Plants have evolved many adaptations to cope with fire. Of these adaptations, one of the best-known is likely pyriscence, whereby maturation and release of seeds is triggered, in whole or in part, by fire or smoke; this behaviour is often erroneously called serotiny, although this term truly denotes the much broader category of seed release activated by any stimulus. All pyriscent plants are serotinous, but not all serotinous plants are pyriscent (some are necriscent, hygriscent, xeriscent, soliscent, or some combination thereof). On the other hand, germination of seed activated by trigger is not to be confused with pyriscence; it is known as physiological dormancy.
In chaparral communities in Southern California, for example, some plants have leaves coated in flammable oils that encourage an intense fire. This heat causes their fire-activated seeds to germinate (an example of dormancy) and the young plants can then capitalize on the lack of competition in a burnt landscape. Other plants have smoke-activated seeds, or fire-activated buds. The cones of the Lodgepole pine (Pinus contorta) are, conversely, pyriscent: they are sealed with a resin that a fire melts away, releasing the seeds. Many plant species, including the shade-intolerant giant sequoia (Sequoiadendron giganteum), require fire to make gaps in the vegetation canopy that will let in light, allowing their seedlings to compete with the more shade-tolerant seedlings of other species, and so establish themselves. Because their stationary nature precludes any fire avoidance, plant species may only be fire-intolerant, fire-tolerant or fire-resistant.
intolerant plant species tend to be highly flammable and are destroyed completely by fire. Some of these plants and their seeds may simply fade from the community after a fire and not return, others have adapted to ensure that their offspring survives into the next generation. “Obligate seeders” are plants with large, fire-activated seed banks that germinate, grow, and mature rapidly following a fire, in order to reproduce and renew the seed bank before the next fire. Seeds may contain the receptor protein KAI2, that is activated by the growth hormones karrikin released by the fire.
Fire-tolerant species are able to withstand a degree of burning and continue growing despite damage from fire. These plants are sometimes referred to as “resprouters.” Ecologists have shown that some species of resprouters store extra energy in their roots to aid recovery and re-growth following a fire. For example, after an Australian bushfire, the Mountain Grey Gum tree (Eucalyptus cypellocarpa) starts producing a mass of shoots of leaves from the base of the tree all the way up the trunk towards the top, making it look like a black stick completely covered with young, green leaves.