Fire Suppression = A Decline in Biodiversity (Part 3, Plants and Landscapes)

Fire creates aesthetically pleasing landscapes populated with countless species of attractive plants.

The above image captures two species dependent on fire–longleaf pine (Pinus palustris) and wiregrass (Aristida beyrichiana).  The fallen pine needles and dried tufts of wiregrass provide tinder for frequent light fires that eliminate potential competitors.

Canebrakes dominated river bottomlands, forming impenetrable thickets that stretched for miles.  Individual canes grew to 40 feet tall.  Now, this environment is nearly extinct and is more endangered than longleaf savannahs.  Fire suppression, flood control, and passenger pigeon extinction are factors in the decline of canebrakes as I explained in last week’s blog entry.  Indians used bamboo for arrows, blowguns, fish traps, and housing construction.

Oak savannahs are so rare in Georgia that I had to use a painting by Philip Juras instead of a photograph from google images.  Oak savannahs used to be the most common landscape on piedmont uplands in the south.  Now, they are exceedingly rare.  If I could live in a prehistoric wilderness, I would build my house in an oak, or oak and pine savannah.  It’s my favorite.  Ideally, I’d like to have an oak and pine savannah on one side, and a Pleistocene beech, hickory, and Critchfield’s spruce forest on the other side sloping toward a river.

Purple coneflowers (Echinaceae purperea) used to be common in the open environments of the south.  Now, it’s regionally rare in the wild.  The federal government actively protects existing colonies.

Rosinweed (Sylphium sp.).  They look like sunflowers but they’re not even related.  The Indians used sap from the flowering plants for chewing gum.

Andropogon virginicus (Broomsedge bluestem) #22

Broomsedge is a common early dominant in old fields.  Most of the grasses that inhabit natural meadows and savannahs, including bluestem and wiregrass, grow as clumps rather than carpet-like lawn grasses.

Goldenrod (Solidago sp.).  This is one of the last plants to bloom in the fall.  It’s not to be confused with ragweed (Ambrosia sp.) which causes hay fever.  Both bloom at the same time, and they occur in the same habitats.  Goldenrod has heavy sticky pollen with big showy flowers that attracts insects for pollination.  Ragweed has tiny insignificant flowers and has light pollen dependent on wind for pollination.  Allergy medications use images of goldenrod instead of ragweed in advertisements, even though this species doesn’t normally cause allergies.

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One Response to “Fire Suppression = A Decline in Biodiversity (Part 3, Plants and Landscapes)”

  1. James Robert Smith Says:

    I can’t say that I’ve ever seen an oak savanna. I’ve seen some mountain forest communities which are visually similar to oak savannas, but not the same.

    I do encounter some longleaf pine savannas from time to time, mainly in Florida. These places are a lot of fun to look upon. Richard Leakey argues that we are naturally attracted to such because it’s from savanna environments that spawned our species.

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