Fire: Rising From the Ashes

Pitch pine (Pinus rigida), unlike most pines, can sprout new growth from its trunk after fire damage.
Photographer: Gary Fleming
When fire sweeps through natural areas, it moves nutrients from branches and other plant or animal matter into nutrient-rich ashes, poised to fertilize the plants that remain.

Fire is destructive to some natural communities but it helps maintain those that contain fire-adapted plant species. Some fire-adapted species, such as chestnut oak, have thick bark to help them survive small to moderate fires. Others, such as mountain laurel, contain oils that encourage quick and complete burning—but are able to quickly re-sprout from the roots after a fire.

Some plant species actually require fire. In the Atlantic Coastal Plain, many cones of the pitch pine tree are serotinous, which means they stay tightly closed unless the heat of fire opens them; only then do they drop their enclosed seed onto the freshly groomed (burned!), sunlit forest floor.1