Flowers and Fire

26
Jan
2012

Recently, we highlighted our cooperative burn conducted on our Pensacola Bay Mitigation Bank in the Garcon peninsula of Florida.  The site has a number of listed plant species including the carnivorous white-topped pitcher plant, which is a Florida state listed species.  Many other cool (and rare) plants such as the snake mouth orchid, pot of gold lily, pine lily, Curtiss’ sandgrass, spoon-leaved sundew, bog button, sweet pitcherplant, Harper’s yellow eyed grass, Dral’s yellow-eyed grass, and small flowered meadowbeauty also make their home here.  What most people don’t realize is that strategic prescribed fire is necessary to restore and maintain these Gulf Coast pitcher plant prairies and additional endangered plants.  This is why we at WES invest so much time and energy (along with a lot of blood, sweat and tears!) into fire management on our sites in the Southeast.

PBMB_pitcher_plants

Gulf Coast pitcher plant prairies are coastal plain wetland systems with some species endemic to the region.  It is estimated that only 1% of the former extent of the habitat type remains, degraded from development into housing or agriculture, and by fire suppression that allows an overstory of Titi (Cyrilla racemiflora; Cliftonia monophylla) or scrub oaks and pines that shade out the normally sun-loving plant assemblages of these systems.  Repeated fire limits organic accumulation, and in fire maintained wet prairies it is not unusual to see mineral soil, typically sand, exposed at the surface.  Periodic flooding or soil saturation is also a feature.  The systems are oligotrophic, and harbor a high species richness and density of carnivorous plants, typified by the pitcher plants (Sarracenia spp.) that give the habitat type its name, although wiregrass (Aristida stricta) is a dominant feature.

Within weeks following a prescribed fire, many native plants such as pitcher plants and toothache grass flourish while flowering and seed production is triggered.  You can see the results on our Pensacola Bay Mitigation Bank, as our pitcher plant population is certainly thriving!