F is for Fire-Climax

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As a part of the A-Z Photographic Glossary of Biological Terms challenge, today it is F for Fire-Climax, as illustrated by Common Gorse (Ulex europaeus; Fabaceae); growing on Arthur’s Seat, Hollyrood Park, Edinburgh, Scotland

(for more on Arthur’s Seat see the photo and brief description below)

Gorse is an iconic Scottish shrub found wherever there are poor soils, particularly rocky soils where most other plants cannot survive yet despite it’s harsh and thorny appearance, it’s flowers give off a pronounced scent of coconut.

The term “climax” is usually applied to biotic communities thought to be in equilibrium with existing environmental conditions and represents the final stage of an ecological succession; sites with vegetation that is maintained by a specific environmental condition or disturbance regime sometimes receive special names, such as “edaphic climax” (maintained by soil factors) or in this case, “fire-climax” (maintained by fires). As a fire-climax shrub, gorse burns burning very easily yet it has seed pods that are to a large extent opened by fire, thus allowing rapid regeneration after the fire has burned itself out; the burnt stumps also readily sprout new growth from the roots.

This species (U. europaeus) normally flowers in late autumn and through the winter, whereas Western gorse (U. gallii) and Dwarf Furze (U. minor) flower in late summer, so between the different species, some gorse is almost always in flower, hence the old phrase: “When gorse is out of blossom, kissing’s out of fashion”!

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Arthur’s Seat, part of the extinct Carboniferous-era volcano system in Hollyrood Park, Edinburgh.
This “hill for magnitude, a mountain in virtue of its bold design” (Robert Louis Stevenson) is so named after the legends of King Arthur. During the Quaternary, the system was eroded by a glacier moving from west to east, exposing rocky crags to the west and leaving a tail of material swept to the east and so Arthur’s Seat and the Salisbury Crags adjoining it helped form the ideas of modern geology as it is currently understood as it was in this location that James Hutton observed that the deposition of the sedimentary and formation of the igneous rocks must have occurred at different ages, countering the opinion of the Neptunists or Wernerians that all rocks had precipitated out at the base of a primeval ‘universal ocean’.
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