Aftermath of the Kings Park bushfire sees stunning wildflowers rise from the ashes

Posted November 04, 2018 09:37:02

Eight months ago, the northern end of Kings Park was a depressing sight.

More than 16 hectares of the bushland in Perth’s world-famous stretch of parkland was destroyed by a deliberately-lit fire.

But thanks to a wet winter, the blackened area is now covered in flowers which have not been seen in that region of the park for decades.

The bare open ground left in the fire’s wake has been populated by a collection of plants that only bloom after a fire.

“There is a dormancy that some species have,” said Steve Easton, the manager of biodiversity conservation for the Botanic Gardens and Parks Authority.

“Temperature and fire chemical cues in the smoke break that dormancy, and give the plant an indication that it is the prime time to be germinating.”

Mr Easton said in the two decades he has worked in Kings Park, he had never seen native daisies (senecio hispidulus) flower naturally.

The flower is now in bloom, but will vanish again after spring.

“It will die off for summer and then next year you won’t see it again,” Mr Easton said.

“This is one of the opportunities to see it persisting in the bushland following the fire and getting ready for the next event.”

The best may be yet to come

A collection of other “fire ephemerals” have colonised the open ground and are flourishing in the absence of other plants.

Austrostipa compressa, a native grass, is growing en masse and preparing to drop seed back into the soil.

“That seed will sit in the soil seed bank until the next fire event — might be 10, 15 or 20 years down the track,” Mr Easton said.

Bloodroot, a bush tucker food, and blueboys (stirlingia latifolia) are two species that exist in the bush but usually go unnoticed because they need fire to flower.

“The fire ephemerals may be considered quite rare because you don’t see them often but they do exist in the bushland,” Mr Easton said.

While there are a number of new species putting on a colourful display this spring, the next few years are expected to be even better.

“A lot of other species will be germinating from seed and it takes them a few years to mature to the point where they flower,” Mr Easton said.

“The next two to five years we will be seeing a lot of interesting changes in the flowering structure and the dominance of flowering in the bushland.”

Winners and losers in a changing climate

Researchers have been studying the fire site, comparing the bushland’s recovery to data collected over the past 30 years.

This spring 270 sites have also been surveyed as part of the park’s 10-yearly flora survey.

Preliminary results indicate Kings Park’s bushland is changing, driven primarily by climate change.

“We are seeing that certain species are declining,” ecologist Catherine McChesney said.

“Those species aren’t as well adapted at tolerating drought conditions.”

Two of them are banksias, declared a threatened ecological community of the Swan Coastal Plain in 2016.

However prionotes, a native banksia better suited to drier conditions, is expanding though the park.

Topics: bushfire, flower-gardens, flower-foliage, horticulture, kings-park-6005, wa

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