Native Grasses Sprout From Charred Soil At Soldiers Delight: How Fires Impact The Park's Unique Ecosystem


A plume of smoke billows from Soldiers Delight Natural Environment Area during the fire. (Credit: Friends of Soldiers Delight)

OWINGS MILLS - Trails reopened at Soldiers Delight Natural Environment Area (NEA) on Saturday, less than two weeks after a brush fire at the park consumed more than 700 acres and forced the evacuation of 29 homes.

In the wake of the blaze, many residents have expressed a desire to help restore what the wildfire burned. Thankfully, not only will the park rebound from the fire, it may have helped this distinct ecosystem.

Soldiers Delight Natural Environment Area is a “serpentine barrens” or “serpentine grassland” ecosystem. This rare habitat is underlain by serpentinite, an oceanic rock that produces shallow soils susceptible to erosion, with very high levels of magnesium and very low levels of essential nutrients, according to the Maryland Department of the Environment.

Soldiers Delight is the largest remaining serpentine ecosystem in the eastern United States. Despite the harsh conditions present in a serpentine ecosystem, many plant and animal species can be found in its oak savannas and seemingly barren grasslands.

According to the Nature Conservancy, human-caused fires are nothing new to the area. Before the arrival of Europeans, Native Americans started fires in the barrens to attract large grazing animals. Fires would rage from Southern New York to Central Maryland as Native Americans herded rabbits, deer, and other mammals toward hunting parties.

A 2014 study on the Soldiers Delight NEA by Conservation Gateway indicated that fires are essential for the survival of the serpentine barrens. They impact soil quality and seed dispersal and help reduce the number of invasive species in the delicate ecosystem.

The benefits of a brush fire can already be seen across parts of the park. According to the Friends of Soldiers Delight, a non-profit group dedicated to protecting the park, the fire has allowed some native grasses to return to the surface.

Native grasses grow from the charred soil. (Credit: Friends of Soldiers Delight)

“Some of our native grasses, namely Indian grass and little bluestem grass, have been spotted already sprouting up through the ashes in burned areas of Soldiers Delight,” the organization wrote. “The fire burned away many acres of invasive greenbrier, creating open spaces where our native grasses and flowers can now thrive and grow. There are literally millions of native seeds already in that charred soil, just waiting for an opportunity to have enough sunlight and space and nutrients to sprout forth and thrive.”

As the native grasses spring forth from the charred ground, the Maryland Department of Natural Resources asks that park-goers be mindful of where they step. The department has stated that hikers MUST stay in the middle of the trail and stick to unburned areas of the park.

I'm interested
I disagree with this
This is unverified