Firewise. Waterwise.

Choose Your Plants Wisely

Fire-Smart landscaping uses carefully chosen plants that are strategically planted to resist the spread of fire to your home. These varieties of Fire-Smart plants are often drought tolerant, too. Some "fire-hazardous" plants burn readily, and should be removed or avoided at any cost.


Fire-Smart plants are the cornerstone of a home's Defensible Space, however all plants will burn if poorly maintained. Choose a fire-smart species, maintain plant health, irrigate, and remove all dead material regularly.

Characteristics of Fire Smart Plants

Fire Safe PlantsFire-Smart landscaping requires careful plant selection, placement, spacing, and maintenance to help resist the spread of fire to your home. Fire-Smart plants are usually easier to maintain, don't contain volatile oils, accumulate less dead woody material, and are more naturally resistant to igniting from flames and embers. These plants are NOT “fireproof” and all require irrigation and frequent maintenance to resist ignition.


  • Tend to have leaves, not needles.
  • Leaves tend to be supple, moist and easily crushed.
  • Trees tend to be clean, not bushy, and have little deadwood.
  • Shrubs are low-growing (2' or lower) with minimal buildup of dead material.
  • Taller shrubs are clean, not bushy or twiggy.
  • Sap is water-like and typically does not have a strong odor.
  • Most fire-resistant trees are broad-leaf deciduous (lose their leaves), but some thick-leaf evergreens are also fire-resistant.
  • Most have lower surface-area to volume ratios.

The good news is, you don’t need a lot of money to make your landscape more fire-resilient.  Fire-Smart landscaping can increase property value and conserve water while beautifying your home.

Learn about the history and science behind FIRESafe MARIN's fire-resistant plant recommendations.

Choosing Fire-Smart Plants

  • Use the Fire-Smart Plant List for Marin county as a reference for fire resistant plants suitable for Marin's microclimates.
  • There are no “fire-proof” plants. Even the most resistant plants must be maintained in good health, properly irrigated, and kept free of dead material, dry twigs, or fallen leaves and needles.
  • Select fire-resistant hedge plants for hedges, which may help catch wind-blown embers if properly spaced and maintained.
  • Plant hardwood trees from this list, like maple, poplar and cherry that are less flammable than conifers like pine and fir.
  • Our list of plants is carefully curated for highly fire-resistant plants favorable to Marin's climate.  This list is not exhaustive: other online resources are available to help you select additional species.
    • Cal Poly and CAL FIRE publish the excellent "SelecTree" database, which can be filtered to show additional fire-resistant species.  They list 178 fire-resistant tree species for Marin's climate zones (Sunset Zones 15, 16, 17), vs the 20 trees we've selected.


Fire Safe PlantsFire Resistant Trees are often broad-leaf deciduous (lose their leaves) or thick leafed evergreens.


Fire Safe PlantsFire resistant shrubs tend to be low growning, with minimal dead material and supple leaves.

Hedges &Screens

Fire Safe PlantsFire resistant privacy screens are a good choice to replace fire prone plants like bamboo and cypress.


Some plants are particularly susceptible to fire: they may ignite readily and burn intensely, and should be removed or aggressively maintained if present near a home, road, or driveway. You may be required to remove some or all of these species depending on local fire codes if present within 100’ of structures. 


Fire Safe PlantsIt is best to identify fire-prone plants by their characteristics and structure. This is not an exhaustive list, and some plants not listed here may be fire-prone. Any plant in poor health, lacking irrigation, or with a buildup of dry or dead material may burn. Most common fire-prone plants typically share certain characteristics:

  • They are often blade-leaf or needle-leaf evergreens.
  • They often have stiff, woody, small or fine, lacey leaves.
  • Their leaves and wood often contain volatile waxes, fats, terpenes or oils (crushed leaves will have strong odors).
  • Their sap is often gummy, resinous and has a strong odor.
  • They often contain plentiful fine, twiggy, dry or dead materials.
  • They may have pubescent (hair covered) leaves.
  • They may have loose or papery bark.
  • These plants typically flame (not smolder) when preheated and ignited with a match.


The condition of the plant is as important as its species. Even some fire-prone species can be quite fire-resistant if properly maintained.  Depending on its growth form and access to water, the same species may be fire resistant in one environment and flammable in another.  Water -stressed plants that are in poor condition are more likely to burn readily. Those species already identified as fire-prone become explosively flammable when poorly maintained.  South-facing slopes, windy areas, sites with poor soils and urban landscapes are more stressful for plants and lead to greater hazard from burning vegetation.


  • Grasses: Any cured (dry) grass, including bamboo. Non-irrigated, annual grasses are typically more flammable than perennial grasses. Irrigated grasses are fire resistant.
  • Perennials and herbs: Any dry or cured herb.
  • Ferns: Any dry or cured fern, particularly bracken and sword ferns.
  • Brush: Any brush with excessive deadwood. Any over-mature, dying or dead brush.
  • Trees: Any forest, stand or urban forest that is over-dense, under stress, poorly maintained, or over mature.

Some Plants Were Made to Burn

Many plants are particularly susceptible to fire. Some plants ignite readily and burn intensely, and should be removed if present in a home's Defensible Space zone or close to roads and driveways.


Fire Safe PlantsJuniper is a common landscaping plant in Marin. Deceptively green, it is often planted along patways and driveways, a recipe for disaster when a homeowner finds their escape blocked by a wall of flames. Juniper should be removed within 30' of structures, and 15' of driveways or roadways.


Fire Safe PlantsBamboo are fast growing grass species that can make a good privacy screen - as long as you live in outside the Wildland Urban Interface (WUI). Although some species of bamboo can be maintained in a relatively fire resistant state, their rapid moisture loss during periods of hot, dry weather and tendency to accumulate fine, dead leaf litter makes them unsuitable as a screening plant near homes. If you live in or near the WUI, choose fire-resistant screens and hedges instead.

Cypress, Thuja, Arborvitae

Fire Safe PlantsThese evergreen conifers are valued for their screening properties and low maintenance. Like juniper, they are explosively flammable, and should never be planted in the Marin's Wildland Urban Interface.

Italian Cypress

Fire Safe PlantsItalian cypress are often planted as an architectural compliment to mediterranean-style homes.  These tall, highly combustible trees are sometimes referred to as "Roman candles" by firefighters.  With a structure that is difficult to maintain free of dead woodly material and dry needles, they ignite easily. They should be avoided in or near the Wildland Urban Interface (WUI).  Watch Italian cypress burning on FIRESafe MARIN's YouTube channel...

FIRESafe MARIN first published a list of common fire prone plants in 1998. This list, created with the help of the University of California Cooperative Extension, was later adopted by the County of Marin and all Cities and Towns for their Fire Standards, expressly prohibiting the planting of these species for new home and remodel construction. Fire inspectors may require removal of existing plants on this list if they threaten your home or neighbors.

In Marin, It's The Law

In Marin, the County, Cities and Towns have all adopted variations of Defensible Space ordinances for homes in the Wildland Urban Interface (WUI). Modeled after the State Law but with even greater restrictions, the plants listed here as fire prone can not be planted in a home's Defensible Space zone (100' from structures). Your fire department may require removal of plants on this list if they threaten your home or a neighbor. If you buy one of these plants for your garden, you may just be burning money...

Need advice?

Call us at (415) 570-4FSM {4376}
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Don't forget to bring a copy of our Fire Safe Plant List to your local nursery!

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