Palm Trees for Your Fire Barrier

With the record breaking fires the past few years, we have been receiving inquiries from our clients about whether palms can be part of a fire-resistant landscape. We are happy to report that they can. We have been researching and working toward educated solutions with the Ventura County Fire Department, and we are excited to present our findings for you.

Firstly, it is important to note that some species of palms, especially when they are unmaintained, are indeed fire hazards. Specifically, the lofty Washingtonia palms that line the streets of LA are prone to spreading fires because when the thatch catches fire, dried fronds break free and spread the blaze to neighboring structures. The results can be disastrous.

Many of our clients have seen burned out palm trees from the former Rincon Nursery along the 101 freeway in Ventura, where a large stand of unmaintained, unwatered, and densely planted palms quickly burned. This event is in part what has lead to Ventura County increasing regulations surrounding the planting of palm trees. There is however a message of hope here: like their monocot cousin the savanna grass, many of these palms have recovered, producing fresh leaves shortly after their seeming destruction.

While some species of palm do pose fire hazards, and the images of burning palm trees became an icon of the LA fires, the truth is that many commonly grown palms are quite fire-resistant, and proper maintenance will reduce the fire hazard of any landscape tree.

When choosing a palm for fire-resistance there are two key factors:

  1. How much thatch the palm holds on the trunk
  2. How much water the trunk holds

King palms are one of many species that actively shed old leaves, and their smooth trunks and clean crown shafts provide no tinder for a blaze. This means King palms are one of the ideal palms for fire-resistance, due to their lack of available fuel. For this reason they have been planted throughout Santa Barbara as a street tree.

In areas of high fire danger, we recommend planting palm trees so that their mature canopy is 15ft from the structure, the wilderness, and from each other. Ensure that you are trimming all landscape trees at least once per year, minimizing dead foliage and pruning up to at least 4 ft off of the ground.

We recommend using these highly fire-resistant palms:

Archontophoenix cunninghamiana — King Palm

Howea forsteriana — Kentia Palm

Phoenix roebelenii —  Pygmy Date Palm

Syagrus romanzoffiana — Queen Palm

Resources for preventing fires: