Agapanthus – a much maligned plant

Photo from Plants Online  Sydney

Photo from Plants Online

I was burning off a huge pile of garden waste this morning when I discovered something interesting about the lowly agapanthus plant. That’s it there, on the left.

Originally from South Africa, the agapanthus grows wild here in Warrandyte, and is considered a noxious weed by Nillumbik Council.

I have always had a less purist attitude to non-natives than the local Council, but even so, I have never found the agapanthus to be a particularly attractive plant. I have it in my garden, but I have never felt kindly towards it, until now.

“Why this sudden change of heart,” you ask.

“It’s because the bloody plant doesn’t want to burn,” say I. [And we all know how paranoid I am about bushfires, don’t we?]

Rather than bore you to tears with words, let me bore you to tears with some pictures. ๐Ÿ˜€

First up we have a picture of a pile of hot ash. It was taken at 9.26 am, and is the result of almost 3 hours of burning off, so it is still very, very hot.

agapantus 1 at 9.26am

Next we have a picture of some gum leaves and small branches bursting into flames on top of the pile of hot ash. Time – 9.29 am.

agapantus 2 at 9.29am

I did not strike a match, or a lighter or anything else to get the gum leaves to burn again. The residual heat of the ash was all it took. I’d also like to point out that we had a lot of rain 2 days ago.

Picture no.3 is of a small agapanthus I pulled up by the roots and threw on the barely smoldering fire. Time – 9.30 am.

agapantus 3 at 9.30am

Basically I was trying to see how long the agapanthus would take to burn. I literally used the stop watch function on my mobile phone for the job. After 3 minutes and 25 secs, something flared and a small section of the agapanthus burned for approximately 3 seconds. Then the flames went out.ย Time – 9.35 am.

agapantus 4 at 9.35am

There was another flareup approximately 4 minutes later, but by the time I’d stopped the stopwatch function, changed to camera function and returned to the fire, this second flareup had gone out as well. The timestamp on the camera says 9.39 am.

agapantus 5 at 9.39am

As you can see, the poor agapanthus is getting scorched, but a) it’s taking a long time and b) only the dried out extremities of the plant burn. As soon as the dried out sections burn off, the flames reach a wet, green section and immediately go out.

The next photo shows a small scrap of paper getting nicely scorched next to the remains of the agapanthus. The purpose of the paper was to test the heat of the ash pile – i.e. to test if the agapanthus was not burning because the ash pile had cooled down too much. As the photo shows, the pile was still quite hot. Time – 9.44 am.

agapantus 6 at 9.44am

40 minutes after beginning the experiment, I pulled the agapanthus from the ash pile and let it cool down so I could get a better look at it – and take a better photo. You have no idea how hot I got while taking photos close to the ash pile!

The final photo shows that despite being reduced to a blackened stump, the agapanthus still retains some green at the base of its stems [?]. Time – 10.10 am.

agapantus 7 at 10.10am

Now I’m not saying the agapanthus won’t burn at all – clearly it will – but I do want to make the point that this plant is remarkably resistant to fire. In massed plantings it may even slow the rate at which a bushfire advances on your house, or mine. As such, I think it’s time we stopped thinking of this plant as the ‘enemy’, and embrace it as an appropriate plant for bushfire prone areas.

Have a great weekend,



About acflory

I am the kind of person who always has to know why things are the way they are so my interests range from genetics and biology to politics and what makes people tick. For fun I play online mmorpgs, read, listen to a music, dance when I get the chance and landscape my rather large block. Work is writing. When a story I am working on is going well I'm on cloud nine. On bad days I go out and dig big holes... View all posts by acflory

14 responses to “Agapanthus – a much maligned plant

  • Kathryn Chastain Treat

    I like agapanthus because they also don’t require much water to stay alive.


  • EllaDee

    Apparently there is available sterile forms of agapanthus such as โ€˜Black Panthaโ€™, which have stunning dark blue flowers but donโ€™t set seed ๐Ÿ™‚ You may have seen this site, but just in case not – ๐Ÿ™‚


    • acflory

      I haven’t seen this one but I’ve got it bookmarked now. Thank you. ๐Ÿ˜€ I’m particularly interested in the Scaevola hookeri which is a semi succulent and provides dense ground cover. Just what I need!


  • Candy Korman

    There is something “other worldly” about a plant that is just too stubborn to burn. Perhaps it can find a place in the landscape of VOKHTAH โ€” or another planet?


    • acflory

      Actually you’ve just reminded me about something I hadn’t considered – do plants have flowers for reproduction on Vokhtah? Hmm….thank you. Much food for thought now. ๐Ÿ˜€


  • Honie Briggs

    Agapanthus, also called Lily of the Nile, grows here in Texas as a tender perennial and is treasured for its drought tolerance, fragrance, and because it has no known pest or disease problems. Who knew it is also a flame retardant? Something tells me this plant will find a home all around the perimeter of your property. It is common in landscapes here, but I’m sure no one thought it could be used as a fire break. Good to know!


  • metan

    I think the problem wih agapanthus is those horrible seeds, once the flowers die off the very vigorous seeds are just hanging there on long dried stems waiting to get catapulted into the surrounding area and start the next generation.

    We have some here, they were planted by the previous owner, and they are useful holding a steep slope together but we always try to remove the seed heads before they start creating problems. The neighbours don’t and the little buggers are growing everywhere. Grrr….

    The only positive for me is that they are so green and cold that I know where all the snails are hiding!


    • acflory

      -grin- You very rightly highlight the one downside – those long stalks and seed heads. I try and get rid of them just because, and they do burn well, lol. But I’m amazed you need to go looking for snails! They seem to find the bottom of my shoe without any effort on my part :/


      • metan

        My poor veg garden was almost annihilated by slugs and snails so I went on a rampage, hunting them regularly until now, when it is actually getting hard to find a snail. Yay!
        A zillion slugs are still out there, but they like hiding under the sacks of my compost heap covers so their numbers are declining too.


        • acflory

          I tried the beer thing once, and it did manage to kill off about 20-30 snails but with another million or so to go, I decided I couldn’t afford the beer. ๐Ÿ˜ฆ

          These days I hurl any snail that finds its way to the vegies on my deck but I’ve given up on the rest of the garden.


  • davidprosser

    It sounds like an ideal firebreak and even if it burnt would give more time for evacuation. Maybe you should get someone in ‘power’ to try it?
    xxx Massive Hugs xxx


    • acflory

      Sadly the ones in power are all fixated on natives. It seems they don’t much care that natives have evolved to burn, and do so merrily.
      I’ve decided the world is not a logical place.


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