Fire! You may wonder how fire could have anything to do with flowers or butterflies, however it can play a large roll in maintaining prairie ecology.
It has been established that Native Americans introduced raging fires to the prairies in Ohio, but the reason varies according to the teller. Whether it was to improve the prairie for grazing of elk and buffalo, aid in the hunt, or to clear the field of vision so no enemy could sneak up on them, prairies were maintained by fire.
Without fire, prairies can succumb to succession. Ohio’s prairies often receive enough rain to allow woody, brushy plants to gain foot hold, leading to eventual forestation. Oak Openings sand barrens serve as good example, without fire these sunny open habitats of the blue lupine flower became overgrown and eventually shade snuffed out the hardy, native lupine. No lupine: no Karner blue butterfly. When fire was re-introduced to the Oaks, the cycle of lupines returned, however it was too late for the Karner blue. This amazing butterfly was once extirpated from Ohio, but has since been released into Kitty Todd. To read the whole story, go here.
So a raging wall of fire, sweeping across Ohio’s landscape can be a tool for conservation. (Be sure to check out that video link- it is awesome!) I have longed to see one of these infernos at work, and Guy Denny was kind enough to invite me to his spring blaze. Guy’s 20 acres of prairie at his Knox County home are put to the torch each year, and the crackling fire and scorching heat created a display as awesome as any Fourth of July fireworks. The prairie, burnt into submission, will become canvas to summer’s paint of flowers.
Fire can be an important ecological tool.