List of the Most Fire Resistant Plants

Learn about the characteristics that help make some plants more fire resistant than others with expert guidance from the Western Fire Chiefs Association (WFCA).

Published:February 7, 2023
Edited:
April 8, 2024

Table of Contents

    Learn about the characteristics that help make some plants more fire-resistant than others with expert guidance from the Western Fire Chiefs Association (WFCA).

    Plants can survive in almost every environment on Earth. Some have even adapted to survive the devastating effects of wildfire. Incorporating these hearty, fire-resistant plants into your own garden can help reduce wildfire risk on your property. These plants can also slow the spread of fire if it threatens your house.

    What is a Defensible Space?

    The area up to 200 feet around your house is a defensible space that can be cultivated to protect your home. Maintaining this space can slow or stop wildfires around your property.1 One major step to take is thoughtful home landscaping.

    Characteristics and Properties of Firesafe Plants

    Trees and shrubs that are deciduous (shed their leaves annually) are usually more fire-resistant than evergreen plants. You can also find groundcovers that have thick, fleshy leaves like aloe or succulent plants, which are both fire- and drought-resistant. Fire-resistant plants do not easily ignite, and their foliage and stems do not contribute to fire intensity.2 

    When looking for fire-resistant plants, check for the following characteristics:

    • Supple leaves that are moist or have high water-content
    • Watery sap with little odor
    • Plants with an open-growth structure (space between branches)
    • No dead wood
    • Thick bark that does not peel away from the trunk2

    You can ensure your plants will be more resistant to wildfire by regularly watering, fertilizing them with compost, and clearing away dry debris. Using drip irrigation can help both conserve water and deliver enough water to your plants. Pruning or thinning shrubs and trees to have a more open structure will help ensure they do not to accumulate dead material within themselves.3

    Fire Resistant Doesn’t Mean Fire Proof

    Even fire resistant plants can be damaged or killed by fire, especially if they are not maintained and kept healthy. There is no consistent standardized measure of plant flammability, so do not rely on plants with a ‘firesafe’ label to naturally resist fire without any attention or cultivation. Instead, ensure proper irrigation of plant beds and prune plants to keep them resistant to fire.3

    Plant Placement

    Designing the area around your house to incorporate fire-resistant plants and careful landscaping can help build out the defensible space.

    Top Fire Resistant Plants

    There are many fire-resistant plants suited to growing conditions in the Western United States. Plants native to your area can flourish more easily and have their own strategies to protect themselves from wildfire. For example, if sumac burns, the roots remain intact and can help prevent erosion as the plant recovers from fire damage.6

    The list below has some of the heartiest ground-covering plants, shrubs, and trees that grow in a wide range of climates. Local nurseries can help recommend fire-resistant perennials and annuals, for those interested in incorporating flowers into landscapes.

    Groundcovers

    These plants can fill in garden spaces and rock walls. Some may be used as alternatives to turf lawns, which need a lot of watering and maintenance to ensure they do not contribute to property fire risk.

    3 plants: sedum (pink flower clusters), stonecrop (thick green leaves growing up short stalks), creeping phlox (small purple flowers).
    • Creeping Phlox (Phlox subulate)
      • Linear, green leaves form a low mat. Blooms in spring with white, blue, pink, or striped flowers. Spread 18-24”, height 4-6”.
    • Kinnikinnick (Arctostaphyllos uva-ursi)
      • Forms a mat of glossy green leaves and grows pinkish flowers in spring, followed by red berries in the fall. Spread 10-15”, height 4-8”.
    • Sedum or Stonecrops (Sedum species)
      • This groundcover is drought-resistant, with succulent-like green or bluish foliage. Spread 6-24”, height 2-12”.
    • Snow-in-Summer (Cerastium tomentosum)
      • This silvery gray groundcover spreads quickly and has white flowers in summer. Spread 2-3’, height 6-12”.
    • Yellow Iceplant (Delosperma nubigenum)
      • This low groundcover has green succulent-like foliage and turns reddish bronze in winter, with yellow daisy-like flowers blooming June-September. Spread 24-30”, height 1-3”.

    Shrubs

    Establishing a fire break around your property that incorporates hearty, fire-resistant plants and shrubs can help protect your home from intense heat. 5

    3 plants: lilac (white flower clusters), sumac (green blade-like leaves & red flower clusters), vine maple (leaves fading green to purple).
    • Carol Mackie Daphne (Daphne x burkwoodii)
      • This broadleaf evergreen shrub produces fragrant pink flowers in spring. Spread 2-4’, height 2-4’.
    • Flowering Currant (Ribes species)
      • This deciduous shrub has dark green leaves and pink flowers. Some species produce edible fruit. Spread 3-6’, height 3-6’.
    • Lilac (Syringa species)
      • A green deciduous shrub known for its fragrant blossoms in spring, which can range from white to pink to purple. It makes a good hedge. Spread 6-12’, height 5-15’.
    • Oregon Boxwood (Pachystima myrsinites) 2
      • This low, evergreen shrub has light green, leathery leaves. Spread 1-4’, height 1-4’.
    • Sumac (Rhus species)
      • Species range from smaller mounding shrubs to upright trees. Small yellow flowers become fuzzy red fruit, and green foliage changes to red, orange, yellow, or purple in fall. Spread 4-15’, height 2-20’.
    • Vine Maple (Acer circinatum)
      • This upright, deciduous shrub has broad green leaves and turns red, orange, and yellow in fall. Spread 15-20’, height 15-20’.
    • Willow (Salix species)
      • Fast-growing as shrubs, with narrow leaves and a yellow fall color. Tree-sized willows have invasive roots and weaker wood—they are not recommended for home landscaping.5 Spread 5-20’, height 6-30’.

    Trees

    While it is best to keep large trees from being planted near a house, established trees can be pruned to just above the roof line to prevent fire from reaching the crowns of these trees and spreading to the house. 5

    3 plants: hackberry (mottled light & dark green leaves), crabapple (pale pink flowers), western catalpa (white flowers & broad green leaves)
    • Common Hackberry (Celtis occidentalis)
      • A drought-resistant shade tree with light green leaves and cork-like bark. Spread 35-40’, height 40-50’.
    • Crabapple (Malus species)
      • With a range of varietals, these trees have green or purplish foliage and bloom in spring with pink, white, or red flowers. Some are fruitless, while others produce ornamental fruit in fall. Spread 15-20’, height 15-20’.
    • Pin Oak or Red Oak (Quercus palustris or Quercus rubra)
      • Two fast-growing species of oak tree that grow to 60-75’. Red oaks have a wider spread, between 40-50’ at their most mature.5 Oak trees can grow expansive canopies that help cool and shade streets and cut down air conditioning costs.6
    • Ponderosa Pine (Pinus ponderosa)
      • An evergreen tree with long, green needles and thick bark that defends against fire damage. Spread 20-25’, height 50-60’.
    • Rocky Mountain Maple (Acer glabrum)
      • Can be grown as a smaller tree or a large shrub, with dark green foliage and red twigs. In fall, the tree turns red and releases helicopter seeds. Spread 10-15’, height 10-15’.
    • Western Catalpa (Catalpa speciosa)
      • A deciduous tree with green leaves and small, white, orchid-like flowers that become long, thin seed pods. Spread 20-25’, height 40-50’.

    Conclusion

    While the list of plants above is a good starting place for planning your garden, make sure you are considering the climate you live in when selecting fire-resistant plants. Many state organizations have local plant lists, like Colorado State University, New Mexico State Forestry, the Fire Safe Council of San Diego, and Oregon State University. Plant nurseries in your area will also have suggestions and can direct you to native plant species that can help protect your home from the spread of wildfire.

    Sources

    1. FEMA, “Creating a Defensible Space.” Accessed December 6, 2022.
    2. USDA Forest Service U.S. Department of Agriculture, “Fire-Resistant Plants for Oregon Home Landscapes.” Accessed January 23, 2023.
    3. Cal Fire, “Fire Smart Landscaping.” Accessed January 23, 2023.
    4. Texas A&M Forest Service, “Home Ignition Zones and Defensible Space.” Accessed December 6, 2022.
    5. FireFree, “Fire-Resistant Plants for Home Landscapes.” Accessed January 23, 2023.
    6. Los Angeles Times, “These 7 fire-retardant plants may help save your home.” Accessed January 23, 2023.

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