid the plant as much as possible. This time around my legs and arms were not covered with the sticky goo from the plant. Even so, as soon as I was out of the area with Turricula I stopped at a creek and washed off my legs and arms. I also washed again at the end of the run.

Another reason I might have reacted differently is the age of the plants. As Turricula matures, the lower leaves wither and fall. (This gives the plant the appearance of the groomed tail of a poodle.) There’s anecdotal evidence that as the plant dries out the almost microscopic hairs that cover the leaves, stems and flowers are easily broken and shed, and can contribute to the irritation/inflammation the plant causes. It seems plausible that these hairs could be an irritant, or might even act like a minuscule time-release capsule of the plant’s active compounds.

Note: The trail was the Valley Forge Trail. Trail work is scheduled on this trail the next two weekends.

*The taxonomic name for Turricula parryi (Poodle-dog bush) has changed to Eriodictyon parryi. The Jepson Manual: Vascular Plants of California, Second Edition (2012) has returned Turricula to the genus Eriodictyon, as originally described by Gray. According to the Wikipedia entry for Turricula (April 11, 2012), “… molecular phylogenetic analysis carried out by Ferguson (1998) confirms that Turricula should be treated as a separate genus within a clade (Ferguson does not use the term “subfamily”) that includes Eriodictyon, and also the genera Nama and Wigandia; Eriodictyon is the genus to which Turricula is closest in molecular terms, and is its sister taxon.” I use “Turricula” and “Poodle-dog bush” interchangeably as a common name.

Some related posts: Contact Dermatitis from Turricula parryi (Poodle-dog Bush), Turricula Along Angeles Crest Highway

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After the Station Fire: Turricula Along Angeles Crest Highway

It’s been several weeks now since my bout of contact dermatitis from Turricula (aka Poodle-dog bush)*. The dermatitis was much better after a week, but took about two weeks to completely go away. I’ve heard this is typical, and several people commented that their Turricula experience was similar to mine.

Update July 12, 2011. A running friend who recently did some trail work removing Turricula on the Kenyon Devore Trail sent this photograph of a blotchy red rash that developed on his forearm. He first noticed a reaction four days after doing the trail work, and the photograph was taken 10 days after exposure. As in my case, several hours later he commented that the blotchy rash had merged into a more general inflammation with swelling.



The other day I was asked if I’d rather have dermatitis from poison oak or Turricula. The reactions are so different, they are hard to compare. Plus, my exposure to Turricula was probably a worst case scenario. It was as if the goo from the plant was painted on my arms and legs with a brush, and left to cure. I’m guessing that an equivalent exposure to poison oak would have been much, much worse.
I was a little worried that the extreme exposure to Turricula might make me hypersensitive to it, but that doesn’t appear to be the case. About a week after recovering from the dermatitis, I did some trailwork with a group that cleared a section of overgrown trail in Shortcut Canyon. Not only was there Turricula, but poison oak and stinging nettle as well. With normal precautions — long pants, long sleeves & gloves — I didn’t have a problem.
As long as you don’t have to wade through it, the oceans of violet flowered Turricula in the Station Fire burn area are striking. I’ve heard Turricula described as an invasive plant. While it is an unbelievably prolific fire-follower that seems to invade an area after a fire, it is a native California plant. Given just how prevalent it is after a fire, it probably plays a key role in the recovery process, perhaps helping to restore the chemical balance of the soil, as well as providing mulch.

*The taxonomic name for Turricula parryi (Poodle-dog bush) has changed to Eriodictyon parryi. The Jepson Manual: Vascular Plants of California, Second Edition (2012) has returned Turricula to the genus Eriodictyon, as originally described by Gray. According to the Wikipedia entry for Turricula (April 11, 2012), “… molecular phylogenetic analysis carried out by Ferguson (1998) confirms that Turricula should be treated as a separate genus within a clade (Ferguson does not use the term “subfamily”) that includes Eriodictyon, and also the genera Nama and Wigandia; Eriodictyon is the genus to which Turricula is closest in molecular terms, and is its sister taxon.” I use “Turricula” and “Poodle-dog bush” interchangeably as a common name.

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Poodle-dog Bush Near the Top of the Mt. Wilson Trail

Poodle-dog bush (Eriodictyon parryi) growing along the Mt. Wilson Trail about a half-mile from the top.
Poodle-dog bush near the top of the Mt. Wilson Trail. June 15, 2019.

The Mt. Wilson – Chantry Flat loop is a favorite that I run a couple times a year. Including a little bonus mileage to get to the Mt. Wilson parking lot before the gate opens, the run is about 18 miles long and gains/loses about 4500′ of elevation. The main trails in the loop are the Rim Trail, Gabrielino Trail, Upper Winter Creek Trail and Mt. Wilson Trail.

The weather was perfect for today’s run. Sunny at the beginning, then partly cloudy for the 4000′ climb from the “green bridge” below Chantry to the parking lot on Mt. Wilson. Although there was a lot of poison oak on the Rim and Gabrielino Trails, it was mostly avoidable. About 30 minutes into the run, I was surprised to hear the unmistakable gobble and rustling of a wild turkey high on the Rim Trail.

Near the end of the loop, on the section of the Mt. Wilson Trail above the Mt. Wilson Toll Road, I saw two solo hikers brush against new, vigorously growing patches of Poodle-dog bush (Eriodictyon parryi). I spoke to them, and they were unaware that, like poison oak, Poodle-dog bush can cause an itchy rash. Some people don’t react at all to the plant and others can have a severe reaction. My own experience is described in this post.

Poodle-dog bush is a fire follower that grows in the San Gabriel Mountains, and some other areas. It became very widespread following the 2009 Station Fire. There are still some diminishing patches of Poodle-dog bush on the north side of Mt. Wilson (and elsewhere) from the Station Fire, but the Poodle-dog bush on this part of the Mt. Wilson Trail is a result of the 2017 Mt. Wilson Fire.

Some related posts: Contact Dermatitis from Turricula parryi – Poodle-dog Bush, Mt. Wilson – Newcomb Pass – Chantry Flat Loop, Misplaced on Mt. Wilson, GSU Mt. Wilson CHARA Telescope Array

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Fire Followers Along the Backbone Trail

Fire poppy (Papaver californicum), a fire follower, along the Backbone Trail west of Sandstone Peak. May 18, 2019.
Fire poppy along the Backbone Trail.

Fire followers are plants that grow in a recently burned area in much larger numbers than before a fire. In some cases the species may rarely have been observed in the area prior to the fire.

A good example of a fire follower is Poodle-dog bush (Eriodictyon parryi), which became widespread in the San Gabriel Mountains following the 2009 Station Fire.

A wet rain season also increases the population of many species. Combine a fire and wet rain season and plant distributions and populations can be dramatically altered.

Large-flowered Phacelia (Phacelia grandiflora), a fire follower, near Tri Peaks. May 18, 2019.
Large-flowered Phacelia near Tri Peaks. Click for larger image.

Yesterday, I did a long run in the Santa Monica Mountains that included several miles of the Backbone Trail between Sandstone Peak and the Danielson Multi-use area in Sycamore Canyon. This area was burned in 2018 Woolsey Fire and there were some stunning displays of fire followers and other wildflowers.

Star lily was one of the earliest fire followers to bloom in the area and remains prevalent, but the champion fire follower at the moment is large-flowered Phacelia. Before the Woolsey Fire it would be unusual to see this plant on this section of the Backbone Trail. Now its purple-blue flowers blanket large areas along the trail.

Although not as numerous as the large-flowered Phacelia, I’ve never seen so many fire poppies along the Backbone Trail. Its orange-red color is striking and stands out sharply against the brown, charcoal-infused soil. Also more abundant this year is the vibrant yellow collarless poppy.

Here is a slideshow of some of the wildflowers seen on the run.

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