wildfires plaguing the
western U.S., one wonders if any good can come from these natural
disasters. History and science show that wildfires
are not only beneficial for multiple ecosystems, but are actually
necessary for survival of several species of plants and animals.
are some plants that rely on fires for seed germination and others
that benefit from the richness of the burnt greenery and added
sunlight in the aftermath of the fire. Below is a list of five
different types of trees and flowers that – like the phoenix –
rely on fire to rise from the ashes.
trees first came to California from Australia in the mid 19th
century. Sealed with resin, the fruits of the eucalyptus
trees are reluctant to disperse their seeds. Although fire would
seem harmful to the life of the eucalyptus trees, it proves to be
quite the opposite as the heat from the fire melts away the seeds’
coat of resin awakening the dormant eucalyptus seeds.
trees ensure that their fruit will be exposed to fire in two
ways: first, by the flammability of the eucalyptus oil; secondly, by
the slow decay of the eucalyptus leaves that fall to the forest floor
and act as fuel for any fire that may come. Within weeks after a
forest fire eucalyptus shoots emerge from the soil. Thus, wildfires
benefit eucalyptus by paving the way for seed germination, and by
supplying fuel for the fires themselves.
Pines (Pinus Contorta)
eucalyptus trees, lodgepole pines require fire to release their seeds
from their cones. Wildfires allow lodgepole pines to grow by searing
away unwanted overgrowth and diseased plants and letting in the
necessary sunlight for the trees to flourish.
pines are native to Western North America and are very useful due to
the edibility of the inner bark. For survival, men used to strip the
inner bark and eat it with sugar or store it for the winter. Many
animals such as the snowshoe hare, vole, and squirrel also enjoy the
noodle-like texture of the inner
lodgepole pine bark. Wildfires especially benefit these pines by
dispersing seeds and replacing a shady environment with a sunny one.
the eucalyptus tree or the lodgepole pine, the rare Appalachian lily,
as they are more commonly known – do not need fire to regenerate,
but do flourish immensely after a wildfire.
done in the 1990s by Norman Bourg, a PhD candidate at the College
Park University of Maryland, showed a resurgence of turkeybeards in
Appalachia after a wildfire in 1996. Bourg stated that no conclusive
evidence had come about to show why turkeybeards flourish in the
succession of fire. He suggested that it may be due to fire allowing
for greater pollen exchange rates and additional sunlight.
globe mallow can only be found after a fire like the California
Bagley wildfire in 2012. Extreme heat is an absolute necessity for
the seeds of the baker’s globe mallow to germinate. From there bees
work their magic to pollinate the flowers, creating a spectacular
spread of baker’s globe mallow.
little purple flowers are a sight to see. Jennifer Poore of the
California Native Plant Society describes, “Baker’s globe mallow,
a wild hollyhock borne in desolate habitats, produces its large,
unmistakable rose-purple blooms from June through September in the
areas that have recently burned. The post-fire bloom is a show that
you wouldn’t want to miss. In fact, around here, there is
absolutely nothing like it.” Thus, fire through scarification
awakens the baker’s globe mallow seeds from their dormant state,
allowing the seeds to receive the necessary moisture to germinate.
poppies are native to the California shrub land and are just one of
the many wildflowers that flourish after wildfires. Recent
studies have shown that the fire itself is not what awakens the
fire poppy seeds from a state of dormancy, but the wildfire’s smoke
is actually what causes the seeds to begin germination. The smoke
changes the chemical makeup of the fire poppy seed’s coating,
allowing water to penetrate the fire poppy seed.
the Eucalyptus, the lodgepole pine, the turkeybeard, the baker’s
globe mallow, and the fire poppy show the benefits of wildfires,
wildfires are still a real threat and must be prevented. Today,
national parks often conduct controlled fires to insure the wellbeing
of the forests and other ecosystems. To learn more about the benefits
of fire on different ecosystems visit http://fireecology.org/.