Rising from the ashes. Again and again.

Fire and prairies go together like bologna and ketchup.  (There is no discussion about that, by the way, it’s just a fact.)

It’s always fun to watch prairies green up following a prescribed fire.  Plant regrowth is rapid and vigorous, especially after a fire that takes place just as the growing season is starting.  In fact, because the soil warms up faster in recently burned areas, we often see plant species emerging weeks earlier where we’ve burned than in unburned prairies.  The photos below were all taken one week after a fire we conducted at The Platte River Prairies this spring.


Rosinweed (Silphium integrifolium) and grasses in restored prairie.

A created wetland

Rainwater filled this created wetland after it was burned, creating excellent habitat for migratory shorebirds and many other creatures in what was formerly a corn field.

False gromwell (Onosmodium molle) was one of the fastest to re-emerge from this spring's burn.

False gromwell (Onosmodium molle) was one of the fastest to re-emerge from this spring’s burn.


Beautiful two-toned grass shoots were scattered across the entire burned prairie.

Beautiful two-toned grass shoots were scattered across much of the burned prairie.

This entry was posted in Prairie Management, Prairie Natural History, Prairie Photography and tagged , , , , , , by Chris Helzer. Bookmark the permalink.

About Chris Helzer

Chris Helzer is the Director of Science for The Nature Conservancy in Nebraska. His main role is to evaluate and capture lessons from the Conservancy’s land management and restoration work and then share those lessons with other landowners – both private and public. In addition, Chris works to raise awareness about the importance of prairies and their conservation through his writing, photography, and presentations to various groups. Chris is also the author of "The Ecology and Management of Prairies in the Central United States", published by the University of Iowa Press. He lives in Aurora, Nebraska with his wife Kim and their children.

11 thoughts on “Rising from the ashes. Again and again.

  1. Good Morning Chris, Had a successful burn at my place last week. I walked it Sunday and just as in your pictures I saw a number of plants starting to emerge. Very interesting to see. Have a wonderful day! >

  2. I’ve read that late spring burns have severely damaged populations of prairie fringed orchids. Locally, my heart sank when I saw late spring burns being conducted in areas where shooting stars, hoary puccoon, and prairie spring ephemerals had been planted. Why spend the money to plant them if you are just going to knock them back with fire.

    • Another consideration is the mentioned rapid warming of the soil that allows plants to emerge faster. This is not always a good thing. Especially with our unstable weather that goes from one extreme to another which scientist think is being caused by global warming. Unseasonably warm temperatures followed by unseasonably cold temperatures have knocked back some really good stuff. Things may take many years to recover if the plants ever get a chance. With the weather we have been having lately the plants might never have long enough to get a chance to recover.

    • I might have to eat some “humble pie” on the above comment. In the above mentioned restoration that had a burn after shoot emergence there is some prairie phlox that is now blooming. The shooting star was set back by the fire, but also recovered enough to bloom. Even though the prairie plants might get set back from having their new shoots burned off, it is possible they handle this insult much better than other less desirable species. It would be interesting to know how such management changes the ecosystem over time.

  3. I just watched my first (small) Spring Burn today. For some of us, it’s difficult to accept that a lot of good stuff dies even though “change” is what drives the success of a prairie. Without going overboard about this, it’s kind of like “Easter’s “Resurrection.”

  4. My Aunt Carol used to serve peanut butter on bologna, rolled up and held in place with a tooth pick. I’m not sure it is a winning combo…

  5. Regarding the concerns about spring burns on specific plants: here in Peoria County, Illinois volunteers like myself regularly conduct spring burns and one of my favorite plants of the spring ephemerals is the hoary puccoon. Our time frame window of burning ( very little done this year due to wet conditions), usually ends at the end of March. My observations on the small praires along the Illinois River Valley ( mostly glacial hill prairies) suggest the hoary puccoon follows an irregular blooming pattern that is separate from the presence or absence of spring fire. Maybe a three year cycle? For that particular plant, in this particular area, no harm to populations has occurred. And perhaps due to other factors like the aggressive removal of exotics and trees, the populations have generally grown larger in the past ten years. but there is so much about prairie that i know nothing about.

  6. Pingback: Photo of the Week – November 18, 2016 | The Prairie Ecologist


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