Flames can breathe new life into plants damaged by fire

Q Are plants aware of fire? Do they react to it?

A It is generally agreed that plants do not have "awareness" in the conventional sense, since they lack a nervous system and a brain. But they do react to the damage a fire can inflict.

In Australia, for example, plants have evolved a variety of mechanisms that help them recover from brush fires. The eucalyptus has woody storage vessels called lignotubers, which shelter tissues that can sprout after a fire.

Some plants, like banksia, release seeds from woody capsules when heated, while others, including some orchids, flower after stimulation by a fire.

Still other plants, like acacia, have seeds that germinate only after exposure to fire or smoke.

In California, a few species - including maple, aspen and pinegrass - sprout again after a fire, from buds that grow at least partly protected under the soil line.

Some pine trees have cones, sealed by tar, which open to release seeds only when a fire's heat melts the tar.

And like in Australia, some native species that produce seeds must be exposed to fire to germinate.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 25, 2018, with the headline 'Flames can breathe new life into plants damaged by fire'. Print Edition | Subscribe