Balsamorhiza sagittata


SPECIES: Balsamorhiza sagittata


Br. Alfred Brousseau, Saint Mary's College Charles Webber
1998 California Academy of Sciences

McWilliams, Jack. Balsamorhiza sagittata. 2002. In: Fire Effects Information System, [Online]. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station, Fire Sciences Laboratory (Producer). Available: [ ].


No entry


arrowleaf balsamroot

The currently accepted scientific name of arrowleaf balsamroot is Balsamorhiza sagittata Pursh (Nutt.) (Asteraceae) [21,30,42,118]. Arrowleaf balsamroot hybridizes with Carey's balsamroot (B. carreyana), Hooker balsamroot (B. hookeri), hoary balsamroot (B. incana), and toothed balsamroot (B. serata) [20].


No special status

Information on state- and province-level protection status of plants in the United States and Canada is available at NatureServe.


SPECIES: Balsamorhiza sagittata
Arrowleaf balsamroot is found from the Sierra Nevada of California northward along the east side of the Cascade Range into British Columbia and eastward to Saskatchewan, North Dakota, and Colorado.

FRES17 Elm-ash-cottonwood
FRES20 Douglas-fir
FRES21 Ponderosa pine
FRES23 Fir-spruce
FRES25 Larch 
FRES26 Lodgepole pine
FRES29 Sagebrush
FRES30 Desert shrub
FRES34 Chaparral-mountain shrub
FRES35 Pinyon-juniper
FRES36 Mountain grasslands
FRES37 Mountain meadows
FRES38 Plains grasslands
FRES44 Alpine


2 Cascade Mountains
4 Sierra Mountains
5 Columbia Plateau
6 Upper Basin and Range
8 Northern Rocky Mountains
9 Middle Rocky Mountains
10 Wyoming Basin
11 Southern Rocky Mountains
12 Colorado Plateau
15 Black Hills Uplift
16 Upper Missouri Basin and Broken Lands

K005 Mixed conifer forest
K008 Lodgepole pine-subalpine forest
K010 Ponderosa shrub forest
K011 Western ponderosa forest
K012 Douglas-fir forest
K013 Cedar-hemlock-pine forest
K014 Grand fir-Douglas-fir forest
K015 Western spruce-fir forest
K016 Eastern ponderosa forest
K017 Black Hills pine forest
K018 Pine-Douglas-fir forest
K020 Spruce-fir-Douglas-fir forest
K021 Southwestern spruce-fir forest
K022 Great Basin pine forest
K023 Juniper-pinyon woodland
K024 Juniper steppe woodland
K032 Transition between K031 and K037
K037 Mountain-mahogany-oak scrub
K038 Great Basin sagebrush
K039 Blackbrush
K040 Saltbush-greasewood
K046 Desert: vegetation largely lacking
K050 Fescue-wheatgrass
K051 Wheatgrass-bluegrass
K052 Alpine meadows and barren
K055 Sagebrush steppe
K056 Wheatgrass-needlegrass shrubsteppe
K063 Foothills prairie
K064 Grama-needlegrass-wheatgrass
K066 Wheatgrass-needlegrass
K098 Northern floodplain forest

206 Engelmann spruce-subalpine fir
209 Bristlecone pine
210 Interior Douglas-fir
211 White fir
212 Western larch
216 Blue spruce
217 Aspen
218 Lodgepole pine
219 Limber pine
220 Rocky Mountain juniper
222 Black cottonwood-willow
235 Cottonwood-willow
237 Interior ponderosa pine
238 Western juniper
239 Pinyon-juniper
247 Jeffrey pine

101 Bluebunch wheatgrass
102 Idaho fescue
103 Green fescue
104 Antelope bitterbrush-bluebunch wheatgrass
105 Antelope bitterbrush-Idaho fescue
107 Western juniper/big sagebrush/bluebunch wheatgrass
108 Alpine Idaho fescue
109 Ponderosa pine shrubland
110 Ponderosa pine-grassland
210 Bitterbrush
212 Blackbush
216 Montane meadows
301 Bluebunch wheatgrass-blue grama
302 Bluebunch wheatgrass-Sandberg bluegrass
303 Bluebunch wheatgrass-western wheatgrass
304 Idaho fescue-bluebunch wheatgrass
305 Idaho fescue-Richardson needlegrass
306 Idaho fescue-slender wheatgrass
307 Idaho fescue-threadleaf sedge
308 Idaho fescue-tufted hairgrass
309 Idaho fescue-western wheatgrass
310 Needle-and-thread-blue grama
311 Rough fescue-bluebunch wheatgrass
312 Rough fescue-Idaho fescue
314 Big sagebrush-bluebunch wheatgrass
315 Big sagebrush-Idaho fescue
316 Big sagebrush-rough fescue
317 Bitterbrush-bluebunch wheatgrass
318 Bitterbrush-Idaho fescue
319 Bitterbrush-rough fescue
320 Black sagebrush-bluebunch wheatgrass
321 Black sagebrush-Idaho fescue
322 Curlleaf mountain-mahogany-bluebunch wheatgrass
324 Threetip sagebrush-Idaho fescue
401 Basin big sagebrush
402 Mountain big sagebrush
403 Wyoming big sagebrush
404 Threetip sagebrush
405 Black sagebrush
406 Low sagebrush
407 Stiff sagebrush
408 Other sagebrush types
409 Tall forb
410 Alpine rangeland
411 Aspen woodland
412 Juniper-pinyon woodland
413 Gambel oak
415 Curlleaf mountain-mahogany
416 True mountain-mahogany
418 Bigtooth maple
606 Wheatgrass-bluestem-needlegrass
607 Wheatgrass-needlegrass
608 Wheatgrass-grama-needlegrass
612 Sagebrush-grass

Tisdale [106] describes a bluebunch wheatgrass (Pseudoroegneria spicata)/Sandberg bluegrass (Poa secunda)/arrowleaf balsamroot habitat type in west-central Idaho and adjacent areas.

Dealy [22] delineates an arrowleaf balsamroot phase to a curlleaf mountain-mahogany (Cercocarpus ledifolius)/mountain snowberry (Symphoricarpos oreophilus) habitat type in eastern Oregon. Hoffman and Alexander [36] describe an arrowleaf balsamroot phase to a ponderosa pine (Pinus ponderosa)/common snowberry (S. albus) habitat type in the Black Hills National Forest of South Dakota and Wyoming.

An arrowleaf balsamroot-oneflower helianthella (Helianthella uniflora) subalpine forb community type is described by Gregory [31] in the Bridger-Teton National Forest in Wyoming.

In western Oregon Johnson and Simon [41] discuss an Idaho fescue (Festuca idahoensis)-bluebunch wheatgrass/ arrowleaf balsamroot plant association in the Wallowa-Whitman National Forest. Also in Oregon, Hopkins and Kovalchik [37] describe 2 plant associations on the Crooked River National Grasslands of Ochoco National Forest. Both are on steep canyon walls

West and others [119] use arrowleaf balsamroot to delineate a singleleaf pinyon (P. monophylla)/curlleaf mountain-mahogany/arrowleaf balsamroot subassociation in the pinyon (Pinus spp.)-juniper (Juniperus spp.) woodlands of Utah and Nevada. Also in Nevada, there is a singleleaf pinyon/curlleaf mountain-mahogany/longflower snowberry (S. longiflorus)/arrowleaf balsamroot community and a big sagebrush (Artemisia tridentata)/Sandberg bluegrass (Poa secunda)/arrowleaf balsamroot community in the Coils Creek watershed [11].

Weaver [114] lists arrowleaf balsamroot as a dominant species in the fescue (Festuca) consociation and a secondary plant in the Agropyron consociation of the Agropyron- Festuca plant association in southeastern Washington and adjacent Idaho.

Arrowleaf balsamroot is commonly associated with various sagebrush taxa including basin big sagebrush (A. t. ssp. tridentata), mountain big sagebrush (A. t. ssp. vaseyana), mountain silver sagebrush (A. cana ssp. viscidual), and threetip sagebrush (A. tripartita) [107]. Its occurrence in the big sagebrush habitats is dependent on annual precipitation (see Site Characteristics). Strong and others [102] list arrowleaf balsamroot as occurring in Wyoming big sagebrush (A.t. ssp wyomingensis)/bluebunch wheatgrass habitat type in Colorado.

In native stands of the northern Intermountain Region and the Pacific Northwest [113]arrowleaf balsamroot is commonly associated with Idaho fescue, bluebunch wheatgrass, western (J. occidentalis) and Utah (J. osteosperma) junipers, ponderosa pine and the mountain shrub complex.


SPECIES: Balsamorhiza sagittata
Arrowleaf balsamroot is a cool-season [113], large, long-lived, native, perennial forb 1 to 2 feet (0.3-0.6 m) in height [93]. Its fruit is a 4-angled, thickened, smooth, hairless achene [93,108,113]. Basal leaves are cordate to sagittate in outline with entire margins and wooly pubescence. They arise from a branched, underground caudex to form dense rosettes. Flowerheads are sunflower-like with strap-shaped ray flowers 1 to 2 inches (2.5-5 cm) long and tubular disc flowers [113]. Flowers are mostly solitary on long peduncles and the cauline leaves are mostly lanceolate, alternate, and much smaller than the basal leaves [83].

Roots: Arrowleaf balsamroot has a taproot that sometimes reaches a diameter of 4 inches (10 cm) and an extreme depth of 8.8 feet (2.7 m). Laterals seldom come off in the 1st 6 inches (15 cm) of soil. Below this depth numerous strong laterals occur, sometimes an inch (2.5 cm) or more in diameter. These laterals often run horizontally for 2 to 3 feet (0.6-1 m) before turning downward and may reach a depth of 5 feet (1.5 m). The taproot sometimes splits into nearly equal parts at a depth of about 3 feet (1 m). The tip of the taproot is often dead and if alive, is not very branched. The older part of the root is covered with a deeply furrowed bark. These furrows can be one-half inch (13 mm) deep [116].


Breeding system: No information

Pollination: No information

Seed production: The seed crop is usually good [93] and large quantities of seed can be produced if developing seedheads are not attacked by insects and are protected from grazing [100].

Seed dispersal: Arrowleaf balsamroot seeds are dispersed by wind [94] and animals [76].

Seed banking: Arrowleaf balsamroot seeds are not stored in the soil [94]. A 1996 study by Kitchen and Monsen [46], using arrowleaf balsamroot seeds collected in Idaho and Utah, found no evidence that arrowleaf balsamroot maintains a persistent seedbank.

Germination: Several studies have examined germination of arrowleaf balsamroot. Young and Evans [127] found germination without stratification was very low and erratic. A 12-week period of stratification was required for maximum germination. They chose 8 weeks at 41 degrees Fahrenheit (5o C) as the pretreatment used for development of temperatures for a profile for arrowleaf balsamroot germination. Germination after this stratification period was only 50% of that obtained after 12 weeks of stratification, but was chosen because some seeds germinated during stratification. Optimum temperatures for germination were essentially optimum temperatures for stratification. 

Kitchen and Monsen [46] also conducted germination experiments on arrowleaf balsamroot and found for the few seeds that germinated without prechilling, germination was delayed for 21 to 28 days after imbibition and germinants "frequently" exhibited abnormal growth. They found no significant differences among germination percentages for nonstratified seeds. In contrast, 11 temperature regimes were optima for germination of stratified seeds. Warmest of these regimes was a constant 50 degrees Fahrenheit (10o C) and coldest was 32/41 degrees Fahrenheit (0/5o C). A temperature of 95 degrees Fahrenheit (35o C) reduced germination and a warm-period temperature of 104 degrees Fahrenheit (40o C) prevented germination [46].

The 3-month stratification requirement of arrowleaf balsamroot is long for many rangeland seedbeds. The only environment on sagebrush rangelands that might have a satisfactory stratification of arrowleaf balsamroot seeds is at the snow-litter-soil interface in sites with continuous snow cover for at least 3 months. This may explain the occurrence of dense communities of arrowleaf balsamroot on north-facing slopes where snowdrifts accumulate [46].

Stevens and others [99] tested germination of arrowleaf balsamroot seeds after storage in an open, unheated, and uncooled warehouse in Utah. While arrowleaf balsamroot does not persist in the soil seedbank [46,94], it apparently can be stored for up to 10 years and still be viable. Their results are:


Years of storage

2 3 4 5 7 10 15

Percent germination

Paradise Valley, NV 40 42 -- 37 20 1 0

Arrowleaf balsamroot has relatively large seeds, 1,850 to 3,000 per ounce (65-105/gram) [46]. The Davenport Seed Company [77] states there are 58,000 seeds per pound (127,600/kg).

Steele and Geier-Hayes [94], in a summary of successional studies of the major Douglas-fir habitat types in central Idaho, state arrowleaf balsamroot seeds germinate on bare soil in full sun.

Seedling establishment/growth: Kitchen and Monsen [46] found arrowleaf balsamroot seedlings in an experiment in Idaho and Utah grew slowly with low mortality. Wasser [113] found seedling vigor to be "rather weak" and that stands developed slowly.

Generally, new plants are slow to mature, requiring 3 to 4 years to flower on the best sites, and 7 to 8 years on lower precipitation sites [100].

Asexual regeneration: No information

Arrowleaf balsamroot is adapted to plains, valleys, foothills, and low mountain ranges. It occurs on open slopes and ridges throughout the sagebrush (Artemisia spp.), oak (Quercus spp.) brush, ponderosa pine, and higher habitat types. It is found on well-drained soils in open, fairly dry situations, including south-facing slopes [93].

Precipitation: Arrowleaf balsamroot commonly occurs in various sagebrush habitats (see Habitat Types And Plant Communities). The following table shows precipitation ranges required for arrowleaf balsamroot to occur in big sagebrush habitats [107]:

Basin big sagebrush annual precipitation Mountain big sagebrush annual precipitation
9 to 13 inches 13+ inches 12 to 17 inches 17+ inches
no yes yes yes

However, Stanton [93] states arrowleaf balsamroot is often important on harsh sagebrush sites in Idaho that receive at least 9 inches (225 mm) precipitation, and Stevens [95] states arrowleaf balsamroot is adapted to basin big sagebrush sites in the 9-to 13-inch (225-330 mm) precipitation range in the Intermountain Range.

Arrowleaf balsamroot is strongly drought tolerant [113].

Soils: Arrowleaf balsamroot thrives in well-drained silty and loamy soils of the Palouse prairies and adjacent sagebrush-grass and open juniper and ponderosa pine zones of the northern Intermountain region. It is tolerant of moderately alkaline to weakly acidic and also weakly saline soils. It is intolerant of shallow water tables but is tolerant of briefly saturated soil conditions on imperfectly drained sites [113].

Elevation: Arrowleaf balsamroot occurs naturally between about 1,000 to 9,000 feet (305-2,743 m) [113]. Some elevations for individual states are:

Colorado 6,000 to 9,000 feet (1,829-2,743 m) [33]
Montana 3,500 to 7,000 feet (1,067-2,134 m) [54]
California 4,593 to 5,249 feet (1,400-1,600 m) [35]

Climax: Arrowleaf balsamroot is listed as part of the vegetation in a climax interior ponderosa pine (Pinus ponderosa var. scopulorum) community on the east slope of the Cascade Mountains, Blue Mountains and Northern Rocky Mountains [123]. An edaphic climax type in Colorado of Wyoming big sagebrush/bluebunch wheatgrass includes arrowleaf balsamroot [102].

Mid-seral: In a study of grasslands of lower British Columbia, Tisdale [105] describes arrowleaf balsamroot as "found more commonly" in the mid-seral stage of needlegrass (Stipa spp.)-bluegrass as grasslands previously heavily grazed progressed to the climax stage of bluebunch wheatgrass-rough fescue (F. altaica).

Steele and Geier-Hayes [94] list arrowleaf balsamroot as an "important" species in the herb layer of Rocky Mountain Douglas-fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii var. glauca) habitat types in Idaho. The following table gives arrowleaf balsamroot's successional role in these habitat type-phases in Idaho:


Rocky Mountain Douglas-fir habitat type-phase Successional role
West-central Idaho elk sedge-(Carex geyeri) ponderosa pine MS
pinegrass (Calamagrostis rubescens)-ponderosa pine ms
grape (Mahonia repens)
white spirea (Spiraea betulifolia) - ponderosa pine MS
common snowberry- ponderosa pine (MS)
ninebark (Physocarpus malvaceus)- ponderosa pine (MS)
Rocky Mountain maple (Acer glabrum)-Rocky Mountain maple MS
East-central Idaho elk sedge-elk sedge ms
pinegrass-pinegrass ms
white spirea-pinegrass (ms)
common snowberry- common snowberry (ms)
ninebark- Douglas-fir ms
Rocky Mountain maple- mountain snowberry ms
MS = mid-seral; () = occurs in only part of the habitat; upper case = major species occurrence; lower case = minor species occurrence

Koniak [49] studied succession after fire in pinyon-juniper stands in the Great Basin. She found arrowleaf balsamroot present in various seral stages. Numbers in the following table represent percent of sites where arrowleaf balsamroot occurred (total number of stands measured not given):

Occurrence in various successional states

early early mid-stage mid-stage late mid-stage late
21 29 20 11 19

Early seral: Weaver [115], in an early (1914) study of plant succession in eastern Washington and adjacent Idaho, lists arrowleaf balsamroot as an "invader" in the transition from the bunchgrass-rimrock vegetation type to "prairie" vegetation at the top of canyons. For more information on early seral response of arrowleaf balsamroot see Plant Response To Fire.

Arrowleaf balsamroot begins growth and flowers early, but dates can vary.

Schmidt and Lotan [87] provide phenological data for arrowleaf balsamroot in the Northern Rocky Mountains based on unpublished studies. This table presents the phenology of arrowleaf balsamroot based on observations from 1928 to 1937:

East of the Continental Divide in Montana and Yellowstone National Park

first appearance leaves full grown flowers start flowers end fruits ripe seed fall starts leaves start to color/wither leaves withered first frost injury
average date 26 April 4 June 18 May 16 June 7 July 15 July 17 July 9 August 3 Sept.
earliest date 3 April 15 May 27 April 15 May 13 June 19 June 20 June 25 July 1 Sept.
latest date 13 May 2 July 18 June 2 August 2 August 7 August 13 August 16 Sept. 4 Sept.
standard error (days) 3 3 3 4 4 5 4 3 2
number of observations 16 16 18 18 15 10 17 56 2

Northern Idaho and west of the Continental Divide in Montana

average date 20 April 16 May 10 May 12 June 14 July 20 July 17 August 20 Sept. 1 Sept.
earliest date 8 April 2 May 2 May 1 June 15 June 10 July 1 August 16 August 5 August
latest date 2 May 1 June 16 May 20 June 16 July 1 August 25 August 5 October 21 Sept.
standard error (days) 2 3 1 2 3 4 3 5 8
number of observations 10 10 10 10 10 7 10 10 7

In a 6-year clipping study of arrowleaf balsamroot conducted at the U.S. Sheep Experiment Station near Dubois, Idaho, Blaisdell and Pechanec [13] reported the following phenological data:

Growth stage

Average date

snow off 1 April
growth started 20 April
flower stalks appear 27 April
1st bloom 13 May
full bloom 28 may
blooming over 8 June
seed ripe 18 June
seed disseminating --
seed disseminated --
plant drying 21 June
plant dried  2 August


SPECIES: Balsamorhiza sagittata
Fire adaptations: Arrowleaf balsamroot regenerates from its caudex following fire [122]. Volland and Dell [111] describe the fire regeneration "mode" of arrowleaf balsamroot as windborne seed and rapid regrowth from a caudex.

Smith and Fischer's literature review [91] describes the fire survival "strategy" of arrowleaf balsamroot as regrowth from a surviving thick caudex and state it will survive even the most severe fire and increase in frequency and density after fire.

In a 1984 fire management action plan for Zion National Park in Utah, Mitchell [69] describes arrowleaf balsamroot fire survival strategy as "sprouting from a thick caudex."

Fire regimes: Smith and Fischer [91] place arrowleaf balsamroot within a fire group in northern Idaho that consists of warm, dry Douglas-fir and ponderosa pine habitat types. Before the 20th century, these sites were characterized by frequent underburns that eliminated most tree regeneration, thinned young stands, and perpetuated open stands dominated mainly by ponderosa pine. Studies in the South Fork Clearwater River report fire return intervals for stands in this fire group ranging from 3 to 39 years with a mean fire interval of 15 years [8]. In the River of No Return Area of Idaho, Barrett [7] provides the following information on fire regimes for stands in this fire group:

Location Fire interval range (years) Mean fire interval (years) Standard deviation
high elevation, 6,000 feet  8-51 22 4
low elevation, < 5,000 feet 3-30 15 2
Salmon River corridor 2-39 14 12

In eastern Idaho and western Wyoming, arrowleaf balsamroot is assigned to fire groups consisting of limber Pine (P. flexilis) habitat types, and habitat types supporting cool, dry Douglas-fir forests [14]. Arno and Gruell [3] reported a mean fire interval of 74 years for a southwestern Montana limber pine/bluebunch wheatgrass habitat type at a grassland ecotone. Keown [44] reported a fire-free interval of about 100 years for a similar Montana limber pine stand with a grass and shrub understory. Cool, dry Douglas-fir forests in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, probably experienced fires about every 50 to 100 years [60]. Douglas-fir adjacent to sagebrush steppe vegetation in both Jackson Hole and the valleys of northern Yellowstone National Park appear to have shorter fire-free intervals [14]. Houston [38] reported intervals of 20 to 25 years in cool, dry Douglas-fir in the Lamar, Gardner, and Yellowstone valleys over the past 300 to 400 years.

In Utah, Bradley and others [15] assign arrowleaf balsamroot to the fire group containing pinyon-juniper woodlands and montane maple-oak woodlands. On 4 study sites in southwestern Idaho, Burkhardt and Tisdale [17] found fire-free intervals to be 23, 18, 8 and 11 years. McKell [64] states composition of burned oak stands in Utah was found to resemble unburned stands within 20 years following fire.

Fire regimes where arrowleaf balsamroot is an important member of the community are summarized below.

Community or Ecosystem Dominant Species Fire Return Interval Range (years)
sagebrush steppe Artemisia tridentata/Pseudoroegneria spicata 20-70 [73]
basin big sagebrush Artemisia tridentata var. tridentata 12-43 [86]
mountain big sagebrush Artemisia tridentata var. vaseyana 15-40 [3,17,68]
Wyoming big sagebrush Artemisia tridentata var. wyomingensis 10-70 (40**) [110,128]
plains grasslands Bouteloua spp. < 35
blue grama-needle-and-thread grass-western wheatgrass Bouteloua gracilis-Hesperostipa comata-Pascopyrum smithii < 35 
cheatgrass Bromus tectorum < 10 [73]
curlleaf mountain-mahogany* Cercocarpus ledifolius 13-1000 [5,88]
mountain-mahogany-Gambel oak scrub Cercocarpus ledifolius-Quercus gambelii < 35 to < 100 
blackbrush Coleogyne ramosissima < 35 to < 100 
western juniper Juniperus occidentalis 20-70 
Rocky Mountain juniper Juniperus scopulorum < 35 
western larch Larix occidentalis 25-100 [2]
wheatgrass plains grasslands Pascopyrum smithii < 35 [73]
Engelmann spruce-subalpine fir Picea engelmannii-Abies lasiocarpa 35 to > 200 
blue spruce*  Picea pungens 35-200 [2]
pinyon-juniper Pinus-Juniperus spp. < 35 [73]
Rocky Mountain lodgepole pine* Pinus contorta var. latifolia 25-300+ [1,2,84]
Colorado pinyon Pinus edulis 10-400+ [27,29,43,73]
Jeffrey pine Pinus jeffreyi 5-30 
interior ponderosa pine* Pinus ponderosa var. scopulorum 2-30 [2,6,57]
quaking aspen (west of the Great Plains) Populus tremuloides 7-120 [2,32,66]
mountain grasslands Pseudoroegneria spicata 3-40 (10**) [1,2]
Rocky Mountain Douglas-fir* Pseudotsuga menziesii var. glauca 25-100 [2,3,4]
elm-ash-cottonwood Ulmus-Fraxinus-Populus spp. < 35 to 200 [23,112]
*fire return interval varies widely; trends in variation are noted in the species summary

Caudex/herbaceous root crown, growing points in soil
Secondary colonizer (on-site or off-site seed sources)


SPECIES: Balsamorhiza sagittata
Arrowleaf balsamroot is top-killed by fire. Pechanec and others [75] classified susceptibility of forbs to fire by 3 damage classifications at Dubois, Idaho. Arrowleaf balsamroot was classified as the most fire resistant, "undamaged." In Wyoming, arrowleaf balsamroot is classified as a desirable range plant that is "slightly damaged" by fire [92]. In a discussion of prescribed burning to control sagebrush and juniper in Utah, Ralphs and others [78] also classify arrowleaf balsamroot as a desirable range plant that is "slightly damaged" by fire. The Fire Management Plan for Craters of the Moon National Monument in Idaho describes arrowleaf balsamroot as "very fire resistant" [9].

Powell [76], in discussing fire effects on plants in the Malheur National Forest in the Blue Mountains of Oregon, gives arrowleaf balsamroot a "high" fire resistance rating. This rating is interpreted as a greater than 65% chance that 50% of the plants will survive or immediately re-establish after passage of a fire with an average flame length of 12 inches (30 cm).

In a prescribed burn near Elko, Nevada, in August of 1980, a single arrowleaf balsamroot plant was tagged prior to burning. It was killed by the fire. Surface temperatures at the plant reached 1200 to 1500 degrees Fahrenheit (649-816 oC). Soil temperatures reached peaks of 250 and 175 degrees Fahrenheit (121 and 79 oC) at 0.4 and 0.8 inches (1 and 2 cm) below the surface respectively. The authors felt this severe fire was the result of the burnout of adjacent woody sagebrush fuels [79].

Arrowleaf balsamroot sprouts from a caudex and does not spread by rootstocks. Any increase in number of plants must await seed production, so arrowleaf balsamroot increases slowly after burning [124]. In a 1978 study, Wright [123] lists arrowleaf balsamroot as a member of the forb community in climax ponderosa pine community and states these forbs would harmed by fire for no more than a year.

The Fire Management Plan for Craters of the Moon National Monument describes arrowleaf balsamroot's reproduction after fire as "infrequent" but states biomass production is enhanced. This increased biomass will remain high until grasses or shrubs dominate the site [9].

Bunting [16] assigns the following responses of arrowleaf balsamroot to varying fire intervals relative to current conditions in western juniper communities in the Owyee Mountains of southwestern Idaho:

Average fire recurrence in years





increase in abundance increase in abundance no change in abundance decrease in abundance

Young and Evans [126] studied population dynamics of herbaceous plants after a 1972 wildfire in a big sagebrush/Thurber needlegrass (Achnatherum thurberianum) community in Nevada. The site was typical of degraded rangelands in the Great Basin. They found herbaceous succession after wildfires was dominated by cheatgrass (Bromus tectorum) except for "...robust perennial forbs not preferred by grazing herbivores." Arrowleaf balsamroot was included in this group. Data are from 100 permanently marked plots on the Red Rock burn. The following table depicts density (number/m2) and frequency of arrowleaf balsamroot on the plots following the fire:

Time after burning 1 month 1 year 2 years 3 years 4 years
Density 0.10 0.10 0.17 0.20 0.31
Frequency -- 11 4 8 9

Kuntz [53] cataloged initial plant response to spring burning in a mountain big sagebrush/Idaho fescue habitat type in the Salmon National Forest in Idaho. For a "cool" intensity burn (characterized by incomplete removal of mountain big sagebrush), cover of arrowleaf balsamroot increased for the 1st two postburn years and returned to preburn levels the 3rd postburn year. For a "hot" intensity burn (characterized by complete removal of mountain big sagebrush), cover of arrowleaf balsamroot increased for 3 postburn years.

In south-central Oregon, Powell [76] assigns a rating of "high" to arrowleaf balsamroot's postfire response. This means a population of arrowleaf balsamroot will regain its preburn frequency or cover in 5 years or less. He states plant densities are often greater than preburn densities by the 2nd growing season after burning. After trees re-establish and shading increases, arrowleaf balsamroot populations can be expected to decline dramatically.

Merrill and others [67] compared burned and unburned plots after a 1973 wildfire on White Cap Creek in northern Idaho. The site was a xeric ponderosa pine stand and adjacent montane grassland. They found arrowleaf balsamroot production was consistently higher each year for 3 years after the burn, reaching a peak in postfire year 2. Differences, however, were never great enough to be significant. Yields of arrowleaf balsamroot for 4 years postburn averaged 33 g/m2 on burned plots and 21 g/m2 on unburned plots 

Mean percent canopy coverage and frequency of arrowleaf balsamroot in 20 microplots on 7 burned and 7 unburned plots in 1974 (1st postburn growing season) and 1976 were:

1974 1975 1976 1977 treatment means
burned unburned burned unburned burned unburned burned unburned burned unburned
30 29 30 22 41 14 29 21 33 21

Heights of arrowleaf balsamroot on 7 burned plots averaged 114 to 122 % on unburned plots.

The authors measured mean concentration of 9 minerals in arrowleaf balsamroot from burned and unburned sites for 3 postfire years. Their findings for burned sites relative to unburned sites for 3 postfire years are presented below. The symbol "+" indicates the concentration is more than unburned vegetation, while the symbol "-"indicates a lesser concentration. The only significant difference between burned and unburned vegetation was in 1974 for manganese.

Mineral 1974 1975 1976
nitrogen (%) - - +
potassium (%) + + +
calcium (%) + - -
phosphorus (%) - + -
magnesium(%) - - -
manganese (ppm) + -
copper (ppm) - + +
zinc (ppm) + + -
sodium (ppm) + - +

On ponderosa pine and Douglas-fir communities in the Blue Mountains of northeastern Oregon, arrowleaf balsamroot cover and frequency were higher on sites that had been thinned and burned under prescription than on control sites or sites that were only thinned or burned. Arrowleaf balsamroot was determined to be an indicator species for thinned sites (P0.05). Posttreatment measures were taken 6 years after thinning and 4 years after prescribed burning. For further information on the effect of thinning and prescribed burn treatments to arrowleaf balsamroot and 48 other species, see the Research Project Summary of Youngblood and others' [129] study.

For further information on arrowleaf balsamroot response to fire, see Fire Case Studies. The following Research Project Summaries also provide information on prescribed fire and postfire responses of plant species, including arrowleaf balsamroot, that was not available when this species review was originally written.

Arrowleaf balsamroot is a common component in sagebrush communities. Wright and others [124] state where arrowleaf balsamroot and lupine (Lupinus spp.) make up a large component of herbaceous yield in threetip sagebrush communities, fall burning would help maintain the forb component. They classify arrowleaf balsamroot as a cold desert forb and list it as "undamaged" by fall burning. In a Nevada sagebrush-bunchgrass community, where moisture was "adequate" arrowleaf balsamroot responded " well" to spring burning. Where the grass and forb understory was depleted, cheatgrass became the dominant grass [48].


SPECIES: Balsamorhiza sagittata
McWilliams, Jack, compiler. 2002. Arrowleaf balsamroot response to spring and fall burning for wildlife habitat improvement in western Montana. In: Balsamorhiza sagittata. In: Fire Effects Information System, [Online]. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station, Fire Sciences Laboratory (Producer). Available: [ ].

Noste, Nonan V. 1982. Vegetation response to spring and fall burning for wildlife habitat improvement. In: Baumgartner, David M., compiler. Site preparation and fuels management on steep terrain: Proceedings of a symposium; 1982 February 15-17; Spokane, WA. Pullman, WA: Washington State University, Cooperative Extension: 125-132. [72].

Both spring and fall burns were conducted. Severity classifications were not given, but see fire description below for relative severities of both fires. The fall of 1979 was drier than normal producing a "severe" treatment.

The study was conducted in the O'Keefe Creek area, 10 miles (16 km) north of Missoula, Montana.

This study was conducted in a Douglas-fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii)/ninebark (Physocarpus malvaceus) habitat type. Wildfire burned the O'Keefe Creek area in 1945, setting succession back to a seral shrub community. During the subsequent longer than normal period without fire, shrub species important for wildlife browse declined. Plants deteriorated in vigor and nutrient levels were so low animals did not use them. The target species of the burn was snowbrush ceanothus (Ceanothus velutinus). Arrowleaf balsamroot (Balsamorhiza sagittata) was one of several forb species monitored.

The phenological state of arrowleaf balsamroot during the study is not discussed. However, information reported in Seasonal Development provides some insight into the probable stage of development during the prescribed burns reported in this study. During the spring arrowleaf balsamroot was probably beginning growth, but not yet flowering. In the fall, arrowleaf balsamroot was probably dormant.

The site is on a generally southeast aspect below 4,921 feet (1,500 m). Slope averages 30% with a maximum of 50%.

Four transects were placed on each burn to inventory fuels and vegetation and to characterize the fire. Pre- and postfire measurements were taken on the same plots. Downed woody fuels were inventoried on a 164-foot-long (50 m) transect. The same baseline was used to establish contiguous blocks and nested plots for sampling vegetation.

Fuel loadings for spring and fall burns were:

Size classes (inches)
Transect number 0-1/4 1/4-1 1-3 3+ S1 3+ R2
  Fuel loading (tons/acre)
  Spring burn
S1-1 0.53 1.58 0.37 0 0.75
S1-2 -- -- -- -- --
S1-3 0.76 1.81 0.13 0 0.46
S1-4 0.72 2.34 0.38 0 15.07
  Fall burn
F1-5 0.61 1.81 0.24 16.06 22.15
F1-6 1.21 1.95 0.25 2.39 9.05
F1-7 0.57 0.83 0.12 0 11.02
F1-8 1.14 2.00 0.13 5.17 0.22
1 = sound; 2 = rotten

Fine fuel moisture contents in percents:

Transect dead live
Spring burn
S1-2 upper slope 8 67
S1-3 mid-slope 9 156
S1-1 lower slope 12 149
Fall burn
F1-4 upper slope 6 55
F1-2 mid-slope 8 62
F1-1 lower slope 8 53

The fall fire was set on 3 October, 1979, and burned 49.4 acres (20 ha). The spring fire was set 16 April, 1980, and 124 acres (50 ha) were burned. Fire behavior was measured by observing flame length and rate of spread on 3 transects in each burn. 

Environmental conditions for the burns:

Transect Dry bulb temperature (oF) Relative humidity (%) Wind velocity (mi/hr)
spring fire
S1-2 upper slope 65 36 5/gusts to 7
S1-3 mid-slope 57 30 6/gusts to 10
S1-1 lower slope 62 37 6/gusts to 8
fall fire
F1-4 upper slope 59 30 6/gusts to 8
F1-2 mid-slope 69 23 8
F1-1 lower slope 70 18 7/gusts to 12

Fire descriptions:

Transect Rate of spread (meters/hour) Flame length (feet)
spring fire
S1-2 upper slope 221 3
S1-3 mid-slope 201 3
S1-1 lower slope 362 3
fall fire
F1-4 upper slope 1126 10
F1-2 mid-slope 1026 9
F1-1 lower slope 805 8

Average pre- and postburn volume in feet3/acre on the O'Keefe Creek burn for arrowleaf balsamroot was:

Spring burn Fall burn
1979 (preburn) 1980 (postburn) 1981 (postburn) 1979 (preburn) 1980 (postburn) 1981 (postburn)
89 89 89 0 342 283

Herbaceous cover, including arrowleaf balsamroot, increased more rapidly on the fall burn than the spring burn. On the spring burn, shrub cover exceeded herb cover the 1st postfire growing season. On the fall burn, shrub cover didn't exceed herb coverage until the 2nd postfire growing season. Several more species invaded the fall burn than the spring burn.


SPECIES: Balsamorhiza sagittata
Arrowleaf balsamroot begins growth early and is utilized on spring ranges. It is rated as fair forage for all classes of wildlife. Flowers are especially palatable. Game animals and domestic sheep may eat the seedheads before seed ripens. Deer and elk both use leaves and flowers before plants turn dry [93].

Domestic sheep utilize arrowleaf balsamroot, especially in the spring. In a study at the U. S. Sheep Experimental Station in Idaho, Mueggler [70] found herbage dry weight of arrowleaf balsamroot produced in a paddock and grazed by domestic sheep in both fall and spring to be less than 1% of that produced in a paddock grazed only in fall. Laycock [58], in a separate experiment at the U. S. Sheep Experimental Station, found "heavy" spring grazing by domestic sheep caused an 85% decrease in production of arrowleaf balsamroot.

In a 1957 study in the Bridger Mountains of Montana, Wilkins [121] found Rocky Mountain mule deer utilized arrowleaf balsamroot year-round and that arrowleaf balsamroot was 1 of the "most important" forbs in all seasons. The following table shows seasonal use:

  Observed instances of use (%) Number of rumen samples Percent volume of rumen samples Percent weight of rumen samples
Summer 11 6 9 8
Fall -- 6 9 8
Winter 18 11 12 11
Spring -- 4 10 10

A separate study in Montana found arrowleaf balsamroot "a highly preferred deer forage [56]." In a 1956 study of Rocky Mountain mule deer in the Great Basin of California, Leach [59] found that arrowleaf balsamroot was utilized in winter months.

In a 1973 literature review, Kufeld and others [52] found arrowleaf balsamroot to be of "moderate" importance year-round as food used by Rocky Mountain mule deer. They list it as 1 of the most frequent forbs in Rocky Mountain mule deer diets.

Food habits of mule deer were quantified by Burrell [18] in a study in Entiat, Washington, in relation to the abundance of antelope bitterbrush (Purshia tridentata) on critical winter range. Utilization of arrowleaf balsamroot was different on the 3 sites studied, but remained relatively steady within each site throughout the winter.

A study in British Columbia determined arrowleaf balsamroot commonly occurs in the diet of California bighorn sheep. Leaf length, basal diameter, culm length, and culm numbers appear to be unaffected by grazing by bighorn sheep [120]. In an Idaho study in the River of No Return Wilderness Area, arrowleaf balsamroot made up 10% of the June-August diet of Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep on Big Creek [24].

Arrowleaf balsamroot is utilized in spring by pronghorns in California [104] and Wyoming [93].

Markum [61] conducted a study of elk ecology in western Montana and found arrowleaf balsamroot was both utilized and preferred by elk during June, July, and August. Kufeld [51] did a literature review of foods used by Rocky Mountain elk and found arrowleaf balsamroot to be a "valuable" food in winter and spring, and was "least valuable" in summer.

Columbia ground squirrels utilize the leaves of arrowroot balsamroot in central Idaho subalpine forest openings [55]. In a study of flammulated owl habitat in the Bitterroot Valley of Montana, Wright [125] found the owls to be positively associated with dry-site indicator species such as arrowleaf balsamroot.

Palatability/nutritional value: Arrowleaf balsamroot is an important forage plant; it is especially valuable on spring ranges. It is usually of fair palatability for all classes of livestock. In some localities both cattle and domestic sheep graze it closely even where other palatable forage is abundant. Flowers are especially palatable, but all portions of the plant except for the coarser stalks are eaten. Horses like arrowleaf balsamroot and are especially fond of the flowers. Plants are eaten throughout the grazing season but are usually more palatable during spring and early summer than later when tough and dry. Dry leafage is eaten "lightly" by horses, cattle,  domestic sheep, and game animals especially in fall when moistened by early rains and snow [108].

Arrowleaf balsamroot contains nearly 30% protein when immature and 10% protein when mature [82]. Elliott and Flinders [24] reported monthly percent nutrient and moisture content of arrowleaf balsamroot at Rush Point, River of No Return Wilderness in Idaho. Figures represent the average and standard deviation for each month given.

Month Crude fiber Crude protein Ca P Ca:P Moisture
June 29 2.1 20 3.2 2.45 1.15 0.26 0.06 9.4:1 81 3
July 31 6.4 14 1.0 1.57 0.83 0.21 0.11 7.5:1 63 3
August 29 3.4 10 1.8 1.48 0.76 0.19 0.03 7.8:1 52 2

Winter nutritive value of arrowleaf balsamroot is: crude protein, 3.6% and P, 0.06% [117].

Merrill and others [67] found arrowleaf balsamroot to have mineral concentrations of greater than 2.0% nitrogen, 4.0% potassium, and 1.3% calcium. For a discussion of how fire affected these and other mineral concentrations see Discussion and Qualification of Plant Response.

McClean and Marchand [65] classify arrowleaf balsamroot's palatability as fair in a ponderosa pine habitat type in southern British Columbia. They rate it as an "increaser." It is "occasional" on excellent and good ranges, "common" on fair ranges and "common to abundant" on poor ranges.

Cover value: A study of Columbian sharp-tailed grouse in western Idaho showed a significantly (P<0.05) higher mean canopy coverage of arrowleaf balsamroot at flush sites than at random sites [85]. A similar study, in west-central Idaho, found Columbian sharp-tailed grouse selected areas with greater canopy coverage and density of arrowleaf balsamroot than random sites [62].

Klebenow [47] studied sage-grouse nesting and brooding habitat in Idaho and determined arrowleaf balsamroot was found more frequently on nesting sites than non-nesting sites, though the difference was not significant. He also found arrowleaf balsamroot was "associated" with broods. He speculated that arrowleaf balsamroot is an indicator that site conditions are suitable for other species of plants that attract sage-grouse.

Arrowleaf balsamroot has been utilized in seeding mixtures for restoration, recovery of disturbed sites, and improving forage production. Kitchen and Monsen [46] found seed dormancy of arrowleaf balsamroot prevents summer or fall germination. Fall seeding allows for full operation of dormancy breaking processes  and reduces risk of seed predation associated with summer dispersal. Since optimum temperatures for germination are essentially optimum temperatures for stratification, stratification of arrowleaf balsamroot seeds before sowing in the field or nursery may cause emerging radicles to be damaged (see Germination).

Arrowleaf balsamroot has been used as part of a seed mix for game range restoration in Utah. It has a rated "high" potential for restoration of oil shale, coal-mined lands, and roadside and critical site stabilization and beautification. It has medium potential for revegetation of surface disturbed lands in the Intermountain Region [113].  

Also in Utah, Stevens and Davis [98] rate arrowleaf balsamroot as a species "with potential" for seeding into Gambel oak communities to improve forage production. The specific types of Gambel oak communities are: north and east exposures; sunny, dry exposures; and "open" Gambel oak-Saskatoon serviceberry (Amelanchier alnifolia) sites.

Stanton [93] includes seeds of arrowleaf balsamroot in seed mixture for big sagebrush types in a table taken from Plummer and others, 1968. He recommends 0.25 to 0.5 pound of seed per acre (0.6-1.2 kg/ha) when using a drill and 0.5 to 1 pound per acre (1.2-2.4 kg/ha) when broadcasting seed as part of a seed mixture. Soil should be well drained and "fairly" dry in areas with at least 9 inches (225 mm) of precipitation. Kitchen [45] recommends 1.0 to 4.0 pound of seed per acre (1.1-4.5 kg/ha) when used as part of a "diverse" seed mix.

In an experiment rating species for seeding arid rangeland in southern Idaho, arrowleaf balsamroot establishment was rated as "very poor" with a 65% failure rate [40]. Shaw and Monsen [89] assign a low rating to arrowleaf balsamroot's soil stabilization qualities. Better stands develop by planting arrowleaf balsamroot in alternate rows with quicker developing or more competitive species [113].

In a laboratory study of "commonly planted" seeds used in reseeding projects, arrowleaf balsamroot seeds were rated 3rd of 18 in preference tests with deer mice. This may account for predation of seeds in areas where deer mice are common [25]. Shaw and Monsen [89] state insect predation of arrowleaf balsamroot seed is common.

In 1996, 625 pounds (284 kg) of arrowleaf balsamroot seed were sold by 5 Utah companies [97]. A "low" percent of establishment success can be expected even when proper transplanting techniques are followed when using bareroot and wilding stock of arrowleaf balsamroot [96].

Stanton [93] recommends arrowleaf balsamroot seeds be cleaned with a macerator-chopper and fan. He designates 95% as an acceptable purity level with 5 years as a limit on storage. With 5 years storage there should be a germination level of 36-52%.

Arrowleaf balsamroot has been traditionally been used by First Nation peoples for many uses including food and medicine. Native Americans in Washington State used the "sprouts" of arrowleaf balsamroot in their diet. These shoots are high in ascorbic acid (13.75 mg/g) [71]. Native Canadians of British Columbia also ate the sprouts along with the starchy roots. In addition, the plant was used to treat stomachache, headache, colds, fever, sore throat, toothache, wounds, insect bites, and swellings [63].

Houston and others [39] state Native Americans in Wyoming ate the young stalks, roots and seeds of arrowleaf balsamroot. Members of the Salish, Kootenai, and Nez Perce tribes peeled arrowleaf balsamroot's young, immature flower stems and ate the tender inner portion raw, like celery. The Nez Perce ate the seeds. Salish used the large, coarse leaves as a poultice for burns and drank tea brewed from the roots for tuberculosis, whooping cough, increased urine, and as a cathartic. Members of the Kootenai tribe boiled the roots and applied the infusion as a poultice for wounds, cuts, and bruises [34].

The Cheyenne tribe boiled roots, stems, and leaves and drank the decoction for stomach pains and headaches. They also steamed the plant and inhaled the vapors for the same purposes [103].

Herbicides: There are no accounts in the literature of herbicides being used specifically on arrowleaf balsamroot. However, reaction of arrowleaf balsamroot to herbicides when they were used on other plants has been observed. In eastern Idaho, forbs may account for as much as 50% of herbaceous production. Use of herbicides in this area to manage sagebrush-grass communities is likely to reduce forbs, including arrowleaf balsamroot, which is typically 1 of the most abundant forbs [124]. Application of 2,4-D to big sagebrush in Clark County, Idaho, resulted in "heavy" damage to arrowleaf balsamroot [12].

Rice and Toney [81] conducted experiments with picloram and a mixture of clopyralid and 2,4-D on spotted knapweed (Centaurea stoebe ssp. micranthos) in Montana, and found arrowleaf balsamroot showed no response, positive or negative, to treatments applied. Carpenter [19], also in Montana, applied picloram and picloram + clopyralid to spotted knapweed. Arrowleaf balsamroot leaves appeared withered shortly after spraying on treatments containing picloram, but plants were present and vigorous on all treatments 12 months after spraying.

Grazing: When grazing domestic sheep in sagebrush with good understory of perennial grasses and "weeds," it is recommended to leave 50% of total growth of arrowleaf balsamroot at the end of the spring grazing season and 40% at the end of the fall season [74].

Areas that have been seeded with arrowleaf balsamroot should not be grazed for at least 2 growing seasons following seeding [100].

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