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Last spring, more than 100,000 people flocked to Lake Elsinore, California, to snap selfies surrounded by massive amounts of wildflowers. A lot of rain and warmer weather can trigger one of these events, called a super bloom. But there’s another environmental condition that can also lead to loads of blossoms—fire.
Last year, wildfires raged across portions of California. They burned large areas, leaving behind ash rich in nitrogen (N). Plants need this element to produce chlorophyll. This green-colored molecule allows plants to harness sunlight to convert water and carbon dioxide into energy—a process known as photosynthesis.
After the intense wildfire season, California received record amounts of rainfall. The abundant water and the nitrogen-rich soil provided the perfect conditions for more than 100 species of rare wildflowers to flourish. “We call them ‘fire followers’ because we usually only see them after a fire,” says Joey Algiers, a restoration ecologist with the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area in California.