In a relatively short time, even after a devastating fire, plant material will manifest itself above ground.

In a relatively short time, even after a devastating fire, plant material will manifest itself above ground. Photo by Anne Hrabar

The general trend regarding the rehabilitation of the natural landscape after the recent devastating fire around Knysna and Plettenberg Bay in South Africa raises certain issues which are important for us if we want to help rather than hinder the process.

Charles Reitz of Reitz Tree Care has brought his knowledge and understanding of this very region into play in order minimise the after-effects of the fire with the following insights:

  • Mechanical disturbance, including walking on previously undisturbed areas can introduce alien plant species there. Where alien plant seed occurs, germination takes place to a greater degree after surface disturbance such as trampling, pulling weeds or planting and cultivating.
  • There is also the possibility of damage to extensive soil-stabilising bryophytic (mosses) and mycorrhizal (fungi) networks across the now accessible lands cape in its exposed state.
  • Cutting down “bush” (particularly Searsia lucida) which has brown leaves due to the fire’s heat is not advised. This is merely scorched vegetation which remains unaffected by the fire. Birds will continue to benefit from these potential pockets of refuge and these plants could coppice (generate new growth) higher up on their stems.

Says Charles: “I urge nature lovers to remain patient and to avoid haphazardly trying to rehabilitate the natural landscape outside their regular gardening zone or property. Imagine the microscopic world of underground root zones which account for perhaps 50% of the whole living plant kingdom. These zones should remain largely unaffected even after fire. Presume that the landscape is intact with only the surface layers burnt and transformed. In a relatively short time plant material will manifest itself above ground, cell by living cell, in a wave of revival.

“Effective, unobtrusive action aimed at alien seedling control needs ample discussion in order to arrive at an intelligent solution,” concludes Charles. “Walking around looking for seedlings will cause unnecessary damage. This should rather take place once the natural bush, ground covers and the infinite interactive dance of chemistry have had a chance to recapture their niche and are visibly growing.”

These insights do not apply to previously disturbed or alien-infested areas.