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Op-Ed: City should be smarter about plants

July 19, 2012|By Lisa Novick
  • A large clump of fountain grass, foreground, is planted in a residential La Canada yard, near the wilderness interface. The plant can dry out and catch fire 100 times faster than native grasses.
A large clump of fountain grass, foreground, is planted… (Photo by Lisa Novick )

We are substantially increasing our town’s fire risk by the installation of various invasive and/or non-native plants in public and private spaces. In gardens throughout La Cañada, invasive non-native grasses and Queen palms (among others) are being installed for ornament, but these plants invite potentially devastating consequences.

Fountain grass (pennisetum setaceum) and Mexican feather grass (nasella tenuissima) dry out and catch fire 100 times faster than native grasses because these non-natives do not store water as efficiently as the deeply-rooted and evolutionarily-adapted California native bunch grasses. Furthermore, these non-native grasses make prodigious amounts of seed, which then spread on the wind to the Station fire burn area and establish in the Angeles National Forest, increasing the risk of wildfire.

Paradise Canyon Elementary School installed fountain grass around the new auditorium. Sprouts Market installed Mexican feather grass around the parking lot. There are so-called sterile varieties of fountain grass, but these still produce non-sterile seeds. We could help our cash-strapped state, which spends millions of dollars each year removing these invasive grasses and other invasives from our wild lands, by not installing these plants at all. There are native alternatives for our gardens that are aesthetically similar and ecologically sound.

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Queen palms (syagrus romanzoffiana) are a fire hazard in a different way, and these palms are also being installed in yards throughout La Cañada. In a fire, the palm’s long, arching fronds become like flaming helicopter blades, traveling on the heat updraft and landing with a nice packet of already burning fuel. There are many more regionally appropriate trees to choose other than palms. Native oaks store water and resist fire, having a much higher ignition point than the non-native palms.

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