HEADER ECOLOGY FIRE

After the flames - Fire ephemerals

When flames race across the mountains consuming everything in their path and leaving a smoking blackened landscape of devastation behind, it is hard to imagine the robust regrowth waiting in the wings. Twelve to fifteen years is given by the experts as the minimum acceptable time period between veld fires.
When senescent fynbos burns, the mineral elements held in the above ground plant material, are returned to the soil. The recycled minerals are rapidly incorporated into the post-fire regrowth. Fire is probably the most important factor responsible for the recycling of the nutrients in fynbos vegetation.

Two weeks almost to the day comes the Fire Lily, Cyrtanthus ventricosus, which blooms scarlet and beautiful for a short period before wilting away to sleep another ten years or more.

During the three years following a burn, ‘fire ephemerals’, flora which flower after fire or disturbance, sheet the mountain slopes with carpets of colour. Small special orchids, bulbous plants of every description delight the eye.

The slopes turn green with resprouting restio plants, asparagaceae, some proteaceae and grasses, while seeds from protea and everlasting bushes, as well as erica and others, bury themselves happily in the nutrient-full ash and sprout when the first rain arrives.

Members of the Hermanus Botanical Society are involved in monitoring the regrowth in the Reserve after a burn. Species are recorded, photographed and many are tagged with a GPS reading. Data collected is compared with fires from previous years, and information on rare and endangered species is sent to CREW (Custodians of Rare and Endangered Plants) at the Compton Herbarium at Kirstenbosch, Cape Town.