Can You Name the Most Fire-Resistant Trees? (The Answers May Surprise You)

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Can You Name the Most Fire-Resistant Trees? (The Answers May Surprise You)

Lake City, Fla., May 15, 2007 -- The Florida Bugaboo Fire still rages out of control in some locations. Mark Wolfe/FEMA

Eight of the Most Fire-Resistant Trees on the Planet

Did you know that the most fire-resistant plants are typically large trees whose flammable parts are high above surface fires?

For instance, an older Ponderosa Pine (one of our species highlighted below) suffers virtually no crown damage with less intense fires. This is because it sheds its lower, vulnerable branches as it matures.

Let’s take a look at which trees are most fire-resistant:

Coast Live Oak

Coast Live Oak

The Coast Live Oak is an evergreen oak native to California all the way south to Baja.

It typically has a multi-branched trunk and reaches a mature height of 33 to 82 feet. Some of these oak trees are more than 250 years old, with trunk diameters up to 13 feet.

Older trees often have highly contorted, massive and gnarled trunks.

Flowering Horse Chestnut

Flowering Horse-Chestnut

The Flowering Horse-Chestnut is native to southeastern Europe, particularly the Balkan mixed forests. But it’s also widely cultivated in temperate climates throughout the world.

The Flowering Horse-Chestnut is sometimes called a “conker tree,” because its seeds have traditionally been used by British children to play a game called “conkers.” (In fact, every October the world conker championships are held in the village of Ashton, England.)

This tree can grow to well over 100 feet in height.

Japanese Elm

Japanese Elm

The lovely Japanese Elm is one of the larger and more graceful elms native to Asia.

Its size and shape is extremely variable. For instance, it can be a short tree with a densely branched broad crown. Or it can be tall and single-stemmed with a narrow crown.

The Japanese Elm is widely planted in Japan as a street tree. It was introduced into the United States in 1895. The tree can grow up to 42 feet tall.

The tree is resistant to the elm leaf beetle, and has a low to moderate resistance to Dutch elm disease.


American Mountain Ash

American Mountain Ash

The American Mountain Ash is a relatively small tree, only reaching a height of about 40 feet. It’s native to Eastern North America, although the largest specimens can usually be found around the Great Lakes region.

The Mountain Ash’s scattered flower clusters yield colorful hanging fruits, which are a treat for birds. Interesting fact: The emerald ash borer does not attack the American Mountain Ash, as it is in a different genus from other ash trees.

Southern Magnolia

Southern Magnolia

The beautiful Southern Magnolia is native to the southeastern United States, from coastal North Carolina to central Florida and west to Texas and Oklahoma.

Its hard, heavy timber is used to make furniture, pallets and veneer.

These giants typically grow to over 100 feet tall. Today, the largest specimen is currently standing in Smith County, Mississippi, at 121 feet.

Ponderosa Pine

Ponderosa Pine

Ponderosa Pine

If any tree could personify the rugged West, it would be the Ponderosa Pine.

The tree is native to the western United States and Canada, and the most widely distributed pine species in North America. Montana has selected it as the state tree.

The Ponderosa Pine typically grows to a height of about 100 feet. However, in January of 2011, researchers measured a Pacific Ponderosa Pine in the Rogue River–Siskiyou National Forest of Oregon to be a whopping 268 feet high.

Baobab Tree

Baobab Tree

One of the most fire-resistant of all tree species is the Baobab. It can grow to be nearly 100 feet tall. But it’s the Baobab’s bulk and stature that is so astonishing. Many have trunks 30 feet in diameter.

The tree is native to Madagascar and inland Africa. However, the South African species is the largest and oldest — reportedly more than 6,000 years old.

The hollowed-out trees are often used as tourist attractions. For example, a pub, like this one in Sunland, South Africa:

And the Winner Is …

But the most amazingly fire-resistant tree of all time was discovered as recently as 2012.

That’s when a plot of land in Spain which had originally been used to study a deadly tree pathogen burned to the ground. The researchers were devastated.

But then — astonishingly — among the ash emerged a promising patch of green.

Mediterranean Cypress has proven to be the most fire resistant of all.

Where the oaks, pines, and junipers had all perished, the Mediterranean Cypresses had endured.

The researchers learned that the tree’s plump pine needles don’t dry out when the tree sheds them. Instead, they amass on the ground around the tree, trapping water.

The potential applications are intriguing…

Could Mediterranean Cypress trees be planted in wildfire-prone areas as firebreaks to protect local trees? The research continues.


Featured image by Mark Wolfe/FEMA, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Oregon State University Extension Service

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