Plant Flammability Research

Untitled Document

Destructive wildfires are increasingly common in many parts of the world, and are predicted to worsen with climate change. Approximately 3000 wildfires burn around 6,000 ha of land in New Zealand each year, and fire danger will likely increase in parts of the country due to climate change. Furthermore, certain New Zealand ecosystems have become more flammable due to invasions by exotic plant species. One approach to reducing wildfire spread is to plant ‘green firebreaks’; strips of vegetation comprising plant species with low flammability. Green firebreaks are based on the idea that a fire, or embers spotting ahead of a fire front, will be extinguished by this less flammable vegetation. However, to plant green firebreaks, we must first determine the relative flammability of different plant species.

To do this a team of researchers from Lincoln University, the University of Auckland and the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, UK, with funding from the NZ National Rural Fire Authority, are testing the shoot flammability of a range of species found in NZ. The team has already tested approximately 150 spp. of native and exotic plants that are found in rural and forest landscapes throughout the country, but now wants to include testing of commonly planted garden species. This would identify species with low flammability that could be planted in green firebreaks.

The team would appreciate it if nurseries and other plant propagators could provide them with a list of 20-50 of their most commonly sold plant species to help them decide which species to test next. If you are happy to help or have any queries, please contact Tim Curran, Lincoln University (timothy.curran@lincoln.ac.nz). You can read more about the project and about the idea of green firebreaks here: theconversation.com/low-flammability-plants-could-help-our-homes-survive-bushfires-53870