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Living With Fire Tip #18: What Grows Back After the Fire?

Posted 8/12/2008

After a wildfire, the blackened landscape can look bleak and barren. But rest assured, it won’t be long before new signs of life start appearing.

Some of Nevada’s shrubs resprout after fire and some need to reestablish themselves from seed. For example, rabbitbrush and desert peach usually start resprouting within several weeks after a fire. Big sagebrush, on the other hand, is easily killed by fire and does not resprout. It needs to re-establish from seed stored in the soil or blown in from nearby unburned plants.

Most of our native perennial grasses, such as Indian ricegrass and squirreltail, can survive a wildfire. If they are present in high enough densities, such as one every footstep, reseeding the burned area is not usually necessary. Our perennial wildflowers, such as mule’s ear, arrowleaf balsamroot, and lupine, also can survive wildfire.

Unfortunately, undesirable plants seize the opportunity to take over burned areas. In particular, cheatgrass does very well in burned areas, and can outcompete native plants if given the chance. The first year after a fire occurs in an area dominated by big sagebrush at low to mid-elevations, cheatgrass presence may be sparse. In subsequent years, however, cheatgrass populations typically increase to dominate the site. Consequently, our best opportunity to successfully reseed burned areas with desirable vegetation is during the first fall season after a fire.

Nature will not allow burned slopes to remain devoid of vegetation for long. To learn more, download the publication "What grows back after the fire," available online at www.unce.unr.edu.

To learn more about protecting your home from the threat of wildfire, visit www.livingwithfire.info or contact Ed Smith, natural resources specialist, University of Nevada Cooperative Extension, (775) 782-9960 or smithe@unce.unr.edu. Living With Fire is an interagency program coordinated by University of Nevada Cooperative Extension.

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