Recent events in Tasmania, New South Wales, Queensland and Victoria remind Australians once again of the devastating impact that bushfires can have on life and property.
Fire is a natural event in the Australian landscape and is essential for the life cycle of many native species. However, its impact on the landscape can be catastrophic. The NSW Rural Fire Service publication Planning for Bushfire Protection correctly notes that fire management needs to balance the protection of life and property and the maintenance of ecological processes and systems. Designing with consideration to reducing the risk of bushfire damage is a key consideration for authorities and designers working on new building developments.
In the past, a common approach to achieving safer landscapes around buildings has tended towards removing native vegetation and replacing it with exotic plants and garden styles. But with an increasing appreciation of our native plants, the more common approach now is to select appropriate species and manage native vegetation to restrict bushfire potential. Trees can help to protect buildings by acting as a barrier against radiant heat and flames and deflecting wind driven debris and embers up and over a building.
All vegetation will eventually burn, but some species are more flammable than others. As a general rule, fire resistant plants have high moisture content, high salt content and low volatile oil content. Native trees and plants which have low flammability include:
- Alpinia caerulea (Native Ginger)
- Buckinghamia celsissima (Ivory Curl Tree)
- Carpobrotus glaucescens (Pigface)
- Corymbia maculata (Spotted Gum)
- Crinium pedunculatum (Swamp Lily)
- Cupaniopsis anacardioides (Tuckeroo)
- Dichondra repens (Kidney Weed)
- Elaeocarpus reticulatas (Blueberry Ash)
- Melia azederach (White Cedar)
- Podocarpus elatus (Brown Pine)
- Syzygium sp. and Acmena sp. (Lilly Pilly)
- Tristaniopsis laurina (Water Gum)
- Viola hederacea (Native Violet)
Planting to reduce the risk of bushfire damage is only one of a number of design considerations when planning a new development. Other factors such as building orientation, ecological protection, provision of shade, shelter and wind protection also need to be considered.
There are a number of places you can go to find out more about which native plants will provide the best bushfire protection. It’s important to get species selection advice that is specific to your local area and climate and to your particular site.
- Your local council – for example, Gosford Council has a plant selection factsheet listing characteristics and species
- Your local Rural Fire Service – for example, Blue Mountains RFS has a bushfire landscaping factsheet with a number of practical suggestions for bushfire protection
- Alternatively, contact The Design Partnership. Our landscape architects can provide landscape design services and species selection advice, or recommend a professional bushfire consultant