In light of California’s recent devastating wildfires and Australia’s upcoming bushfire season I was reminded of Ralph Maughan reprinting George Wuerthner’s essay “A Century of Failed Forest Policy.” Wuerthner wrote about wildfires in the US, equivalent to Australia’s bushfires. He said,
Fire in the forest is not bad. Fire in our communities is.
I know fire in the Australian bush is a necessary part of our ecosystems, but I never thought about this being the case elsewhere.
A month ago I read in my local newspaper that walkers in Star Swamp Bushland Reserve are seeing King Leek Orchids (Prasophyllum regium) flowering in the wake of the March fire. Kevin Thiele, Curator of the WA Herbarium said,
Some species [such as the Prasophyllum genus] rarely flower without a fire…A fire in summer would see them flower the next spring. 
They may grow for another couple of seasons after the fire and then lie dormant until the next fire. Ben Croxford from Nuts about Natives told me about the Branched Catspaw (Anigozanthos onycis) which has similar habits. It grows in the Stirling Ranges and Fitzgerald River National Park near Esperance, in the south of Western Australia. In the first spring after fire it grows abundantly (including along road sides). In the next season there will be some plants, but a lot less. In subsequent seasons there will be almost none. The occasional plant may grow and flower, but they will be hard to find until after the next fire.
Sheeba the dog and I went to Star Swamp to see if we could find any King Leek Orchids. The spring flowers are in bloom, and although we didn’t see any orchids, the resurgence of life eight months after the fire was beautiful. One particular zamia (Macrozamia fraseri) that looked dead on my visit a week after the fire (above) was happily growing tall, surrounded by burnt branches (below).
The most amazing sight was the sea of flowering xanthorrhoea in the burnt area. Parts of the reserve not burnt in March had numerous xanthorrhoea, but most were not flowering and a few still had old flower stalks from last year. This shows the importance of fire in the life cycle of xanthorrhoea and that fire in the forest isn’t such a bad thing. The problem in this instance is Star Swamp is in the middle of suburbia and houses back onto the reserve. The fire didn’t reach the houses, but the inhabitants and fire-fighters were worried it might.
The insects and birds were enjoying the abundant nectar from the flowering xanthorrhoea. The main insect you see on xanthorrhoea flowers is the introduced European honey bee, but there’s room for other insects. Two rainbow lorikeets were feasting too and although they made a beautiful (and raucous) sight, they too are an invasive species in WA, introduced from eastern Australia.
The cacophony of bird calls made for a delightful choir. I saw galahs, magpies, red wattle birds, kookaburras, as well as the rainbow lorikeets, and I heard many others. As with rainbow lorikeets, kookaburras are not edemic to the Swan Coastal Plain, but are arrivals from eastern Australia. They are so common it’s easy to forget this. Last time I went to Star Swamp I took a picture of what I thought was a crow. I subsequently found out it’s a raven, crows aren’t found in Perth.
I also saw a goanna scuttle up a tree to get away from us. It was only a bit more than a metre long, but the only lizards I see around Perth are bob-tails, so this was quite a find.
Another event during our walk was I dropped my keys somewhere along the path. This made for a stressful search, walking up and back the way I’d come twice, but eventually I found them. Telling Sheeba to “find the keys” didn’t achieve anything, I had to do it on my own.
- “Star Swamp begins its post-fire regeneration” (2007) The Stirling Times, 2 October, p. 5.