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4 Australian plants that thrive after a fire

For humans and many animals, the recent fires that ripped through Australia have been devastating. But for many plant species, it was exactly what they have been waiting (without getting too political...) exactly 232 years for.

Image by Matthew Newton/RUMMIN Productions

Prior to the arrival of the Europeans, the fire management by the Aboriginal people consisted of frequent, low-heat burns, to maintain an open forest canopy, and to allow the germination of understory plants. Naturally, over the 60,000 years this occurred, various plant species adapted to these frequent burns, and fire became an essential part of their life cycle.

Let’s have a look at four common plant species that thrive after a fire.

1. Banksia

Named in honour of Joseph Banks, a British botanist that was on board Cook’s expedition to Australia, the Banksia is one of Australia’s most wide-spread coastal species. It’s surely no surprise then that this unique tree species loves a good burn. But did you know that most Banksia trees require fire to ensure their survival? Their seeds are stored in hard, woody cases that burst open only with extreme heat.

Post-fire, the soft, ashy soils are perfect for the little seedling, who grow quickly into the now bare canopy above.

2. Eucalyptus Tree

Similar to the Banksia, the Eucalyptus seedlings also burst open during the extreme heat of a fire. But there is something extra special about the Eucalypts, which ensured their presence on this list.

Post-fire, Eucalyptus trees experience a phenomenon called epicormic growth. With the majority of the ‘life’ of the tree being stored in the outer few centimetres of bark, these special trees will explode with tiny new shoots (called epicormic shoots), covering the entire tree from head to tail.

The bright green foliage will photosynthesise quickly, feeding the tree and allowing it to begin repairing its bark - another process known as re-barking. As time passes, the eucalyptus will begin droppings its lower shoots and focus once again on building a beautiful healthy crown.

3. Grass Tree

If you’ve seen any of the recent photos of re-growth in the Aussie Bush, you’ll notice that majority are of the grass tree. This plant has a strong long-affair with fire and will often be the first to re-shoot, with flashes of green spotted just days after a bushfire.

While the ends of a Grass trees stems will be completely scorched in a fire, the base of the leaves contains a resin that does not burn. With the extra light filtering through the bare canopy, the tree will quickly re-gain strength and cover the ground with their bright green stems.

4. Fire Fungi

Okay, I saved the best for last to reward all your diligent readers - pyrophilous fungi or fire-loving fungi.

According to fungus expert Richard Robinson:

Studies … in Western Australia suggest that about 15 per cent of fungi rely on fire for reproduction. After a fire the soils become alkaline. The upper soil is sterilised by the heat and becomes very powdery. These fungi are adapted to the alkaline conditions, they germinate in their thousands, and help to bind and reamalgamate the soil.

So basically, over time, certain fungi have specifically adapted to frequent burning, and have become an essential part of the regeneration process, providing the nutrients to help restore the soil. The fire-loving fungi may even provide a source of food for the hungry wildlife, supporting them until the forest regenerates to its former glory!

Image by L. Brian Stauffer

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