Wildfire seasons are becoming longer and more intense throughout western North America.
As climate change continues to make such extreme weather events more common, it is important to know what to expect from land that has previously been burned. And it’s not all bad!
As April showers bring May flowers, wildflowers can get a big boost from last year’s summer fire season.
Good news! Wildfires are natural.
Wildfire has always been an important part of the natural life cycle of the West. Clearing brush and acting as a necessary catalyst for many species of plants, such as Western Black Oak, to set seed.
Native peoples across western North America area used fires for centuries as an environmental tool. For example, clearing brush encouraged grazing animals to return to the hunting grounds.
Bad news? The fires we’re seeing are super-fueled.
But with global temperatures on the rise, spring and summer seasons are becoming hotter and drier. On top of this trend, humans have spent a century letting burnable material build up by suppressing fire around populated areas.
Combine the two and you have more frequent wildfires in that consistently burn hotter and are increasingly difficult to fight.
A perfect example of this perfect storm is the Carr fire and Mendocino complex fire, the largest in California’s history,
With high profile fires raging this summer, news coverage is focused on the cost of fighting the blazes, damages to homes and forest lands, and disturbance to the lives of the people affected.
But there’s more to this story – what happens when we place wildfires in the larger context of natural forest life cycles?
So what next?
In most cases, wildfires mean wildflowers!
That’s right, wildfires create top-notch conditions for wildflowers to grow.
Wildfires are excellent at clearing the forest floor of overgrown brush and exposing open ground to much-needed sunlight. While ash from burnt wood is a great source on magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, and important micronutrients.
Add a little springtime rain and you may see bulbs, shrubs, and flowers that have been lying dormant for years burst to the surface.
Some practice identifying the flowering bulbs and shrubs can give you an insight into how long ago that area was burned by wildfire.
Some wildflowers you might see after the California wildfires are:
What else thrives after a wildfire?
In wetter climates, such as Western Oregon and Washington state, burned areas are a great place for you to find many delicious mushrooms. Morel and chanterelle mushrooms are just a couple examples.
How humans go about finding a balance with wildfires will be a big part of our future. It’s important to remember that the land that is burned is not destroyed. It will return, but not before a flower shower.