A study spanning more than three decades has found that fires can benefit an iconic Australian native that became a symbol of recovery and hope after the New South Wales Mid North Coast was razed in 2019.
The bright red and yellow Christmas bells flower, Blandfordia grandiflora, bloomed from burnt earth across the region and other fire-affected areas between Sydney, Brisbane and along the NSW tablelands.
Experienced growers and botanists have long suspected that bushfires enhanced the protected wildflower's bright blooms, but scientist Susan Rutherford said a long-term study she co-authored confirmed that belief.
"However there had actually been no long-term study on flowering response to a range of fire frequencies, so this study was actually the first," she said.
Dr Rutherford and Dr Stephen Griffith conducted a series of controlled burns in 1986, 1989, 1992 and 1995 at the Lake Innes Reserve south of Port Macquarie.
Every year after those fires, the pair counted new flowers and monitored the mortality of the flowers in the burnt and unburnt study plots.
Among the key findings of the study, published in the Australian Journal of Botany in November, was a tendency for flowering to flourish in the second, post-fire season regardless of frequency.
"It wasn't a simple response to fire, there were probably other environmental factors involved like temperature and soils."
While the study suggested further studies should focus upon the complex interactions between climate, fire and soil for the Christmas bells and other flora, Dr Rutherford warned that catastrophic blazes, like those in 2019, could threaten the long-term future of the protected species.
"[The Christmas bell] takes three years from seed to flower," she said.
"So if the fires happen every two years, that could wipe out the potential for seed to be produce and it could wipe out the next generation.
"The fire seasons are expected to increase, so we need to understand the complexity.
Mike Dodkin, a retired National Parks and Wildlife ranger who monitored the study at its inception in the 1980s, said long-term studies like this were crucial to better protecting native flora.
"This is the sort of thing that needs to be done," he said.
"The more we know about a flower the better we can manage it."
Dr Rutherford hoped the study encouraged other scientists to conduct long term research into native flora.