FIRESafe MARIN publishes lists of common residential landscaping plants that we consider to be either "fire-smart" or "fire-hazardous." These labels can sometimes be confusing, and are not universally true. ALL PLANTS CAN BURN, even those listed in our "fire-smart" recommendations, and some plants we consider fire-hazardous can be maintained in a way that limits their hazards. Homeowners have a responsibility to maintain all plants with proper soil health, regular pruning, and appropriate irrigation.
The lists published here are based on the field experience of FIRESafe MARIN's staff and fire experts, and on the characteristics of the plants themselves, based on guidelines and research published in many sources (see below). These lists are not exhaustive or comprehensive. Many suitable plants are not listed, and many fire-hazardous plants are not here, either. Some plants may have ecological benefits, or drawbacks, that outweigh their relative fire hazard. These lists are intended to serve as examples for homeowners, and we strongly recommend that everyone seek the guidance of licensed arborists (for tree selection and maintenance) and experts like the UCCE Marin Master Gardeners for more detailed advice on maintenance and plant selection.
Fire-Prone vs Fire-Hazardous | Fire-Safe vs Fire-Smart
FIRESafe MARIN no longer uses the terminology "fire-prone" or "pyrophytic" to describe plants. "Fire-Hazardous" better describes the subjective conditions that may contribute to fire hazard, related to a particular site, plant, or grouping of plants. In our collective experience, some plants tend to present more, or less hazard in a given environment. Fire-Smart plants are representative of plants that tend to be easier to maintain, possess characteristics similar to those recommended by research institutions like the UCCE, and are less likely to contribute to wildfire hazard when properly maintained.
FIRESafe MARIN's list of recommended plants for residential landscaping was first published in 1995, in cooperation with local experts, including biologists, botanists, fire ecologists, urban foresters, and firefighters. The list was updated and published again in 1996 in cooperation with the University of California Cooperative Extension (Moritz, R. and S. Pavel. 1996. Pyrophytic vs. Fire Resistant Plants University of California Cooperative Extension HortScript February No. 18.). The 1997 report "Defensible Space Landscaping in the Urban/Wildland Interface: A Compilation of Fire Performance Ratings of Residential Landscape Plants" by the University of California Forest Products Laboratory served as a basis to further update the FIRESafe MARIN list, for a final print publication in 1998 - a format which served until 2017.
The UCCE no longer publishes or teaches from plant "lists," instead adopting a curriculum that teaches maintenance and characteristics of plants for use in each site's particular environment. Because FIRESafe MARIN is not a teaching institution, and we can draw from the collective experience of a wide variety of experts and observers, we continue to see a value in providing a list of representative species that share these characteristics.
Our list of plants is not intended to be comprehensive - many plants that we consider to be either fire-hazardous or fire-smart do not appear on the list. We've attempted to list some of the most common varieties in Marin's complex landscaped wildland urban interface environment. Our list is based primarily on three factors: characteristics, chemistry, form, and structure of the plant itself; real world observations in a fire environment; and references or inclusion in other lists and categories. Other considerations, such as water requirements, invasive vs native status, and suitability for Marin's climate zones, play a role in the inclusion of particular species.
It is imperative to understand that ALL PLANTS CAN BURN, especially if in poor health, poorly maintained, drought stressed, improperly irrigated, or if other factors exist in the local environment. Proper maintenance is critical to maintain the fire-resistant properties of listed plants. FIRESafe MARIN makes no guarantees about the hazard or safety of any plant on these lists. The relative wildfire resistance of a home depends on numerous factors, including construction methods and materials, site location, aspect, slope, neighboring properties, defensible space, and the presence of dead vegetation and other nearby combustibles. Species and health of live plants in landscaping is only one factor of many.
This list is routinely reviewed and updated as new information and evidence becomes available. A 2017 review altered the list substantially, primarily removing plants now understood to be invasive, and providing a new online viewing tool and references.
Research Literature Review
Plant Flammability Testing, Fire-Resistant Plant Lists and Relevance of a Plant Flammability Key for Ornamental Landscape Plants in the Western States
The 2016 "Research Literature Review of Plant Flammability Testing, Fire-Resistant Plant Lists and Relevance of a Plant Flammability Key for Ornamental Landscape Plants in the Western States" published by the Farm and Home Advisor’s Office of the University of California Cooperative Extension provided an opportunity to review and update FIRESafe MARIN's list. This report states:
Plant flammability and testing protocols to support fire resistant landscaping recommendations has been ongoing in California since the 1950’s (Weise, White, Beall, & Etlinger, 2005, Ching & Stewart, 1962). The literature on these topics was thoroughly examined and discussed by White and Zipperer (2010). Within the last 20 years, only three scientific studies were found that examine flammability relating specifically to ornamental landscape plants in California. The University of California Forest Products Lab (UCFPL) (1997) prepared an internal report for the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection that also addresses ornamental horticulture flammability and plant list issues. This report included a curated list of ornamental landscape plants for fire-resistant landscaping in California based on their review. In their study to develop a plant flammability testing protocol, Etlinger and Beall (2004) discuss prior research on plant flammability, plant rankings and plant lists for fire-resistant landscaping. Weise et al. (2005) provide a review of literature as an introduction to their research conducted on seasonal plant flammability of selected ornamental landscape specimen in California using a particular testing method, the cone calorimeter.
Albert, C.H., W. Thuiller, N. G. Yoccoz, R. Douzet, S. Aubert, and S. Lavorel. (2010). A multi-trait approach reveals the structure and the relative importance of intra- vs. interspecific variability in plant traits. Functional Ecology. 24 (6), pp. 1192-1201.
Alessio G.A., J. Peñuelas, J. Llusià, R. Ogaya, M. Estiarte, M. De Lillis. (2008) Influence of water and terpenes on flammability in some dominant Mediterranean species. International Journal of Wildland Fire 17, 274–286. doi:10.1071/WF07038.
Anderson, H.E. (1970). Forest fuel ignitability. Fire Technology, 6 (4), pp. 312-319.
Badia, A., D. Saurí, R. Cerdan, J.C. Llurdés. (2002). Causality and management of forest fires in Mediterranean environments: An example from Catalonia. Environmental Hazards, 4 (1), pp. 23-32.
Bartoli, P., A. Simeoni, H. Biteau, J.L Torero, and P.A. Santoni. (2011). Determination of the main parameters influencing forest fuel combustion dynamics. Fire Safety Journal, 46. pp. 27–33
Behm A.L., A.J. Long, M.C. Monroe, C.K. Randall, W.C. Zipperer, L.A. Hermansen-Baez. (2004a) Fire in the wildland–urban interface: preparing a firewise plant list for WUI residents. University of Florida, Institute of Food and Agricultural Services, Florida Cooperative Extension Service (Circular 1453). Gainesville, FL. 8p.
Behm, A.L ., M.L. Duryea, A.J. Long, and W.C. Zipperer. (2004b). Flammability of native understory species in pine flatwood and hardwood hammock ecosystems and implications for the wildland–urban interface. Int. J. Wildland Fire, 13, pp. 355–365.
Bell, C.E., J.G. Gonzales, V.J. Mellano, M. Nakamura, S.L. Quarles, T.P. Salmon, and D.A. Shaw. (2007) Wildfire Preparedness and Recovery in San Diego County: A Review and Analysis White Paper of Data and Research Studies Relevant to Wildfire. Farm and Home Advisor’s Office, University of California Cooperative Extension, County of San Diego. San Diego, CA. 65p.
Bond, W.J., B.W. Van Wilgen. (1996). Fire and plants. Fire and plants, p. 263.
California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (2008). Wildfire Hazard and Building Codes. Retrieved May 15, 2015, from California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection Website: http://www.fire.ca.gov/fire_prevention /fire_prevention_wildland_codes.
California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (2015). Top 20 Largest California Wildfires. Retrieved December 21, 2015, from California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection Website: http://www.fire.ca.gov/communications /downloads/fact_sheets/Top20_Acres.pdf.
California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (2016). Top 20 Most Damaging California Wildfires. Retrieved January 30, 2016, from California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection Website: http://www.fire.ca.gov /communications/downloads/fact_sheets/Top20_Damaging.pdf.
Carroll, A.L., S.C. Sillett, and R.D. Kramer. (2014). Millennium-scale crossdating and inter-annual climate sensitivities of standing California redwoods. PLoS ONE 9 (7).
Chandler, S.E. (1982) The effects of severe weather conditions on the incidence of fires in dwellings. Fire Safety Journal. 5(1):21–27.
Chapin III, F.S., K. Autumn, and F. Pugnaire. (1993). Evolution of suites of traits in response to environmental stress. American Naturalist, 142 (Suppl.), pp. S78-S92.
Chen, Y., A. Frendi, S.S. Tewari, and M. Sibulkin. (1991). Combustion properties of pure and fire-retarded cellulose. Combustion and Flame, 84 (1-2), pp. 121-140.
Ching, F.T. , W.S. Stewart (1962) Research with slow burning plants. Journal of Forestry 60, 796–798.
Dietenberger, M. (2002). Update for combustion properties of wood components. Fire and Materials, 26 (6), pp. 255-267.
Dimitrakopoulos, A.P. (2001). A statistical classification of Mediterranean species based on their flammability components. International Journal of Wildland Fire, 10 (2), pp. 113-118.
Dimitrakopoulos, A.P., and P.I. Panov, (2001). Pyric properties of some dominant Mediterranean vegetation species. International Journal of Wildland Fire, 10 (1), pp. 23-27.
Doran, J.D., C.K. Randall, A.J. Long. (2004). Fire in the Wildland-Urban Interface: Selecting and Maintaining Firewise Plants for Landscaping. University of Florida, Institute of Food and Agricultural Services, Florida Cooperative Extension Service (Circular 1445). Gainesville, FL. 8p.
Etlinger, M.G. and F.C. Beall. (2004). Development of a laboratory protocol for fire performance of landscape plants. International Journal of Wildland Fire (13), 479-488.
Fernandes, P.M. and M.G. Cruz, (2012), Plant flammability experiments offer limited insight into vegetation–fire dynamics interactions. New Phytologist, 194: 606–609. doi:10.1111/j.1469-8137.2012.04065.x.
Fernandes, P.M., and E. Rigolot. (2007). The fire ecology and management of maritime pine (Pinus pinaster Ait.). Forest Ecology and Management.
Finney, M.A. (2001). Design of regular landscape fuel treatment patterns for modifying fire growth and behavior. Forest Science, 47 (2), pp. 219-228.
Frost, Bill. (1998). Fire Resistant Landscaping Plants for the Sierra Springs Area. University of California Cooperative Extension Agriculture & Natural Resources, Cooperative Extension, El Dorado County. Prepared for Sierra Springs Fire Safe Fair.
Gill, A.M. (2005). Landscape fires as social disasters: An overview of 'the bushfire problem’. Environmental Hazards, 6 (2 SPEC. ISS.), pp. 65-80.
Gonzalez-Olabarria, J.R., L. Brotons, D. Gritten, A. Tudela, J.A. Teres. (2012). Identifying location and causality of fire ignition hotspots in a Mediterranean region. International Journal of Wildland Fire, 21 (7), pp. 905-914.
Guo, Q. (2001). Early post-fire succession in California chaparral: Changes in diversity, density, cover and biomass. Ecological Research, 16 (3), pp. 471-485.
Hermansen-Báez, L.A. (2011). Fire in the Wildland-Urban Interface: Selecting Firewise Shrubs to Reduce Your Wildfire Risk. University of Florida, Institute of Food and Agricultural Services, Florida Cooperative Extension Service (Circular FOR272). Gainesville, FL. 10p.
Izzo, A., M. Canright, and T.D. Bruns. (2006). The effects of heat treatments on ectomycorrhizal resistant propagules and their ability to colonize bioassay seedlings. Mycological Research. 110 (2), pp. 196-202.
Jackson, J.F., D.C. Adams, and U.B. Jackson. (1999). Allometry of constitutive defense: A model and a comparative test with tree bark and fire regime. American Naturalist, 153 (6), pp. 614-632.
Jennings, C.R. (2013) Social and economic characteristics as determinants of residential fire risk in urban neighborhoods: A review of the literature. Fire Safety Journal 62, 13-19. doi:10.1016/j.firesaf.2013.07.002.
Keeley, J.E. (2002). Fire management of California shrubland landscapes. Environmental Management, 29 (3), pp. 395-408.
Liodakis, S., I.P. Agiovlasitis, T. Kakardakis, N. Tzamtzis, D. Vorisis, and E. Lois. (2011). Determining hazard risk indices for Mediterranean forest species based on particle flammability properties. Fire Safety Journal 46, pp. 116–124.
Liodakis, S., D. Vorisis, and I.P. Agiovlasitis. (2005). A method for measuring the relative particle fire hazard properties of forest species. Thermochimica Acta, 437 (1-2), pp. 150-157.
Liodakis, S., D. Vorisis, I.P. Agiovlasitis. (2006). Testing the retardancy effect of various inorganic chemicals on smoldering combustion of Pinus halepensis needles. Thermochimica Acta 444 (2), pp. 157-165.
McAllister, S., I. Grenfell, A. Hadlow, W.M. Jolly, M. Finney, and J. Cohen. (2012). Piloted ignition of live forest fuels. Missoula Fire Sciences Laboratory, USDA Forest Service, MT, USA. Fire Safety Journal 51, pp. 133–142.
Mindykowski, P., A. Fuentes, J.L. Consalvi, and B. Porterie. (2011). Piloted ignition of wildland fuels. Institute Universitaire des Systemes Thermiques Industriels (CNRSUMR6595), Universite´ de Provence, Cedex 13, France. Fire Safety Journal 46, pp. 34-40.
Minnich, R.A., E. Franco-Vizcaíno. (2008). A Probabilistic View of Chaparral and Forest Fire Regimes in Southern California and Northern Baja California. Developments in Environmental Science. 8, pp. 339-364.
Minnich, R.A. (1983). Fire mosaics in southern California and northern Baja California. Science, 219 (4590), pp. 1287-1294.
Moritz, M.A. (2003). Spatiotemporal analysis of controls on shrubland fire regimes: Age dependency and fire hazard. Ecology, 84 (2), pp. 351-361.
Moritz, M.A., E. Batllori, R.A. Bradstock, A.M. Gill, J. Handmer, P.F. Hessburg, J. Leonard, S. McCaffrey, D.C. Odion, T. Schoennagel, A.D. Syphard (2014) Learning to coexist with wildfire. Nature 515, 58-66. doi:10.1038/nature13946.
Nader, G., G. Nakamura, M. De Lasaux, S. Quarles, and Y. Valachovic. (2007) Home Landscaping for Fire (Publication 8228). Davis, CA: University of California Agriculture and Natural Resources. 8p.
Noss, R.F., J.F. Franklin, W.L. Baker, T. Schoennagel, and P.B. Moyle. (2006). Managing fire-prone forests in the western United States. Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment, 4 (9), pp. 481-487.
Odion, D.C., E.J. Frost, J.R. Strittholt, H. Jiang, D.A. Dellasala, and M.A. Moritz. (2004). Patterns of fire severity and forest conditions in the western Klamath mountains, California. Conservation Biology, 18 (4), pp. 927-936.
Ohgai, A., Y. Gohnai, and K. Watanabe. (2007). Cellular automata modelling of fire spread in built-up areas—a tool to aid community-based planning for disaster mitigation. Comput Environ Urban Syst 31(4) pp. 441–460.
Ohlemiller, T.J., T. Kashiwagi, and K. Werner. (1987). Wood gasification at fire level heat fluxes. Combustion and Flame, 69 (2), pp. 155-170.
Pérez-Harguindeguy, N., S. Díaz, E. Garnier, S. Aquino, and J.H.C. Cornelissen. (2013). New handbook for standardised measurement of plant functional traits worldwide. Australian Journal of Botany. 61 (3), pp. 167-234.
Pitcher, D.C. (1987). Fire history and age structure in red fir forests of Sequoia National Park, California. Canadian Journal of Forest Research, 17 (7), pp. 582-587.
Potts, J.B., and S.L. Stephens. (2009). Invasive and native plant responses to shrubland fuel reduction: comparing prescribed fire, mastication, and treatment season. Biological Conservation. 142 (8), pp. 1657-1664.
Quarles, S., and E. Smith. (2011). The Combustibility of Landscape Mulches. University of Nevada, University of Nevada Cooperative Extension. (Pamphlet SP-11-04). (Reno, NV). 8p.
Radeloff, V.C., R.B. Hammer, S.I. Stewart, J.S. Fried, S.S. Holcomb, and J.F. McKeefry. (2005). The wildland-urban interface in the United States. Ecological Applications, 15 (3), pp. 799-805.
Radtke, K.W.H. (2004). A Homeowner’s Guide To Fire and Watershed Management at the Chaparral/Urban Interface. City of San Diego Water Department. (San Diego, CA). 50p.
Randall, C. (n.d.). Fire in the Wildland-Urban Interface: Understanding Fire Behavior. University of Florida, Institute of Food and Agricultural Services, Florida Cooperative Extension Service (Circular 1432). Gainesville, FL. 8p.
Riggan, P.J., S. Goode, P.M. Jacks, R.N. Lockwood. (1988). Interaction of fire and community development in chaparral of southern California. Ecological Monographs, 58 (3), pp. 155-176.
Rogstad, A., T. DeGomez, C. Hayes, J. Schalau, and J. Kelly. (2007). Comparing the ignitability of mulch materials for a firewise landscape. University of Arizona, College of Agriculture and Life Sciences Bulletin, (AZ1440). 5p.
Rorig, M.L., and S.A. Ferguson. (1999). Characteristics of lightning and wildland fire ignition in the Pacific Northwest. Journal of Applied Meteorology, 38 (11), pp. 1565-1575.
Santoni, P.A., A. Simeoni, J.L. Rossi, F. Bosseur, F. Morandini, X. Silvani, J.H. Balbi, D. Cancellieri, and L. Rossi. (2005). Instrumentation of wildland fire: Characterisation of a fire spreading through a Mediterranean shrub. Universite´ de Corse, Campus Grossetti, France. Fire Safety Journal 41 (2006) 171–184.
Sharples J.J., R.H.D. McRae, R.O. Weber, and A.M. Gill. (2009). A simple index for assessing fire danger rating. Environ Modell Softw 24(6) pp. 764–774.
Simeoni, A., J.C. Thomas, P. Bartoli, P. Borowieck, P. Reszka, F. Colella, P.A. Santoni, and J.L. Torero. (2012). Flammability studies for wildland and wildland–urban interface fires applied to pine needles and solid polymers. Fire Safety Journal 54, pp. 203–217.
Spyratos, V., P.S. Bourgeron, and M. Ghil. (2007). Development at the wildland-urban interface and the mitigation of forest-fire risk. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 104 (36), pp. 14272-14276.
Stephens, S.L., M.A. Adams, J. Handmer, F.R. Kearns, B. Leicester, J. Leonard, and M.A. Moritz. (2009). Urban-wildland fires: How California and other regions of the US can learn from Australia. Environmental Research Letters, 4 (1), art. no. 014010.
Stephens, S.L., J.J. Moghaddas, C. Edminster, C.E. Fiedler, S. Haase, M. Harrington, J.E. Keeley, and A. Youngblood. (2009). Fire treatment effects on vegetation structure, fuels, and potential fire severity in western U.S. forests. Ecological Applications, 19 (2), pp. 305-320.
Suding, K.N., S. Lavorel, F.S. Chapin, J.H.C. Cornelissen, S. Díaz, E. Garnier, D. Goldberg, and M.L. Navas. (2008). Scaling environmental change through the community-level: A trait-based response-and-effect framework for plants. Global Change Biology, 14 (5), pp. 1125-1140.
Sugihara, N.G., J.W. Van Wagtendonk, J. Fites-Kaufman, K.E. Shaffer, and A.E. Thode. (2006). Fire in California's ecosystems. Fire in California's Ecosystems, p. 596.
Susott, R. A., W. F. DeGroot, and F. Shafizadeh. (1975). Heat Content Of Natural Fuels. Journal of Fire Flammability, 6 (3), pp. 311-325.
Theobald, D.M. (2005). Landscape patterns of exurban growth in the USA from 1980 to 2020. Ecology and Society, 10 (1), art. no. 32, p. 34.
University of Nevada Cooperative Extension. (2007). Choosing the Right Plants for Northern Nevada's High Fire Hazard Areas. (Publication EB-07-01). University of Nevada Cooperative Extension. (Reno, NV). 61p.
University of Nevada Cooperative Extension. (2009). Home Landscaping Guide for Lake Tahoe and Vicinity. (Educational Bulletin 06-01). University of Nevada Cooperative Extension. (Reno, NV). 175p.
Veblen, T.T., T. Kitzberger, and J. Donnegan. (2000). Climatic and human influences on fire regimes in ponderosa pine forests in the Colorado front range. Ecological Applications, 10 (4), pp. 1178-1195.
Weise D.R., R.H. White, F.C. Beall, M. Etlinger (2005) Use of the cone calorimeter to detect seasonal differences in selected combustion characteristics of ornamental vegetation. International Journal of Wildland Fire 14, 321–338. doi:10.1071/WF04035.
Wells, M.L., J.F. O'Leary, J. Franklin, J. Michaelsen, and D.E. McKinsey. (2004). Variations in a regional fire regime related to vegetation type in San Diego County, California (USA). Landscape Ecology, 19 (2), pp. 139-152.
White, R.H., and W. Zipperer. (2010). Testing and classification of individual plants for fire behavior: plant selection for the wildland-urban interface. International Journal of Wildland Fire, 19, pp. 213-227. doi:10.1071/WF07128.
Williams, M. (1990). Forests. The Earth as transformed by human action, pp. 179-201.
Williams, M. (1994). Forests and tree cover. Changes in land use and land cover: a global perspective, pp. 97-124.
Yassemi S, S. Dragicevic, and M. Schmidt. (2008). Design and implementation of an integrated GIS-based cellular automata model to characterize forest fire behaviour. Ecol Modell 210(1–2), pp. 71–84.
Zhang, Z., H. Zhang, and D. Zhou. (2011). Flammability characterisation of grassland species of Songhua Jiang-Nen Jiang Plain (China) using thermal analysis. Fire Safety Journal. 46, pp. 283–288.