MOUNT DIABLO -- A sea of wildflowers and other plant life is rising from the ashes on Mount Diablo as it recovers from a searing 3,100-acre wildfire six months ago.
Some wildflower species that live only on or near the mountain are having a banner year, popping up in soils awash in sunlight and nutrients after dense chaparral burned away in the Morgan Fire.
One California wildflower, not seen in the East Bay for 81 years, was found in a burned area last weekend during a post-fire survey by a conservation group.
That small blue and lavender bloom, a Kellogg's climbing snapdragon, is part of the recovery of the fire area on the east side of 3,849-foot Mount Diablo.
"A lot of the plants were never able to get going because they were shaded out, but now they are making hay for a year or two before the cover grows back," said Seth Adams, land programs manager for the Save Mount Diablo conservation group. "This is what plants have adapted to on a mountain swept by a major fire about once every 35 or 40 years."
Grasses coaxed by late-season rains are popping up in ashen soil. New growth is sprouting from the base of blackened chaparral and toyon plants on the mountain -- already a known hot spot for plant diversity that straddles the border between the cool Bay Area and hot San Joaquin Valley.
Golden waves of California poppies are carpeting both burned and nonburned areas of Mount Diablo. The poppies are helped partly by the fire but more so by dry winter weather that suppressed competition from non-native grasses.
Vast stretches of mountain that resembled a bomb site just weeks ago now are coming to life.
"We get calls from the public about wanting to know how to help replant trees or plants destroyed by the fire, but the mountain is doing a good job of recovering on its own," said Cyndy Shafer, a state parks environmental scientist.
Fortunately, she said, rains were light this drought year, averting heavy soil erosion.
Still, the black fire damage evokes some sorrow.
"It's sad to walk among the skeletons of the tree-size manzanitas that were destroyed. They must start over by seed," Ken Lavin, a naturalist, said in an email. "It will be many decades before they approach anything like their previous glory."
But the wildflowers that sprout from bulbs are having an exceptional spring.
During a hike last week though burned areas, Adams came across the densest stand of Mount Diablo fairy-lanterns he has seen in three decades of trekking the mountain.
Several hundred of the delicate yellow flowers -- also called globe lilies -- hugged the ground beneath charred skeletons of gray pine trees in Perkins Canyon.
"You usually see them here and there," Adams said, "but I have never seen so many of them."
Across the canyon, Adams used binoculars to spot thousands of cream-colored Fremont's star lilies on steep burned slopes.
Adams and many other mountain plant watchers are waiting anxiously for the emergence of a brilliant orange fire poppy that came out by the tens of thousands on the North Peak of Mount Diablo after a 1977 wildfire.
"I've never seen it," Adams said, "because it's a one-in-a-generation flower that only blooms after big wildfires."
Not all the fire impacts are welcome.
Dense mounds of poison oak -- bright green with the itch-causing oil -- are sprouting in many places.
Wild pigs -- driven by fire and drought into a smaller range to find food -- are digging up ground and creek beds, causing more damage on Mount Diablo than in at least a decade, said Shafer, the state parks scientist.
Some of the chaparral-loving Alameda whipsnakes, a threatened species, may have been harmed by the Morgan Fire, but some have been spotted on the mountain since then.
Meanwhile, the fire has stirred scientists to begin a series of post-fire studies to track changes in plant life, fire impacts on wild bees, and other issues.
A group called Nerds for Nature is enlisting public help to document mountain changes by taking smartphone photos at five burned spots over several years, and posting them on Twitter or Instagram at #morganfire04.
And two weeks ago, 65 scientists trekked through burn areas in a bio-blitz to record as many species of plants, insects and animals as they could over 24 hours
During the bio-blitz, Heath Bartosh, a Martinez botanist, was elated to make his first sighting of the rare woodland tar plant, a sticky yellow flower that emerges after wildfires.
He was still smiling 30 minutes later.
"There is something referred to as a 'life plant,' kind of like birders' life birds, because you have never seen it before," Bartosh said. "This was a life plant for me. I did a little dance after seeing it."
For information about organized hikes through Mount Diablo burn areas, visit www.savemountdiablo.org and click on activities, or visit http://www.mdia.org/ and click on event calender.
To view three videos on impacts of the Morgan fire, visit http://bit.ly/1kKBZYy and click on video 6, 7 and 10.