The Pyriscent Seed: Trial by Fire
"The Fireborn Seed"
Some seeds need spring rain
And some need summer sun
But then there are the kinds that need fire
Like the evergreen pine cone
All through its dormant time it waits
All through the dark and gloom
This good seed waits for the time to be right
Patient for its turn to bloom
Then when it comes, how that fire burns
Death and decay fall away
But the fireborn seed is now set free
And its life begins today
Seed Life and Fire Ecology
Apart from a few trickier plants that propagate through cuttings, typical garden-variety seeds are sown directly into the ground or “started” early by gardeners indoors. The usual conditions for germination are damp, dark soil. Like wildlife bird and squirrel helpers who assist by distributing seeds, gardeners participate in plant reproduction by actively cultivating natural requirements. Some seeds need cold treatment to mimic a winter climate, while others must be kept warm and humid to simulate summer.
Different Life Cycles of Plants
Plant left to their own devices eventually experience the right weather and seasonal conditions to break seed dormancy, but nature’s clock can be more event-based than linear.
Not all seeds are readily released upon maturation; if they are, this is called “trachyspory”. In “bradyspory”, seeds are stored in cones or fruits and require destruction of the outer protective layers---typically through fire or breakage.
- Fire Adapted Forests and Fire Ecology
Fire is a natural and even necessary part of some habitats! Forestry management requires controlled burning to sustain wildlife diversity.
The term “serotiny” describes plant adaptation to ecological triggers for seed germination. Serotiny by fire is officially known as “pyriscence”; it is the most-studied serotinous phenomenon and has been used interchangeably with the terms serotiny and bradyspory. But there are multiple forms of serotiny:
-necriscence: death (of the branch or parent plant)
These conditions may be required in combination as well, such as with pyrohydriscence: fire (or extreme heat) followed by water. Some plants have evolved protective mechanisms that send them into a dormant state under undesirable conditions and then need a specific trigger to take them out of it. For example, certain plants produce draught-resistant coatings that prevent seed germination until washed away by rain; this phenomenon also produces the distinctive, peculiar smell of petrichor due to a specific ecological recipe involving spores, chemicals, and bacterial life. Habitats develop interdependent adaptations.
Etymology of "Pyriscence"
“Pyro-“ means “fire” (from the Latin pyr and the Greek pyros) and is also seen in the words "pyrotechnics" (fireworks) and "pyromania" (obsession with starting fires). The Latin “-escence” refers to the process of beginning or being. Pyriscence is birth by fire.
Excerpts from “The Parable of the Sower”: Book of Matthew, New Testament (NIV)
13 That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat by the lake. 2 Such large crowds gathered around him that he got into a boat and sat in it, while all the people stood on the shore. 3 Then he told them many things in parables, saying: “A farmer went out to sow his seed. 4 As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up. 5 Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow. 6 But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root. 7 Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants. 8 Still other seed fell on good soil, where it produced a crop—a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown. 9 Whoever has ears, let them hear.”……..
18 “Listen then to what the parable of the sower means: 19 When anyone hears the message about the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what was sown in their heart. This is the seed sown along the path. 20 The seed falling on rocky ground refers to someone who hears the word and at once receives it with joy. 21 But since they have no root, they last only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, they quickly fall away.22 The seed falling among the thorns refers to someone who hears the word, but the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth choke the word, making it unfruitful. 23 But the seed falling on good soil refers to someone who hears the word and understands it. This is the one who produces a crop, yielding a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown.”
A Different "Good Seed"
A popular biblical parable uses seed as a metaphor for spiritual truth. When planted in the fertile ground of a receptive heart, it flourishes, while the poorly planted seed cannot survive challenging conditions---it is lost, it falters, or it dies. But nature has given us much diversity, and it is clear that there are many types of “good seeds”. Regardless of religious affiliation, we can all be encouraged by the ingenuity and perseverance of the plant world.
This writer sees much potential for poetic variation on the theme of the good seed. Late bloomers, take heart! People are unique, with different maturity rates and needs. Many gifts lay dormant, and one’s true potential is only realized in the proper conditions. Harsh circumstances may have taken their toll, but a struggling flower in an alley can be more beautiful for its poignant courage than a meadow full of thriving flowers. The challenges—the “storms”---may bring destruction but also unearth new resources. And sometimes, a "trial by fire" reveals one’s true character.