Banana Trees to Fight Wildfires

Emma Marris/PNAS Nexus | October 25, 2023

According to a new study, fire buffers composed of banana trees could slow and calm wildfires and generate profit for residents of fire-prone regions

In a new study, Barath Raghavan and colleagues investigate the potential of banana trees to act as a multifunctional fire buffer. Photo/Noe Montes.

Fire buffers composed of irrigated banana trees could slow and calm wildfires and generate profit for residents of fire-prone regions, according to a study published this week in PNAS Nexus. Climate change is increasing wildfire risk. Wildfires in the Western United States doubled in frequency between 1984 and 2015. At the same time, more people are living in the wildland-urban interface (WUI) than ever before, an area that often has high or extreme fire risk.

Barath Raghavan, an associate professor of computer science at USC, and colleagues investigate the potential of banana trees to act as a multifunctional fire buffer in the WUI. Banana trees have a high water content, ideal for stopping fire. When irrigated by recycled water, they can produce high-value crops. The team used a suite of models to simulate the behavior of the real 2017 Tubbs Fire, in Sonoma County, California, if banana tree buffers had been in place.

Banana tree buffers 633 meters wide would have reduced the intensity of the fire by 96%, according to the model—a similar effect to that produced by treating forest areas with mechanical thinning and prescribed burning. When not slowing and calming fires, the banana trees could generate an estimated profit of $76,136 per hectare.

Even if burned, bananas will resprout from their corms. Succulent ground covers could prevent flammable grasses from growing amongst the bananas. According to the authors, the results should be generally applicable to much of California, and to other areas with a Mediterranean climate, including regions of Mexico, Chile, Australia, and South Africa, and the Mediterranean Basin itself.

The article is open-access and available in full at https://academic.oup.com/pnasnexus/article-lookup/doi/10.1093/pnasnexus/pgad315.

Published on October 25th, 2023

Last updated on May 16th, 2024

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