Veld fires are common in the summer and autumn months in the southern African region, and many plants are adapted to such fires. While shrubs like proteas are able to resprout or reseed soon afterwards, this phenomenon is even more pronounced in geophytes like terrestrial orchids and bulbous plants (most prominently in the 'fire lilies', Cyrtanthus species; family Amaryllidaceae).
In some southern African orchids it has been known for centuries that fire will profoundly stimulate flowering in the following season. A sudden mass flowering can then often be seen. In the years between the burning, only leaves or nothing at all can be seen above the surface in some species, and it may take many years until another fire brings a stimulus for renewed flowering. Interestingly, all orchids which are strongly stimulated by fire are found in the Western Cape. The phenomenon that fire has a dramatic effect on the flowering of terrestrial orchids is also found in other parts of the world which have a similar Mediterranean climate, e.g. western Australia.
Illustrations on this page:
Description and images : Hubert Kurzweil
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