FIREWEED … magnificent all-purpose plant pioneer

How Does a Forest Fire Show the Basics of Ecological Succession and Personal Grief Survival?

“Ecological succession is the process of gradual change in a community over time. It is based on order that can predict the sense of a new development in any habitat. In some ways, nothing can remain the same except adapting to change itself.” Excerpt: Ecological Succession of Birchum Birch

Anybody who works side by side with nature understands that Ecological Succession is a force of nature.

Anybody who tills a piece of ground and plans to grow a garden will understand this force of nature very well. So, for example, you plant your bean seeds and soon enough the young bean plants emerge with their bright open leaves eager for nutrients, water and open dirt to grow into bountiful vegetables on a six foot or taller stalk.

Now, within the same short time, other plants called weeds will start to compete for nutrients and space. In fact, these weeds are such avid competitors, if left unattended, may easily take over the seedling beans. In fact, the garden will quickly turn into a robust productive weed patch where the only course of action is to spend a great deal of time and energy weeding and trying to tame this inherent energy or force of ecological succession.

“In fact, in ecological terms weeds are simply hardy species which are the first to make a home in previously disrupted or damaged ecosystems, starting a chain of ecological succession that ultimately leads to a more bio-diverse steady-state ecosystem.” Garden Ecology

There seems to be an inherent law in nature that open soil will not stay bare for too long. Nature will take her hand and seed it prolifically but always within a predictable organization that allows for primary growth to support secondary development.

Succession is nature’s process to adapt to whatever conditions befall it … to continue to live, grow and gradually change the habitat to adapt to these new conditions. The species that adapt better will exist longer.

Again, with Nature’s infinite organization, a forest fire can best show how a disaster is followed by gradual change based on predictable development.

First, different grasses and weeds appear starting the microbial communities and nutrient capture.

Soon, the spectacular fireweed or great willow herb arrives with amazing adaptations to survive as a pioneer in these disturbed areas.

  • Its seeds can lie dormant for many years, awaiting the warmth necessary for germination.
  • It can rapidly spread its rhizomes or creeping roots that grow a few inches horizontally underground from buds that produce new shoots growing upwards.
  • It can grow 1 to 6 feet, even as tall as 9 feet with tapers of flowers.
  • Pink colored flowers produce seeds as fine wispy tufts for easy wind dispersal.
  • Soon enough, roots and seeds proliferate everywhere accumulating more humus.
  • As it grows, it is a supermarket for insects, birds and animals. Young shoots are especially tasty to rabbits, sheep and deer. Muskrats, chipmunks and even marmots, moose, elk make a diet.
  • It is especially beneficial to butterflies who feed from its nectar and pollen during the day, and the moths at night.
  • A variety of bees drink the early spring nectar to make honey and help to pollinate the plant further. It can also attract hummingbirds and other birds to feed on the bugs.

A few years later they are replaced by bushes and trees like the aspen, white birch, and jack pine. More nutrients are released into the soil, competing species are overgrown and eliminated as the amount of sunlight varies.

In other words, a fully functioning ecosystem is newly regenerated, alive and well for all species.

In summary, ecological succession is the process of change in the species of an ecological community over time. It begins with a few pioneering plants and animals and develops into a stable and self-perpetuating community.

So, what are some key words when considering the management of change by Nature?

adaptations, diversity, balance, maturity and survival in a whole society

It’s about how organisms impact their own environmental changes often with symbiotic relationships. Change is never black and white for immediate gratification. Between any two extremes, there is a gradual transition and tolerance with beneficial function as purpose.

Two other interesting facts can apply to forest fires and ecological succession:

  1. Climate change can play a major role in which kind of plants or trees will return to the landscape. Even years later, higher temperatures and decreased precipitation can compromise a forest’s chances of full recovery.
  2. Forest fires can be considered a natural and necessary part of the ecosystem. It is an opportunity to remove clutter like dead trees, old logs, dense undergrowth, and hardened decayed plant matter to return as ashes and add more nutrients to make more fertile soil for new plants.

Back on the farm, I remember my father, doing controlled burns on the hay fields as a way to remove old decayed grass to increase soil fertility.

I remember hiking with him to check the cattle range in mountain meadows, wondering about the tall, pretty pink flowers seen everywhere on broken ground to build transmission lines. Now I know why.

On another plane, personal disasters can burn with such flames that become buried in such ashes of grief choking any reasoning how to cope with tragedy. How can you deal with the loss of a home through fire? How can you stop grieving the death of a loved family member with unfulfilled promises? When the environment changes never to be the same again ... is there some kind of personal succession that can continue to find faith in existence and hope again for gratitude after inexorable pain? Is it possible that nature’s ecological principles can help this management of change from destruction to rebirth?

At first, you howl at the pain like the flames of wind burning and tearing your life apart. When the fury has passed, you stare at the surroundings like burnt-out stumps and black tree skeletons and see your scattered dying embers without vital connections. But, somehow, you must believe, like nature, the regeneration will flow and return to the matrix of life from lichens to butterflies to young saplings.

Diversity … like seeds, keep your memories productive by including them with new activities. Avoid the weeds of anger, regrets and self-pity.

Balance … allow times of grief but balance with appreciation for having shared as much time as was possible to forward all that was positive.

Adapt … to the different environment and rejuvenate with small acts of kindness. Seek the essence of nature … its scents, sounds, colors …watch the buds of spring burst forth … grow a plant to watch it grow.

Connect … seek warmth from others who care and share and belong to a wider family of support and world of abundance. Hopefully, even have a special friend like a fireweed who will extend his or her arms for sustenance and support.

It is even said that walking barefoot, Earthing, can reconnect the human body to the Earth’s surface electrons and may increase serotonin and positive thoughts. Let Nature embrace you and sustain your succession to growth and maturity.

Comments are always important and appreciated.


PS: In fact, I am so impressed by nature’s ecological succession and what it can teach humanity’s social succession, I wrote an e-book called

The Ecological Succession of Birchum Birch … a love story for all ages who care about family, community and environment.

“Succession involves the whole community. You have seen it in slow action with plants in the destruction of the forest fire. The first plants appear along with humus, micro-organisms, and fungi followed by insects and birds. As plants change, different animals will appear to feed; first the plant eaters, then the meat eaters. Trees start to grow, changing the physical and nutrient environment again for more variety of species.” excerpt from Ecological Succession of Birchum Birchum

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Retired teacher — wisdom of Timely Tools for Changes: self-franchise internet marketing, social media attacks, ecology