by Kent Williges
During the winter when most plants in North and North Central Florida are dormant, Upland Habitat goes into report writing mode. However, one thing that will get us out of the lab during this time is prescribed burning! All staff is trained and certified by the National Wildfire Coordinating Group to participate in prescribed burning activities in Florida. The reason is that fire is such an essential component of our research/restoration projects. For example, many species require fire in order to reproduce. Wiregrass (Aristida stricta) is one of the most important species of groundcover in the southeast, and is almost always planted on restoration sites. However, once established, it will only produce viable seed if burned during the growing season (May – August). Similarly, many-flowered grasspink (Calapogon mulltiflorus) needs fire to occur within its preferred blooming period (late March to mid-April) to create bare areas for seed germination; otherwise the plant will remain dormant underground! Many studies have shown that just smoke by itself can induce the seeds of plants that grow in fire-prone habitats to germinate. Lewton’s milkwort (Polygala lewtonii) which grows in frequently burned sandhills is a good example of this type. In contrast, many weedy species that invade restoration sites soon after planting cannot survive frequent burning. Thus, restoration sites must be burned as soon as possible to ensure the site is on track to becoming a healthy ecosystem.