A Moment of Science

Smoke on the Wildflower

Wildfires destroy enormous areas of forest every year. However, after forest fires, some plants manage to grow back at accelerated speeds.

On this Moment of Science we discuss how fire actually helps some wildflowers flourish. Smoke on the Wildflower, on today’s moment of science.

Wildfires destroy enormous areas of forest every year. But afterward, some plants manage to come back really fast. The California bleeding heart is a great example. Researchers at the U.S. Geological Survey couldn’t figure out why the bleeding heart was always one of the first plants to spring back after a fire. It turns out that the bleeding heart is one of many plants that respond to smoke. Bury a bleeding heart seed in soil for one year, expose it to as little as ten minutes of smoke, and it will sprout.

Some plants have evolved to be able to sprout right after a fire, when old mother nature has cleared away all the other species. There are places where it’s good for vegetation to burn every few years; the plants need it. There have even been cases where a species has been thought to be extinct, only to come up after a fire! It’s a great opportunity for a little wildflower to grow.

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