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science

A Prairie Flower That Flourishes With Fire

Purple coneflowers, also known as echinacea angustifolia, produce more seeds in years following fires, the new study shows, not just because there are fewer competitors for resources, but because a fire “also changes the mating opportunities,”

Cultivated Wild Flowers

The New York Times reports:

some small plants can benefit from a fire, because they grow back faster than grasses and trees, giving them an advantage in the battle for resources.

A study published on Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences gives another explanation for that success, at least for one prairie plant that has been in decline: reproductive advantage.

Purple coneflowers, also known as echinacea angustifolia, produce more seeds in years following fires, the new study shows, not just because there are fewer competitors for resources, but because a fire “also changes the mating opportunities,” said Stuart Wagenius, a conservation scientist at the Chicago Botanic Garden. Dr. Wagenius, who led the research, tracked a 40-hectare plot, or nearly 100 acres, of prairie land in Minnesota for 21 years as part of the Echinacea Project.

The study found that coneflowers produced more seeds and were more genetically diverse in plots that were burned every few years, compared to those where fires were prevented

(click here to continue reading A Prairie Flower That Flourishes With Fire – The New York Times.)

Fascinating, Jim…

The Echinacea Project study site:

Our study area comprises 6400 ha (25 square miles) of rural western Minnesota, USA near the towns of Kensington and Hoffman (centered near 45º 49′ N, 95º 43′ W). Before European settlement in the 1870s, the entire area, except for lakes and wetlands, was potential Echinacea habitat. Echinacea and other prairie plants now persist in remnant populations on hillsides too steep for agricultural production, in fence corners inaccessible to farm machinery, along road and railroad rights-of-way, and on abandoned pastureland. The remnants that we study range in size from a roadside prairie of only several square meters to a 95 acre TNC preserve.

(click here to continue reading Our Study Site « The Echinacea Project.)

Echinacea Purpurea sign 

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