Devastating fire uncovers rare native orchid

Devastating fire uncovers rare native orchid

05 April 2012

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New Zealand — A fire that ravaged 70 hectares of peat-filled wetlands near Rangiriri killed several birds and animal but also uncovered a threatened native plant.

Conservation Department staff found the green-hooded swamp orchid in the burnt remains and Waikato biodiversity programme manager John Gumbley hopes others might flourish after the fire.

However, while some native plants flourished in such habitat, the fire had proved devastating for several birds and animals, the remains of which were found by staff as they examined the scene yesterday.

“The area burnt contains important threatened plant communities and species, notable wire rush and priority threatened native orchids such as green-hooded swamp orchids … the site would have provided habitat for threatened or at-risk bird species such as banded rail.”

Mr Gumbley said DOC staff would continue to monitor the site, not only for signs of fire, but also to see if other threatened species emerged.

“Some threatened plant species such as orchids emerge if the fire has not been deep-seated and destroyed the seedbank in the peat. But uncontrolled fires such as these are very damaging to natural ecosystems, especially peat bogs, with the possibility that some flora and fauna do not survive or recover locally.”

The orchids’ re-emergence comes about as they are low-lying plants and their seeds can re-emerge without competition from taller plants.

But the concern was around wetlands. Waikato had lost 90 per cent of its wetlands, so human-induced fires could be devastating, he said.

DOC carried out controlled burns in peat wetlands near Meremere to enable the threatened native orchid to survive or emerge, Mr Gumbley said.

Meanwhile, Taumarunui firefighters battled a 5000-square-metre fire for four hours in a pine plantation at Waimiha about 8.50pm Tuesday.

A helicopter was turned out but sent back due to bad weather.

It returned to douse the blaze early yesterday.

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