Fire and Fynbos

Throughout summer in Cape Town fire is a constant source of worry with helecoptors and fire fighting crew on constant standby. However it is important to remember that the Fynbos plant kingdom needs fire in order to survive and flourish.  Over time fynbos plants have developed a number of strategies that enable them to not only survive fire but even to use it to their advantage.

fynbos fire

Fire raging on Signal Hill. Cape Town

Survival strategies of Fynbos plants

– many plants have seeds which rodents or ants store underground. They are therefore protected from the fire itself. Indeed many then germinate in the heat of the fire

– Plants such as Watsonias regenerate from underground bulbs resulting in huge colourful displays almost immediately after fire.

– The King Protea is one of many plants that resprouts from rootstocks following fire.

– Other Protea such as the Waboom has dormant buds deep within the stem that are protected from fire by thick bark.

– Many protea species retain the majority of their seeds in hard woody cones.   When a fire passes and kills the parent plant the heat dries and splits the cones thus releasing the seeds into the burnt area where they then germinate and flourish.

A protea plant following fire

How often should fire occur?

The occurence of fires depends on 4 main componants:

– Frequency ( how ofton fires occur)

– Season ( Relative to the plants life cycle)

– Intensity (the fires temperature. This can be inluenced by the presence of alien vegetation)

–  Area (over what area the fire burns)

Most Fynbos plants benefit from relatively cool fires in late summer or early autumn. (Feb, March, April) and at intervals of 12 to 15 years.

Useasonable or too frequent fires caused by careless human activity (eg cigarette stompies, broken glass etc) can cause irreparable damage to fynbos plants.

Burnt fynbos

Devastated land following a fire. But the damage may not be as serious as it first appears