How do we live amidst ‘fire forests’ in a planetary fire age? The following text ‘The Eucalypt as Pyrophyte’ is an excerpt from the ‘The Burning Bush’ by Stephen J. Pyne. (1991)
“The spread of Eucalyptus traced the spread of fire. Charcoal and eucalypt pollen march side by side in the geologic record of the late Pleistocene and Holocene. Fire proliferated across the spectrum of Old Australian biotas— in scleroforest of course, but also in the grasslands, the acacia-splattered savannas, the heaths; it rolled back the rainforest into sharply bounded sanctuaries. The environments were varied, and so, not surprisingly, were the responses even among the prolific eucalypts.
Those inherited traits for contending with deteriorating soils and unreliable water preadapted the genus to survive fire. It knew how to cope with irregular nutrient fluxes, with an erratic tempo of too much and too little. Its quest for water already plunged roots safely out of the way of surface fires. Its weedy ancestry had groomed the eucalypt into an opportunist, ready to seize disturbed, opened sites. Eucalypts could capture nutrients released by fire, could store them until another release, could in emergencies live off internal caches in heartwood and lignotuber. Bark was thick, tough,and it shed as it burned like the ablation plate of a descending spacecraft. If branches were seared off, new ones could sprout from beneath the protected layer. If the bole burned, new trunks could spring from the buried lignotuber. A eucalypt could pour old nutrients into new growth, even as it scavenged liberated minerals from freshly burned ground. Fire could, for a couple of years, purge hostile microbes from the site; it might encourage better percolation of groundwater; it opened an area to sunlight, allowing the sun-worshiping eucalypt seedlings a chance to outgrow more shade-tolerant rivals. For most eucalypts, fire was not a destroyer but a liberator.........” (Continued in comments)