Plants regenerate after a disaster and so will we

Opinion piece by Sean Altern – Earth Day 2020
22 April 2020

“New Life” (Image by Leigh De Necker)

COVID-19 is spreading across the globe like a massive wildfire and much like a rooted plant that can’t escape a fire; we will all be affected by this pandemic in one way or the other.

Let’s look at three tactics utilised by certain types of plants that enables them to endure the devastation of a fire.

  • Non-sprouting plants don’t have bulky stems and get burnt to oblivion as there is not enough thickness in the main stem to buffer their core against the intense heat. However post fire, in the nutrient rich, clean and clear environment, the seeds of these species are now triggered by the heat and able to germinate. The parent plant is gone, but in its absence the seedlings can emerge into their own plants.
  • Facultative sprouters have thick bulky stems that enable them to withstand the force of flames as well as seeds which germinate after a fire. As the parent plant resprouts some weeks later it is joined by these new emerging seedlings, quick to take up the spaces made available following the stripping down of the parent. This parent plant survives, albeit it a little less than before, whilst around it new life emerges.
  • Obligate sprouters’ or ‘only’ sprouters have seeds that are not adapted to fire and the saplings emerge absent-of-crisis. However seedlings are at risk when a disaster strikes if they are not bulky and established enough to withstand the intense impact of the fire. The parent plant with its bulky base and deep roots endures and re-emerges on its own once the disaster has passed. Timing is crucial for these plants.
When it comes to regeneration preparation equates to performance.

In some cases even these adaptations fail. This is usually the case in an unhealthy, modified environment such as one where invasive plants cause unnaturally intense heat that is too much for anything to survive. This is where people like conservators, researchers and wildland firefighters play a crucial role in protecting these vulnerable ecosystems – in fact these are among the core services that we offer at NCC.

There are multiple scenarios where businesses and employees can identify or see themselves within one or even a combination of these scenarios. Staff being forced to go it alone as their business is forced to close down. Others may cut teams or members to enable a reduced company to survive whilst some are fortunate enough to be able to take a knock but able to rely on deep reserves throughout the difficult period before re-establishing themselves. Others may totally be at the mercy of the disaster and will rely on others to assist them.

The COVID-19’s intensity will be dictated by how long it lasts and how intense the effect is in disabling our ability to function. Like with plants; what ultimately will play the most important role is how well we have prepared, how we will endure during this crisis and how we will regenerate afterwards.

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