Fire Safe Plants

Joe Matista’s Recommendations

Joe Matista with a California Fuchsia.
Photo: San Diego Earthworks

University City resident and Tri-canyon parks’ volunteer Joe Matista with a California Fuchsia he raised from seed at the Governor Drive restoration area at the West end of Governor Drive.

Name Description
Toyon  Pretty, evergreen, attracts birds, grows fast if watered, shrub to small tree size, germinates easily from seed.
Lemonade berry  Pretty, evergreen, grows reasonably fast, shrub to small tree size, germinates easily from seed.
Bladder pod  Pretty yellow flowers, light green foliage, grows fast if watered, shrub size, germinates from seed easily, smells bad if disturbed.
Monkey Flower  Showy flowers, shrub size, germinates from seed, but seeds hard to find, looks dried out during the summer.
California Fuchsia,Zauschneria californica  Showy red flowers during the summer when everything else is dry, gray foliage, grows slowly from seed.
California encelia  Sun flower appearing flower, tends to get leggy but can be pruned, needs to be kept wet to really look nice, grows from seed.

Ben Stevenson’s Recommendations

Ben Stevenson, right, with Harry Mathis. Ben Stevenson.
Photo: San Diego Earthworks

Ben Stevenson and members of the Rose Canyon Recreation Council have worked for over ten years to restore native plants to Rose Canyon. Former Councilmember Harry Mathis helped start the restoration at Genesee Ave.

Examples of fire safe plants (labeled) can be seen at two restoration sites in Rose Canyon:

  1. at Genesee Ave. where it crosses Rose Creek near University City High School; the site is on the West side of Genesee.
  2. Another site, at the West end of Governor Drive, also includes labeled plants.

I limit my plantings – and knowledge – to plants native to our local habitats, so I only consider a few plants to fit the description of fire resistant.

I would start with Lemonadeberry  . The oaks (oak trees   – Quercus agrifolia and scrub oak, Q. dumosa) are also immune and if dense enough can act as a fire suppressant. Ceanothus (blue,C. tomontosis   , and white, C. vericosis   ) are also resistant. I would include both the Toyon andLaurel Sumac  . Next I would rate the succulents (prickly pear  , fishhook cactus, coastal cholla). The coffeeberry and redberry are also relatively moisture retentive. Bush mallow is also relatively safe. I would round out the list with the Broom baccharis   and Coyote bush  . This list is a simple way to incorporate our natives into a border zone as these plants all retain some moisture through the year, they all remain evergreen, and they all can grow in the drier (not quite driest) spots.

The key to fire protection is twofold:

  1. avoid plants that turn crispy in the summer; and
  2. avoid high oil content plants.

The crispy plants include most non-natives (ie mustard, thistles), grasses, sages, deerweed and buckwheat. A greasy plant to avoid is chamise. The caveat to the plants to avoid is water and shade. My reasoning presumes that no water will augment established native plants. If watered, the crispy plants are no longer dangerous. Similarly, shade, even a small amount, will promote moister, less crispy plants. An example of this is when traveling south on I-5 from SR-52, a look at the Clairemont hill will show that where the hill is angled to protect the plant from a full day’s sun is much greener than the crispy side that is exposed. There is a distinct difference.