My top firewise succulents are quite common and start easily from cuttings. If you live in a fire-prone, backcountry area, consider them one more weapon in your arsenal against wildfire by planting them around your property's perimeter.
View my 6-minute video: Do Succulents Burn? Compare the combustibility of jade, aloe, aeonium, firesticks, elephant’s food and paddle cactus to branches cut from bamboo and oak trees.
In combination, these readily available succulents make a beautiful, low-water landscape. This garden, for example, originated entirely from cuttings:
Opuntia (paddle cactus)
The thicker the better. If you wince at the thought of having cactus in your garden, look for spineless or near-spineless varieties. They do exist, and they don't draw blood. Those rounded, upright pads make a nice counterpoint to more finely textured plants, succulent and otherwise.
Mound-forming Aloe arborescens is the heroic succulent that "saved" the home of Rob and Suzy Schaefer during the devastating wildfires of 2007. It sends up orange-red, torchlike flower spikes in midwinter.
There are numerous varieties of these rosette succulents. The best ones for fire resistance are multi-branching.
Plain old green jade didn't burn during the wildfire that threatened the Schaefer home, but rather it cooked, and like the aloes, its leaves turned putty-colored and collapsed. If you think jade is boring, you may not be aware of its many cultivars. Some are striped cream-and-green; turn yellow-orange-red when grown in full sun; have silvery-gray leaves rimmed with red; or have intriguing tubular or wavy leaves.
Euphorbia tirucalli 'Sticks on Fire'
Highly ornamental with bright orange, upright stems, this makes an excellent fire barrier, to 7 feet in height. Downsides are it's frost tender and its milky sap is caustic.
Portulacaria afra (elephant's food)
This plant is shrub-like, and yes, elephants really do eat it in South Africa. In fact, the plant benefits from being stomped on because pieces root readily. The variegated variety is less vigorous and more ornamental than the common green species.
Cold-Hardy AND Firewise?
The following succulents are hardy to the mid-20s, and some go lower:
- Agave salmiana
- Portulacaria afra (elephant’s food)
- opuntia (paddle cactus, especially spineless varieties)
- and many other cacti.
On this website
Firewise Landscaping - Details on how to use succulents in the landscape to protect your property from wildfire.
In Designing with Succulents (2nd edition, p. 107), I tell how my husband and I were evacuated, and how the succulent garden on the cover of the book's first edition "saved" a home in Rancho Santa Fe. Ten years later, during the 2017 Lilac Fire, Camille Newton (whose garden in Bonsall, CA is on page 51 of the 2nd edition) had a similar experience [read more].
See Camille and me on TV.
From my Los Angeles Times article, "Did Succulents Save Her Home?" ~ "SUCCULENTS have soared in popularity recently because they’re drought-tolerant, easy-care and just plain cool to look at, and now there’s another compelling reason to grow them: They’re fire-retardant. During last month’s wildfires, succulents — which by definition store water in plump leaves and stems — apparently stopped a blaze in its tracks..." [Read more]