Photographed by Bette Jackson
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Hi, I'm Dr. Jerry Jackson, out with the wild things. Saw palmetto fruit appears abundant in areas where it has been at least four years since the last fire and some studies suggest fire intervals of eight to ten years may result in the greatest fruit production. Such long intervals without fire are inconsistent with our knowledge of the frequency of natural lightning-started fires in much of peninsular Florida. Prior to road construction and fire control efforts, Florida's pine forests burned at about one to three year intervals. In the absence of fire, Florida's pines are shaded out by competing hardwoods, and a factor leading to the endangerment of the red-cockaded woodpecker has been lack of fire to maintain the openness of the pine woods. In other species, we sometimes see that individuals under stress maximize energy put into reproducing, sort of one last effort to leave offspring for the future. If lack of fire is resulting in increased competition and shade, perhaps this triggers fruit production in an effort to promote spread of seeds to other areas. Those managing for the production of saw palmetto fruit should look to nature for clues to needs for long-term stability of fruit production and for greater understanding of the roles of saw palmetto in its natural ecosystem.
'With the Wild Things' is produced at the Whitaker Center in the College of Arts and Sciences at Florida Gulf Coast University. For 'The Wild Things', I'm Dr. Jerry Jackson.