Home of the Practically Perfect Pink Phlox and other native plants for pollinators

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Fire in the meadow


Don't be alarmed, this photo was taken at Owl's Hill Nature Sanctuary this past Monday at a controlled burn.

burns are especially useful to maintaining a moist meadow where many species nest

The meadow around the ponds had gotten clogged with growth and burning is one way to insure that unwanted thatch, weeds, undesirable woody vegetation and some invasives can be killed. It's an ecologically sound way to improve a wildlife habitat without resorting to big gun chemicals.

I was very excited to see one...
As you probably know there are fire regulations that wisely keep people from burning their land without supervision.
that's kerosene in the canister to fuel the fire

For our meadow, field and woodland edge burn Owl's Hill staff called the Tennessee Wildlife Resource Management Agency. Their fire specialists know the best conditions under which trees and other plants will burn to get the best results safely. They take into account the temperature, humidity, wind, moisture of the vegetation, and conditions for the dispersal of smoke. They only burn if the conditions are right and Owl's Hill had been trying to get a burn scheduled for quite a while.


Sometimes you don't know that a burn will happen until the last minute! As it turned out, weather conditions were right, but, the fire didn't burn into the woodland where we had hoped it would kill the invasive honeysuckle. All kinds of conditions can keep a fire from burning as hot as hoped: in our case it was probably soil moisture and not nearly enough combustible plant matter.

But, it was still pretty cool and much of the brush was burned.
Controlled burns mimic what nature has always done: improve wildlife habitat and enhance native plant communities. Some ecosystems ( prairie, savanna, chaparral and coniferous forests) and their plants evolved with lightening strike fires (prairie grasses and forbs have deep root systems that fire or heat don't kill) and many species are dependent on fire to maintain the habitat in which they live.
burning a forest opening will help the woodland regrow where deer have eaten the plants
Native Americans were the first who used fire extensively to encourage the growth of wild food plants, provide open hunting areas and clear undergrowth for planting crops. After decades of fire suppression ecologists are now prescribing controlled burns to mitigate some serious consequences of fire suppression, and  to help with prairie restoration, to kill unwanted plants and to improve wildlife habitats.


If anyone asks you why periotic burns are important, you can tell them this:

"Fire acts as natures gardener by trimming back trees and over mature shrubs that shade out sun-dependent plants such as grasses and prairie flowers. After a burn, the blackened soil quickly absorbs sunlight. The warmed earth encourages seed germination. Charred plant remains turn into a rich fertilizer, encouraging new grass growth to sprout from the network of root systems deep below ground." (source)

All good!
Nature is so amazing.
xoxogail

"The uniformly rich soil of the Illinois and Wisconsin prairies produced so close and tall a growth of grasses that no tree could live on it. Had there been no fires, these fine prairies, so marked a feature of the country, would have been covered by the heaviest forest." 
from Aldo Leopold’s A Sand County Almanac and Sketches Here and There


Gail Eichelberger is a gardener and therapist in Middle Tennessee. She loves wildflowers and native plants and thoroughly enjoys writing about the ones she grows at Clay and Limestone. She reminds all that the words and images are the property of the author and cannot be used without written permission.

21 comments:

  1. Fire control is fascinating. I understand the concept, I worry about here when there is fire, no fire hydrants.

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    1. No fire hydrants would be scary. I have always lived in neighborhoods were they were plentiful. I wonder if your city has fire trucks that can pump from the lake?

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  2. This is apparently the time of year to do this. At Goose Pond (in my area) they are also doing fire control. It is amazing that they do it in windy weather. All seems to go well. I often can see the good results from the burns. I agree it is exciting to see.

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    1. If the conditions are good next week I'll get a chance to see another meadow burn. Did you watch the burn at Goose Pond?

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  3. Interesting to see pictures of a controlled burn in progress. Controlled burns are used in the forests here to reduce the accumulated debris on the forest floor. This helps prevent larger, more intense fires that would become dangerous to humans and wildlife alike, and sterilize the soil with their heat. Many species on the west coast depend on fires for seed germination to some degree and some are almost completely fire-dependent. The heat from the fire and chemicals in the smoke break down germination inhibitors in the seeds, allowing them to germinate after the fire is over. I love that more people are observing and learning from nature to develop practices like this.

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    1. Evan, I read about Fire Ecology while writing this post...fascinating. It seems that one of the major problems is that people have moved into fire-adapted ecosystems. Thanks for the additional information.

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  4. Fascinating post, Gail. The colour tones in your photos are quite beautiful.

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  5. Controlled burns are so interesting. All that burning really formed the Great American Prairie, and it's changed so much because we rarely burn now. They do similar burns though at the Tallgrass Prairie Preserve. Cool post.

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  6. Controlled burns are so interesting. All that burning really formed the Great American Prairie, and it's changed so much because we rarely burn now. They do similar burns though at the Tallgrass Prairie Preserve. Cool post.

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    1. There would have been no prairie without lightening strikes! I love that prairies are being saved.

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  7. This week we have been told there will be controlled burns on the mountain - carefully reminding us ONLY when the wind isn't blowing. We need to clear the heaps of felled invasive aliens. Fynbos seed needs smoke to germinate.

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  8. Very informative post. Didn't realize how often control burns happen. Always knew fire to a certain degree was a positive for new growth. Now I understand much better. Thanks for the post. ps... wonder if tree huggers agree.

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  9. We live near a wet prairie metro park area, and while I've never seen them do a controlled burn there, I notice that they sometimes cut the area, and other times they don't. I've watched one field in particular, noticing that it was more of a field/meadow type a few years back, but now they seem to be letting trees grow up there. I'd love to hear the reasoning behind all of it.

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  10. I had a fascinating conversation when I was in Colorado with an NPS volunteer on the role of fire in the control of pine bark beetles. Seems fire suppression has allowed the beetle run rampant killing many trees, creating an even larger chance of a fire.

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  11. Very interesting to see this controlled burn. When I was a kid in the dark ages, my garden guru neighbor burned her lawn every couple of years. I didn't then understand why she did it but sure enjoyed watching the fire with her.

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  12. The American Horticultural Society burns the meadow at their headquarters here in Alexandria from time to time. Unfortunately I went to see the meadow one time only to find a charred earth. But we understand it's Nature's way.
    Ray

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  13. Thanks God it is a controlled burning. Our farmers of old do that but not with the reason like yours. In my case, just by merely looking at it i feel like it's difficult to breath. Smoke is the enemy of my asthma, an acquired allergy just recently that brought me to the hospital.

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  14. Very cool! I had no idea the Native American's used this technique. :) Smart!

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  15. I missed the uncontrolled burn at our old Heath house a few years ago. I had gone off on my Saturday rounds and my husband got permission to burn a brush pile. Immediately after the pile started burning the wind picked up and started over the field. Our volunteer got there with their new brush fire truck and had it in hand quickly. I was amazed because the field was actually quite wet, but there was dry grass on top. Like a controlled burn, it was a help to the field. In our new house and small garden there will be no need for burns.

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  16. Wow! Your photos are awesome! We used to help a co-worker of Larry's with burns on his prairie. I kind of think that's why I cannot be around smoke anymore. It hurts to breathe. I also need to stay away from scented products.

    Thank you for your comment on my last post. I am missing Heidi, but have no desire to get another dog. We also had two cats when we were first married, but had to give them away because Larry developed an allergy to them.

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  17. Wow, thanks for sharing this! What awesome photos!

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Let us be grateful to people who make us happy;
they are the charming gardeners
who make our souls blossom.


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