Australia has unique organisms and ecosystems that have evolved to handle some extraordinarily harsh conditions and some devastating natural events. One of these is bushfire.
Fire has been an essential part of Australian ecosystems for millions of years, back to even before the arrival of the indigenous people. While fires were originally started by lightning strikes, indigenous people also used fire to manage the land they inhabited. Accordingly, native plants and animals evolved and developed special characteristics to enable them to survive and even thrive during and after a fire.
In fact, some plants are so specialized and perfectly attuned to our native ecosystem, that they need a fire in order to regenerate. When you see the blackened devastation after a fire (like we did after the fires in February), it’s hard to imagine that anything could survive such a ferocious and savage event. But survive it, our native species do, and they have all adapted to do so over many thousands of years.
Some grasses are able to survive as tubers underground while the fire rages over the top of them. Others even have little spears on their seeds, which act as a kind of corkscrew and pull them underground where they are safe.
Some of our pasture, which was almost completely overrun with bent grass and native tussocks, had been giving us trouble for quite a while. We struggled to control the invasive bent grass and to ensure there was suitable pasture for grazing. Through spray topping we were starting to see some success (small areas of Weeping Grass and Cocksfoot for instance were coming through), but the fire has shown us what a huge native seed reserve there was in the ground. Now in the paddocks, we have found Sun Orchards, Chocolate Lilies, Bulbine Lilies, Early Nancy, Milkmaids, Dianellas, Fireweeds, native Geraniums, amongst many others. There is even what appears to be a Poa species that several ecologists we know have not been able to identify.
With the importing of European pastures (along with over-grazing management practices), the rich bio-diversity which comes with native flora is often lost. And yet these native species have evolved to cope with the devastating effects of fire (which we can assume, are only going to become more severe in the years to come). Protecting these species and encouraging them to propagate over our farms helps safeguard against the any future fire events while simultaneously promoting bio-diversity in the micro-fauna.
We are fencing around some areas of these native grasses, and learning as much about them as we can. They play a valuable role in the ecosystem, and are a free insurance policy against total devastation after a fire.