Bushland grows tall without fire

While out exploring, we came across this magnificent Balga (Grasstree), Xanthorrhoea preissii. Balgas grow very slowly, at about 1.5cm per year.  As this plant is 2.2m tall it must be about 150 years old.

There is also a 1.3m deep skirt of dead leaves; the lowest leaves are attached to the trunk 0.9m above the ground. This suggests that the plant has not been burnt in over 80 years as the dead leaves would have been removed had it been subject to fire in that time. The long absence of fire is further reflected in the rich and diverse range of plants that surround the Balga.

We would like to impress upon people that our bushland doesn’t need fire to stay healthy. While some plants, like Banksias, do need fire to help them reproduce, they are also killed by fire. If the fires occur too frequently the plants do not have time to grow, reach maturity and produce seeds before the next fire. Fires also encourage the invasion of weeds which greatly increase the fuel load in the bushland.

We suggest that fires should not occur more frequently than every 50 years in order to maintain a healthy ecosystem. With our fragmented bushland even this regime may be too frequent. When these small ‘islands’ of bush are burnt, animals like bandicoots and lizards have nowhere to live and will die before the vegetation can recover. As there are no animals nearby to recolonize the area an important part of the natural ecosystem can be lost forever.