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Australian plants and bushfires: a symbiotic relationship

The open seed separator of the Silver Banksia. Often Australian plants need fire to help them regenerate.

As the official number of properties lost in my region of the Blue Mountains stands in the hundreds and the region braces for more fire conditions on late Sunday and Monday, it’s very appropriate  to offer our sympathy to those who have lost their homes.

We’d also like to add our tribute to the hundreds of volunteer firies who have travelled from around Australia, giving up their precious free time to put themselves in harm’s way to protect lives and properties.

Bushfires have of course become part of the Australian way of life in the Blue Mountains (and elsewhere in Australia). The Aboriginal nations have skilfully used the technique of burning for thousands of years to drive game such as kangaroos and wallabies to areas where they could be rounded up and killed for food and clothing.

Many anthropologists suggest that by using this technique Aborigines helped change the landscape of Australia to the one dominated by the Australian plants we know so well. Taking my region of the Blue Mountains west of Sydney as an example, this would be the iconic eucalyptus gum, the waratah and our old favourite the tough, beautiful and everpresent banksia.

How is this so? The theory goes that by regularly firing the bush the Aborigines increased the incidence of bushfire. Added to natural causes of fires such as lightning strikes, the plants that regenerated through fire gradually got the upper hand over those that were destroyed, or less likely to regenerate as quickly. This is certainly true of the eucalyptus, the waratah and the banksia which not only will survive a fire but require it to help broadcast its seed.

These plants appear to have evolved alongside bushfires. To quote the CSIRO: “While we consider it a threat, fire is a natural part of our landscape and many of our native plants have evolved to depend upon it.”

While living in a magnificent Australian national park such as the Blue Mountains has had many many benefits for people over the years, the risk of living with fire is always ever present. We’d like to get your thoughts on bushfires, Australian plants and living in the bush. Do you think the risks are worth it? Please comment below or over at our Facebook Page.

One thought on “Australian plants and bushfires: a symbiotic relationship

  1. Just to add to that… fire not only helps broadcast the seed but there are quite a few native varieties that require the smoke from a fire to germinate seed. We’ve recently put down some Telopea (NSW Waratah) and Doreanthus (Gymea Lilly) seed and covered them with smoke infused vermiculite which aids the germination process. They’re are now coming along nicely.

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