University of California
Fire in California

Fire Resistant Plants

Any plant will burn under the right conditions. Simply choosing plants from a "fire-safe" plant list is NOT enough. Rather, use "Right Plant, Right Place" to build a robust, fire-adapted landscape.

Some plants are marketed and described as “firesafe” or “fire resistant”, all plants will burn under the right conditions, regardless of how they are classified.

The environment the plant grows in and how it is maintained will generally have more influence on the combustibility of the plant than how it has been characterized. 

A plant with a good water supply could have a greater growth form and hold leaves longer, whereas a plant in a stressed or drought condition may have stunted growth and accumulated dead materials. This can create a situation where the same species may be fire resistant in one environment and combustible in another.  Some plants, such as a lavender, may initially have lush non-woody growth and then several years later the growth may be woody and choked with dead materials. Other plants may develop a dead thatch layer under a green surface that is highly combustible.

When bringing a fire-resistant framework to plant selection consider:

  • Does the plant contain a lot of waxes, oils, and resins? 
  • What is the leaf moisture content?
  • Does the plant have an open-growth structure?
  • How fast does the plant grow?
  • How tall will the plant grow?
  • Does the plant shed bark?  

Pruning, maintenance, and cleanup can have a greater impact on whether a plant ignites than does the type of plant it is. 

A plant with more waxes, oils, and resins will likely be more flammable and release more energy when it burns. A plant that is more densely structured can capture embers and may be more likely to ignite. It will also be more likely to be easily ignited from a surface fire. A plant that sheds bark or branches is likely to need more regular maintenance-related cleanup to reduce fuel accumulations on the ground.  A plant that has a big leaf or needle drop will result in the need for more maintenance-related cleanup on the property, on the roof, and in rain gutters. A plant that grows quickly may exceed growth expectations and require greater maintenance. Native plants, pollinator friendly, or drought-tolerant plants can be good choices for those labeled qualities, but these features don’t directly translate to fire-resistance.

  • Plants like juniper, Italian cypress, feather and fountain grasses, or ice plants require maintenance to manage dead thatch inside or under a green surface layer. 
  • Plants like eucalyptus, palms, or some manzanitas shed dry bark or drop leaves or fronds. 
  • Invasive plants can escape yards and form continuous fuel beds in un-managed areas, while damaging native habitat for wildlife.
IMG_0111

 

Webmaster Email: rpsatomi@ucanr.edu