Firescaping: Get Rid of the Most Flammable Plants

  • 01 of 23

    Do You Live in an Area at High-Risk for Wildfire?

    house on fire
    Firefighter aims hose at a home in Carlsbad, California. David McNew/Getty News Images

    One of the most appealing aspects of living in a dry climate is the extended time throughout the year to enjoy your outdoor living space—the pool, patio, and grill. But for many who reside in these regions, the threat of wildfire is very real, fueled by drought or strong winds.

    If you live in an area at risk for wildfires—like Southern California or much of the West—you may have heard of certain plants that are fire resistant. It makes sense to take measures to landscape your property with...MORE shrubs, trees, perennials, and succulents that may, in some cases, possibly save your house from burning down.

    But what about the most flammable plants—the ones you should consider removing or at least not planting? These plants are known for the amount of dead fuel that accumulates inside them, high oil (or high resin), or the low moisture content of their leaves and branches.

     

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  • 02 of 23

    Characteristics of Flammable Plants

    brush fire
    Volunteers help fight a brush and grass fire near homes. Flickr member Robert Nelson

    All plants are flammable if not pruned periodically. The risk associated with any one plant can be greatly diminished with regular maintenance. Plants that are highly flammable can ignite quickly, releasing lots of heat, even if they are healthy and well-watered. In areas experiencing drought, even moderately flammable plants can become more prone to ignite.

    Characteristics of highly flammable plants include:

    • Dry and dead leaves or twigs
    • Dry, leathery leaves
    • Abundant, dense foliage
    • High oil or resin...MORE including gums or terpenes
    • Shaggy, rough, or peeling bark
    • Lots of dead leaves underneath the plant (litter)
    • Needle-like or very fine leaves
    • Foliage with low moisture

    The following list of flammable plants was created from information provided by various fire agencies, and botanical organizations throughout the United States. They are presented in alphabetical order.

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  • 03 of 23

    Acacia

    image of acacia tree
    A brilliant yellow acacia tree. Flickr member Yuri Levchenko

    Botanical nameAcacia species

    This striking tree and shrub is native to tropics or warm areas of the world, including Australia, Mexico, and the southwestern United States. The leaves from some species of Acacia contain resin and flammable oils, which can encourage fires.

     

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  • 04 of 23

    Algerian Ivy

    algerian ivy
    Algerian ivy climbs a tree. Flickr member Chris Palmer

    Botanical Name: Hedera canariensis

    This particular ivy was planted in the mid-1900s because it is a fast-growing ground cover that can quickly cover bare spots on hills, and pretty much everywhere else. Its invasiveness--it attaches firmly to surfaces like walls, fences, and arbors--has made it despised by some and considered a weed that is deep-rooted, spreading, and hard to get rid of.

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  • 05 of 23

    Bamboo

    bamboo
    Bamboo is actually a grass. Flickr member telmo 32

    Botanical nameBambusa

    While bamboo makes a great privacy screen and creates an exotic, tropical look in a landscape, they are flammable. These giant grasses are spread by underground stems (rhizomes) into two types: running and clumping. Since they are tall, dry, and grow close together, bamboo can quickly spread a wildfire.

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  • 06 of 23

    Broom

    scotch broom plant
    Common or Scotch brush shrub. Neil Holmes/Getty Images

    Botanical nameCytisus

    French, Spanish and Scotch brooms are invasive perennials that spread easily and are extremely flammable because of their oil content.

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  • 07 of 23

    Chamise

    chamise shrub
    A chamise shrub blooming with white flowers. Flickr member Laura Camp

    Also Known as: Greasewood

    Botanical NameAdenostoma fasciculatum and A. sparsifolium (red shanks)

    Natives to California, both of these chamise shrubs thrive in full sun, dry climates, and will grow in poor, rocky soils. Identifiable by their needlelike leaves with tiny clusters of white flowers. Older stems can get woody and create very hot fires if ignited.

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  • 08 of 23

    Cypress

    golden cypress hede
    A hedge of golden Leyland cypress. Lynne Brotchie/Getty Images

    Cypress trees and shrubs that are especially flammable include:

    • Arizona Cypress (Cupressus glabra)
    • Italian Cypress (Cupressus sempervirens)
    • Leylandii Cypress (Cupressocyparis leylandii)
    • Tecate Cypress (Cupressus forbesii)

    While these evergreen trees are useful as screens, hedges or windbreaks, they are strongly scented and can become tall torches during wildfires.

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  • 09 of 23

    Douglas Fir

    douglas fir tree
    Branch and pinecones from a Douglas fir tree. DEA / C. SAPPA/Getty Images

    Botanical Name: (Pseudotsuga menziesii)

    If the name sounds somewhat familiar, that's because young Douglas firs are often cut for Christmas trees. Needles on these trees have a sweet fragrance when crushed or stepped on. The thin, resinous bark of young Douglas firs makes them highly susceptible to wildfires.

     

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  • 10 of 23

    Eastern Red Cedar

    american juniper
    Berries on an American juniper shrub. Flickr member Katja Schulz

    Botanical nameJuniperus virginiana

    This conifer grows into a shape that resembles an inverted pyramid with branches that grow outward and upward. Although it grows in most USDA zones, this particular species has been a threat to Oklahoma and other Western states, contributing to wildfires, drought, and loss of cattle-grazing land.

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  • 11 of 23

    Eucalyptus

    eucalyptus tree
    Tall eucalyptus trees against a blue sky. Flickr member dotsara

    Also known as red gum, river red gum

    Botanical nameEucalyptus camaldulensis

    Pronunciation: ew-kuh-LIP-tuhs

    Strongly scented Eucalyptus trees contain highly combustible oils produced by the leaves. Leaf litter is high in phenolics, which prevents breakdown by fungi and accumulates as large amounts of dry, combustible fuel.

     

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  • 12 of 23

    Gas Plant

    gas plant flower
    The flowers of a gas plant (burning bush). Raimund Linke/Getty Images

    Common name: Fraxinella, burning bush, dittany

    Botanical nameDictamnus albus

    This plant's glossy olive green leaves are attractive throughout the growing season. When rubbed or brushed against, the plant emits a strong lemony scent. Oils from immature seed capsules may ignite if a lighted match is held underneath a flower. In hot, dry weather, Dictamnus can easily catch fire, which has led comparisons to the burning bush referred to in the Bible.

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  • 13 of 23

    Japanese Honeysuckle

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    Honeysuckle plant. John Williams / Eurapart

    Botanical nameLonicera japonica

    Lonicera is loved for its fragrant flowers that are tubular or trumpet in form. Flowers attract hummingbirds, and the red and purple berries that follow are a good source of food for a variety of birds. Once valued as a shady ornamental plant, it was often planted around porches. However, Japanese honeysuckle is invasive and highly flammable.

     

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  • 14 of 23

    Juniper

    juniper ground cover plant
    Juniperus Squamata (Juniper horizontalis) and Heather grown as ground cover. Ron Evans/ Getty Images

    Botanical nameJuniperus virginiana

    Junipers are confers, and generally are easy to care for: they are drought tolerant and will grow in any type of soil if there is drainage. They also do not require lots of maintenance and pruning--maybe every few years or so.

    Several varieties contain resins, which are highly flammable. Junipers can accumulate dead leaves, and as they age, become more prone to easily ignite. Some firefighters nickname them "gasoline plants".

     

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  • 15 of 23

    Maiden Grass

    maiden grass
    Miscanthus sinensis ornamental grass. Cora Niele/Getty Images

    Also known as: Eulalia or Japanese silver grass

    Botanical Name: Miscanthus sinensis

    Native to Korea, Japan, China, and Taiwan, these ornamental grasses are clump-forming, showy, and range from dwarf types to large varieties. Although it doesn't require pampering and lots of maintenance, miscanthus sinensis that becomes dried and is not pruned is especially flammable. If you live in an area prone to wildfire, cut these grasses back in late winter to early spring.

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  • 16 of 23

    Manzanita

    manzanita tree
    Twisting bark of a manzanita tree. ark D Callanan/Getty Images

    Botanical Name: Arctostaphylos hookeri

    Native to the Far West, Manzanita is a chaparral plant that can grow very dense. All varieties can be identified by their small, urn-shaped white or pink flowers that appear in late winter to early spring. While these ground covers, shrubs, and trees benefit wildlife—butterflies and hummingbirds are attracted to those flowers and the berries that follow—they may be one of the most fire-prone types of plants. Dry, dead wood becomes highly flammable.

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  • 17 of 23

    Melaleuca

    melaleuca shrub
    A large, blooming melaleuca shrub. Claire Takacs/Getty Images

    Botanical Name: Melaleuca

    These Australian native trees have needlelike leaves and flowers that resemble those of the bottlebrush shrub and attract birds. While they are admired for their drought tolerance, and fast growth, the oils in melaleuca's leaves and bark make them flammable. Those oils are the same ones used for medicinal and healing purposes as tea tree oil, which is applied topically.

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  • 18 of 23

    Palm

    chinese fan palm
    Chinese fan palm trees. Federica Fortunato/Getty Images.

    Botanical namePalmus

    Palms are tropical and subtropical trees that are extremely popular in Mediterranean and dry landscaping. Unfortunately, palms are dangerous during wildfires for a few reasons, including:

    • Dried and dead palm fronds become like flaming arrows if they detach from their trunks and are carried by winds.
    • Embers can become embedded into the fibrous tissue, leaf bases, or along the trunk of a palm tree. The result: a palm that can rapidly become engulfed in flames, spreading to...MORE other plants and structures nearby.

    Certain species of palm trees can be hazardous in fire-prone regions, especially if they are not maintained (pruned) or because of their form. Palms with fibrous tissue or leaf stem bases along the trunk should be 30 or more feet from a home or structure.

    Species of palms with fibrous tissue that should be avoided include:

    • Mediterranean fan palm: Chamaerops humilis
    • Canary Island date palm: Phoenix canariensis
    • Date palm: P.dactylifera          
    • Senegal date palm:  P. reclinata
    • Pygmy date palm: P. roebelenii
    • Windmill palm: Trachycarpus fortuneii
    • Mexican fan palm: Washingtonia robusta, has a leaf stem base that makes it catch fire and spread quickly.

     

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  • 19 of 23

    Pampas Grass

    pampas grass
    Pampas grass growing against a blue sky. Lizelle Botes / EyeEm/Getty Images

    Botanical nameCortaderia selloana

    A native to Argentina, pampas can grow as tall as 20 feet and 12 feet wide. Although its feather-like plumes are popular in floral arrangements, in many regions, pampas is considered a weed and is not available in nurseries. Easily spread by seed, pampas often grows in wildfire areas, and can quickly ignite and spread, especially if is dried out.

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  • 20 of 23

    Pine

    closeup of pine needles
    Closeup of pine needles on tree. Gregoria Gregoriou Crowe fine art and creative photography/Getty Images

    Botanical name: Pinus

    Flammability varies by species, but younger trees are more susceptible. Pines can be easily killed by fire due to thin bark, relatively flammable foliage and accumulation of dead lower branches. Pine trees' needles and resin are both highly flammable, and extreme heat and drought make them more likely to ignite.

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  • 21 of 23

    Rosemary

    rosemary in garden
    Picking rosemary herbs in a garden. Adam Drobiec / EyeEm/Getty Images

    Botanical nameRosmarinus officinalis

    A pretty, fragrant groundcover and shrub that grows in Mediterranean climates. Over-watering and heavy feeding results in poor growth, followed by a woody plant. Light pruning or tip-pinching keeps rosemary healthy. Keep in mind that this drought-tolerant herb contains flammable oils.

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  • 22 of 23

    Thuja

    thuja shrub
    A thuja shrub with cones. DEA / M. CERRI/Getty Images

    Also known as Thuya
    Botanical nameArborvitae

    Pronunciation: THOO-yuh

    Symmetrical shrubs and trees that are often trimmed into geometrical shapes, like cones, cylinders, and globes.

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  • 23 of 23

    Toyon

    toyon shrub
    Toyon shrub with red berries. Flickr member Joyce Cory

    Also Known as: California Holly

    Botanical nameHeteromeles arbutifolia

    The leather leaves of a Toyon shrub make it highly flammable.