New Trees From the Ashes

Trees that Thrive from Fire

In the midst of out-of-control forest fires this year and in years recent, there is some hope to found. Though the destruction of forest acreage near and far from home is sad, the good news is that many species rely on fire to give the next generation of trees a leg-up.

Sequoia trees illuminated by controlled burnSource: National Geographic News – How Sequoias Survive Wildfires, in Yosemite and Beyond

Sequoias in California

The most encouraging example is found in the endangered Sequoia Redwood forests of California. These slow-growing, long-lived trees are the largest and tallest species of tree in the world. Damage to the redwood forests by recent wildfires is upsetting, but biologists have been documenting how quickly new life sprouts from the ashes.

Charred Sequoia trees in Kings Canyon National ParkSource: National Geographic News – Sequoias and Historic Stump in Path of California Wildfire

Sequoias benefit from fire in several ways: the heat of the fire makes their cones open up, the flames eliminate competing plants, and the ash serves as fertilizer. The relationship between fire and the forest is complex, but the bottom line is that trees are resilient and have natural methods of bouncing back from what we see as a catastrophe.

Pinelands in Florida

In Florida, wildfires naturally occur when lightning strikes a forest. During a dry spell, excess debris on the forest floor becomes easy fire fuel if lightning hits. Thunderstorms can happen at all times of the year here, and native trees have long been adapted to the cycle of fire and regrowth. For humans, wildfire mitigation becomes necessary when civilization grows too close to the forest.

Controlled burn at Tiger Creek Preserve. Photo by Justine E. HausheerSource: Nature.org – Ancient Tree Stumps Shed New Light on Fire in Florida

Here, native fire-resistant species are predominantly our pine trees. Mature southern pines and longleaf pines have thick bark that protects the living tissue inside the tree. Sand pines have pine cones that remain closed until heated by fire, making them dependent on wildfires for reproduction. Palms such as sabal and saw palmettos are tough enough to withstand fire, meaning their leaves will be cleared out by a wildfire but the plants themselves will live to grow anew.

Fires also provide a benefit especially helpful to the Florida landscape: reduction of invasive species. Non-native species are not adapted to the fire cycle, which means a healthy dose of wildfire will clean out plant pests that compete with native species for sunlight and nutrients.

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Truthfully, wildfires don’t usually kill the strongest, tallest trees in the forest. Smaller plants, weaker trees, and built-up dead material are the typical casualties after a sweeping blaze. When the flames die down, new open spaces are left in the canopy and forest floor which allow sunlight to reach new sprouts. Ashes of burned plants contain important minerals and other helpful substances that act as fertilizer for seedlings.

New growth on Saw Palmettos damaged by fireSource: Florida’s Educational Technology Clearinghouse. Photo Credit: Dr. Roy Winkelman

Wildfire and Forests

Natural fires keep Florida’s forests dynamic and diverse. The Florida Forestry Service advocates for both humans and the forests when it comes to wildfires, and has lots of information about why fires are important to our Florida’s ecosystem as well as how to keep people safe.

This informative article by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service outlines how fire benefits forests in all parts of the United States. Not only do fires clear out room for new tree growth, but they also effectively reboot the food chain. New growth attracts animals that feed on the tender vegetation, which in turn attracts predators. Thus, the forest becomes inhabited by a diverse range of life once again.

We Can Help

SB Tree Service offers brush clearing services, which can be beneficial for Volusia homeowners living near large areas of natural scrub and forests. Need to comply with a Wildfire Mitigation Plan? We can easily remove invasive kudzu vines and excess plant material near the edges of your property that could lure wildfire flames dangerously close to your home. Contact us to see how we can help keep your property safe from the natural hazards of Florida’s landscape.

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