Fire Dependent Ecosystems
When I lived and worked in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, I often led hikers to rocky, ridgetops where many plants are dependent on wildfires to survive. These warm, dry forests are very different from the wet jungle of plants in the shaded valleys. There is even a pine tree that has sharp spikes spiraled around its serotinous cones to protect them until a natural fire heats them up and opens them, releasing their seeds.
In Autumn, brilliant red and orange leaves light up these fire dependent forests, home to sourwood, blackgum, huckleberries and blueberries.
During spring and summer months, I would keep my eyes open for uncommon wildflowers such as pink ladyslipper, birdfoot violet, yellow eyed grass and fringed gentian. These warm ridges are also where I was most likely to see an eastern fence lizard or timber rattlesnake basking in the sun. Yikes!
Recently, I started to wonder if New Hampshire has any fire dependent ecosystems and learned that it does - the pine barrens. It is a rare ecosystem, so it's not surprising to find out it is home to some endangered species including the Karner blue butterfly, frosted elfin butterfly, persius duskywing and common nighthawk.
The Ossipee Pine Barrens has hiking trails that allow visitors to experience this special habitat up close. I know I will be planning a trip there next summer. Who wants to come along?