These Plants and Animals Love Fire!

Many plants and animals in the Central U.S. require regular fire for survival.

The Nature Conservancy conducts controlled burns throughout the U.S. each year to preserve and restore habitat for fire-dependent species, such as the Cerulean warbler and the Karner blue butterfly. 

Tall larkspur prefers open, sunny woodlands and well-drained soil. Without fire, open woodlands can become clogged with brush, choking out the native larkspur. Tall larkspur is considered globally vulnerable, and a significant decline in its population has been documented at fire-suppressed sites.

The eastern collared lizard is a large, colorful reptile found in Ozarks glades. Fire suppression has allowed cedar trees to encroach on the open glades, limiting the lizard's opportunities to breed, hibernate, and find food. Controlled fires are now conducted at various sites, and the lizards have made a comeback.

Cerulean Warblers prefer to feed near fire-resistant oak trees during their breeding season. Their preferred food is insects, and they use spider webs to bind the grass, hair and bark they use to build their nests.

The red-headed woodpecker prefers open savanna habitat, which is maintained by periodic fire. Conservancy staff and volunteers are using controlled burns and other techniques to restore savanna habitat at Conrad Station Savanna in northwest Indiana. The response to the restoration by the woodpeckers has been very positive.

The Kirtland’s warbler is a rare sight. It breeds only in dense stands of 5-20 year old jack pine trees with sandy soil and undergrowth sufficiently dense to hide its nest. Jack pines need the intense heat of a fire to open their cones and release their seeds.

The regal fritillary butterfly lives in tallgrass prairies, savannas and wet grassy areas maintained by frequent soil disturbance and patchy fires, which produce the violets and other nectar sources the butterfly needs to survive. The Conservancy uses prescribed fire at Kankakee Sands to increase habitat for the regal fritillary.

Bird’s foot violets, which are the primary host plants for butterflies like the regal fritillary, can be found in tall-grass prairies and savannas. The use of prescribed fire at Kankakee Sands and Nachusa Grasslands has helped fight invasive species and woodland succession that encroach on the violet’s natural habitat.

Henslow's Sparrow winter in longleaf pine communities along the Gulf Coast. Fires are critical for the restoration and conservation of longleaf pine communities. You can see the Henslow's Sparrow around northwest Indiana over the spring months.

The thick bark of bur oaks like this one make them fire-resistant. They are a dominant tree in oak savannas, which are kept open by fires that periodically clear away woody vegetation allowing sunlight to penetrate to the ground where grasses and wildflowers grow.

As a caterpillar the endangered Karner blue butterfly only eats lupine, which needs fire to open the forest canopy and allow sunlight to reach the ground where it grows. The Conservancy uses prescribed burns at Kitty Todd Preserve – the only known home in Ohio for the Karner – to regenerate lupine and other native plants.


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