Exactly what plants survive a disaster?
More than you might imagine. After the 2003 bushfires hit Canberra and bare ground finally received rain, seeds germinated, including the native ones that need bushfire to germinate. Plants grew. But from one to even 10 years later, strong shoots emerged from deep-grown roots from the most unlikely plants: hydrangeas, grapevines, camellias, roses - though only the hardy rootstock that the more obedient varieties had been grafted onto. The ''new'' camellia bushes were possibly rootstock too, though as many camellias are grown from cuttings, they might have been the same variety the previous owners had planted.
Wandering through the bush around here you come across ancient fruit trees where there was once a farmhouse. I've known bushfires have burnt these areas many times. Plant survival does depend on the speed and heat of a fire. Sometimes a fire can almost trickle past if the day is moist and the ground moister, burning just enough dead material to stay alive. Branches might brown, but sprout again. A good barrier of thick moist leaves, like agapanthus, may even stop a very slow grass fire on a cool, moist day. (Don't depend on them to stop a fire with wind-blown debris.)
In fiercer fires branches may burn, but the stump sprout, even if it has been partly burnt on one side. More often it's the deep roots that grow again, sometimes not emerging till years later. You can tell the fruit trees and ornamentals that are hardiest in your area by the ones that have survived for 100 years or so. In that time the ones in this district here have known flood, possibly a tornado, gale force winds, snow, drought, plus probably at least one bushfire, unless they are in a rainforest - rainforest will burn, given a strong fire (I've fought a rainforest bushfire), but it's less likely to go up in flames. Or it has been, up till now.
There's nearly always a quince tree in those remnant ''once was a garden'' plots - it takes a lot to kill a quince tree, and even then, the roots will more often than not sucker not once but several times, so you have a grove of thin trunks. There will be pears, apples - once again probably rootstock, though as in colonial times many apples and pears trees were grown from ''slips'' or ''cuttings'', they might still be the ones the grower intended to be there. (It takes skill and patience to grow fruit trees from cuttings - rooting powder gives you a better chance, but knowing exactly what bits to cut and what time of year is best in your climate is necessary too).
Strangely, there is often a persimmon too. Persimmons were rarely found in markets or shops when I was a child. They were a backyard fruit, like loquats. Today's newly bred loquat varieties - as hardy as quinces - are sweeter, with smalls tones, more flesh and not quite so tough skin, but I still wouldn't call them luscious. Modern persimmon varieties though are truly wonderful, which is why they're so commonly sold, though I still can't bring myself to eat one.
There may be vast clumps of iris that have multiplied over decades, and clumps of daffodils bushwalkers only notice when they bloom. Sometimes there are Dorothy Perkins roses too, though those put down roots wherever they ramble, so can cover a couple of acres given a century or so. Burn them, and Dorothy Perkins vanishes, but reappears, as, sadly, do blackberries. If burning killed blackberries, they wouldn't be a weed.
But would those plants above survive a meteor, the kind commonly supposed to have led to the demise of the dinosaurs? Not if they were near where it landed, of course, but might they survive the years when little sunlight filtered through the dusty atmosphere and what rain there is turned acidic?
It's impossible to tell, but, just supposing a giant meteor did crash down on the other side of our planet tomorrow, my money would be on Dorothy Perkins, quinces, and some Granny Smiths. Dorothy Perkins is tougher than a dinosaur.
This week I am:
- Not doing any outside gardening, due to lack of rain and also the lack of any forecast rain. I'm resolutely ignoring tempting catalogues filled with new varieties and the seductive inner voice that's whispering that we really do need at least two more naval orange trees and one can never have too many apricots, although...
- Ordering the trees to give as Christmas presents, which include the incredibly drought (and possibly meteor) hardy native desert lime, a new variety with red flesh and hopefully the sweet and tartness of the green-skinned, white-fleshed one.
- Delightedly discovering that despite six months with no more than a teaspoon of rain, every plum tree and several peach trees here have burst into white and pink blossom respectively. This is not normal - the crab trees should be flowering first. I hope the crabs are just being sensible, and delaying their blooms, rather that wondering whether to begin to die back. But crab apples are one of the most hardy trees for this area, too.
- Trying to find camellia flowers that are still opening buds, the last of this year's blooming.
- Hunting for a smoke bush with deeply red leaves, like the ancient one we have here. All the other cultivars sold as ''red'' have only vaguely red tinges. If I find one it will be planted and tended, even if I have to use the water from brushing my teeth.
- Still not getting any asparagus. It's sulking, waiting for rain. So am I and most of Australia.