How the right garden plants can ease the threat of bushfires
The ability to reduce the impact of the bushfire season on Australian communities is essential for saving lives, preventing injuries and reducing property damage.
Joshua Stainlay, a Master of Research student at the University of Technology Sydney (UTS), is investigating which popular Sydney garden plants have low flammability.
He’s hoping the research, supervised by Dr Brad Murray, will help to better inform people on which garden plants they chose to plant in their backyards.
“My research aims to reduce the amount of damage and fatalities caused by bushfires without having the need to change the landscape or the aesthetic appeal of people’s homes,” he said.
“This will create green firebreaks between wild bushland and houses, especially in the suburbs surrounding Australia's major cities.
“By planting certain plants in your garden, your garden will be non-flammable or fire retardant and not propagate fire from the bush to your home.”
Mr Stainlay is conducting a series of experiments on the individual leaf flammability of plants commonly found in Australian gardens. He contacted nurseries and surveyed local gardens in order to identify the most popular species in Sydney.
Some plants were exposed to good quality soil while others were exposed to low quality soil. Part of the experiment also involved some plants receiving high levels of hydration while others received low levels; all in an effort to determine whether the level of care a plant received changed its flammability.
“We test the flammability of plants by placing leaves into a furnace heated to bushfire temperature - up to 800 degrees Celsius - and recording the time taken to catch fire,” Mr Stainlay said.
While the research is expected to be published early next year, Mr Stainlay says his initial results show that some popular plants, such as magnolias, are highly flammable.
“This is especially concerning given magnolias are one of the most popular species at nurseries and are found in many homes across the nation,” he said.
Bushfires pose a seasonal threat to over 20 per cent of homes in Australian capital cities and pose a significant risk to life.
According to the Australian Institute of Criminolgy, from 1967-1999 bushfires killed 223 people, injured 4,185 people and caused $654 million of property damage.
“The real-world implications of this research are significant for Australian society because people will be able to protect homes and properties by planting species that are either fire retardant or have a reduced flammability,” Mr Stainlay said.
“This would buy extra time for home owners by slowing the fire or not propagating the fire from the bush to the structure.”