Although summer fires are common and can have an important regenerative role in some vegetation communities, the extent of this season’s events is unprecedented. Recent fires have impacted billions of plants, animals and fungi across Australia.
The vegetation surrounding Sydney is amongst the most diverse in Australia, with the Greater Blue Mountains being recognised by UNESCO as a World Heritage Area. This is due, in part, to the diversity of its flora, with over 10% of Australia’s vascular flora represented and its high levels of endemism. The region is home to some 91 species of Eucalypts and a number of iconic gems such as the Dwarf Mountain Pine (Pherosphaera fitzgeraldii) and Wollemi Pine (Wollemia nobilis). Most of the vegetation communities are adapted to fire and under normal circumstances have the potential to recover relatively quickly.
Although recent bushfire activity in the area significantly impacted the local Blue Mountains community and Garden, assistance from Sydney Water, the NSWRFS, staff and volunteers helped to save much of the Living Collection.
The Living Collection was largely unaffected but some collections were heavily impacted including the Conifer collection, North American Woodland, Gondwana Forest and the Darug Walk. More than 90% of the surrounding 186 hectares of conservation area around the Garden was also heavily impacted.
The extent of the long-term impacts to the Living Collection and some of the conservation areas is difficult to determine right now but horticulturists are working to support the natural regeneration process, add new plantings and rebuild the Living Collection.
Fortunately, many of the Garden’s rarest species spared. Areas such as the Formal Garden, Brunet Meadow, Lady (Nancy) Fairfax Walk, the Dahlia collection, the Liliums and the Explorers’ Walk were also saved. The main buildings including the Potager restaurant, The Jungle Lodge and event spaces were undamaged.
While some areas of the Garden will remain closed to visitors in the short term, these are providing a haven for wildlife. An increased number of birds within the Garden can be observed along the paths enjoying the peaceful surrounds of summer flowers still in bloom.
Despite the challenges ahead, our horticulturists and scientists are helping to rejuvenate areas impacted by bushfires and will take the opportunity to monitor and study the Blue Mountains’ ecosystem’s ability to recover, adding to the extensive body of knowledge on plant ecology and ecosystems management. Our Garden’s Living Collections, together with The Australian PlantBank and National Herbarium of NSW, provide a critical reservoir for millions of plant species, and events like these fires highlight how vital this work is now and for the future.
When you visit the Garden, you will see significant recovery of many of the native species, particularly epicormic growth (from dormant buds under the bark) on many of the Eucalypts. Also, a plethora of seedlings, induced into germinating by the chemicals produced by fire. Take care to avoid trampling or damaging any of this new growth, it is very delicate.
How you can help
Scientists the Botanic Gardens are working on real solutions to help ensure our plant life can withstand a changing climate. You can help support our efforts through the Foundation and Friends of the Gardens.