Index of Species Information

SPECIES:  Salsola kali


SPECIES: Salsola kali
AUTHORSHIP AND CITATION : Howard, Janet L. 1992. Salsola kali. In: Fire Effects Information System, [Online]. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station, Fire Sciences Laboratory (Producer). Available: [].

ABBREVIATION : SALKAL SYNONYMS : Salsola australis R. Br. [21,57] Salsola iberica Sennen & Pau [28,58] Salsola pestifer A. Nels [65] Salsola tragus L. [65] SCS PLANT CODE : SAKA SAKAT COMMON NAMES : Russian-thistle tumbleweed TAXONOMY : Several specific epithets for Russian-thistle are used in current literature. Salsola kali L. is most widely used [7,37,39,43,47,50], and will be used in this write-up. There are three varieties of S. kali in North America, with varietal differences based upon degree of pubescence of stems [50] and size of leaves and fruits [53]. Recognized varieties are as follows [25,36,50]: S. k. var. caroliniana (Walter) Nutt. S. k. var. tenuifolia G. F. Meyer S. k. var. kali S. kali hybridizes with S. paulsenii (barbwire Russian-thistle) [9], and may hybridize with S. collina (no common name in current use) [28]. LIFE FORM : Forb FEDERAL LEGAL STATUS : No special status OTHER STATUS : NO-ENTRY


SPECIES: Salsola kali
GENERAL DISTRIBUTION : Native to Eurasia, Russian-thistle is distributed throughout most arid and semiarid regions of the world. In North America Russian thistle occurs from British Columbia east to Labrador and south through the conterminous United States to northern Mexico [18,34]. It is most common in central and western regions of Canada and the United States, and along the Atlantic and Gulf coasts. Limited southern and eastern inland populations occur along waste areas and railroad tracks [61]. Russian-thistle is adventitious in Hawaii [66]. ECOSYSTEMS : FRES10 White - red - jack pine FRES11 Spruce - fir FRES12 Longleaf - slash pine FRES13 Loblolly - shortleaf pine FRES14 Oak - pine FRES15 Oak - hickory FRES16 Oak - gum - cypress FRES17 Elm - ash - cottonwood FRES18 Maple - beech - birch FRES19 Aspen - birch FRES20 Douglas-fir FRES21 Ponderosa pine FRES22 Western white pine FRES23 Fir - spruce FRES24 Hemlock - Sitka spruce FRES25 Larch FRES26 Lodgepole pine FRES27 Redwood FRES28 Western hardwoods FRES29 Sagebrush FRES30 Desert shrub FRES31 Shinnery FRES32 Texas savanna FRES33 Southwestern shrubsteppe FRES34 Chaparral - mountain shrub FRES35 Pinyon - juniper FRES36 Mountain grasslands FRES37 Mountain meadows FRES38 Plains grasslands FRES39 Prairie FRES40 Desert grasslands FRES42 Annual grasslands FRES44 Alpine STATES : AK AZ AR CA CO CT DE FL GA HI ID IL IN IA KS KY LA ME MD MA MI MN MS MO MT NE NV NJ NM NY NC ND OH OK OR PA RI SC SD TN TX UT VT VA WA WV WI WY AB BC LB MB NF ON PQ SK MEXICO BLM PHYSIOGRAPHIC REGIONS : 1 Northern Pacific Border 2 Cascade Mountains 3 Southern Pacific Border 4 Sierra Mountains 5 Columbia Plateau 6 Upper Basin and Range 7 Lower Basin and Range 8 Northern Rocky Mountains 9 Middle Rocky Mountains 10 Wyoming Basin 11 Southern Rocky Mountains 12 Colorado Plateau 13 Rocky Mountain Piedmont 14 Great Plains 15 Black Hills Uplift 16 Upper Missouri Basin and Broken Lands KUCHLER PLANT ASSOCIATIONS : Common in many Kuchler Plant Associations SAF COVER TYPES : Common in many SAF Cover Types SRM (RANGELAND) COVER TYPES : NO-ENTRY HABITAT TYPES AND PLANT COMMUNITIES : Russian-thistle occurs in many communities. It is most common along seabeaches and in disturbed grassland and desert communities, with the largest populations occurring in semiarid regions [50,61]. Pure stands occur in southern Nevada between elevations of 4,000 and 6,000 feet (1,219-1829 m) [9]. A published classification listing Russian-thistle as dominant is: Valley grassland [32] Russian-thistle associates are too numerous to list due to its widespread distribution.


SPECIES: Salsola kali
IMPORTANCE TO LIVESTOCK AND WILDLIFE : Cattle and sheep eat Russian-thistle, and it is a minor component (less than 10%) in bison, mule deer, and elk diets [18,45,51,53]. It is an important prairie dog food [13], and pronghorn show high preference for the summer growth in years of high precipitation [8]. Russian-thistle seeds are eaten by at least eight species of granivorous birds, including scaled and Gambel's quail [5,18,20]. Small mammals also consume the seeds [18]. PALATABILITY : Russian-thistle is preferred by prairie dogs [13]. It is palatable to sheep and cattle from early spring until flowering, at which time sharp spines form, and again during winter when spines are softened by moisture [53]. Foliage is palatable to pronghorn in summer and fall, and is palatable year-round in wet years. Pronghorn find it low in palatability in dry years and in spring [8]. The palatability of Russian-thistle for livestock and wildlife species is rated as follows [19]: CO MT ND UT WY Cattle fair fair fair fair fair Sheep fair good good good fair Horses fair poor fair poor fair Pronghorn ---- ---- ---- poor poor Elk ---- ---- ---- good good Mule deer ---- ---- ---- good good White-tailed deer ---- ---- ---- ---- good Small mammals ---- ---- ---- fair good Small nongame birds ---- ---- ---- fair fair Upland game birds ---- ---- ---- fair good Waterfowl ---- ---- ---- poor poor NUTRITIONAL VALUE : The nutritional value of Russian-thistle varies by season. In spring Russian-thistle provides fair nutrition for livestock and wildlife. The nutritional value of fresh, immature Russian-thistle leaves and stems was as follows [44]: Composition (%) Digestible Protein (%) ash 12.0 cattle 8.5 crude fiber 12.4 goats 8.6 protein 11.5 horses 8.3 rabbits 8.1 The nutritional value of winter forage, after the plant has dried, is higher. It is a good source of vitamin A and phosphorus. Dry Russian-thistle from a western Utah rangeland had the following nutiritional value for sheep [15]: digestible protein (%) 12.4 digestible energy (cal/lb) 997 ash (%) 22.8 calcium (%) 2.47 phosphorus (%) 0.22 carotene (mg/lb) 4.1 Russian-thistle contains small amounts of oxalate that are probably not harmful to livestock [12]. Weanling mice showed favorable growth responses when fed a diet of Russian-thistle seed meal. The nutritional value of Russian thistle seed meal from Saskatchewan, Canada was as follows [16]: protein (%) 49.9 ash (%) 7.4 fiber (%) 10.4 oxalate (%) 2.2 COVER VALUE : Russian-thistle provides hiding cover for small mammals, songbirds, upland game birds, and waterfowl [19]. Seven percent of sage grouse in a southeastern Idaho big sagebrush (Artemisia tridentata) community used Russian-thistle for nesting cover [35]. The degree to which Russian-thistle provides environmental protection to wildlife has been rated as follows [19]: MT ND UT WY Pronghorn ---- good poor poor Elk ---- ---- poor poor Mule deer ---- good poor poor White-tailed deer ---- good ---- poor Small mammals fair ---- fair fair Small nongame birds fair ---- fair fair Upland game birds ---- good fair fair Waterfowl good ---- poor poor VALUE FOR REHABILITATION OF DISTURBED SITES : Russian-thistle is beneficial when rehabilitating disturbed sites. It is frequently an unwanted weed on such sites, but disturbed sites often recover more quickly when Russian-thistle is left on-site because its presence accelerates the rate of revegetation [2,18, 29]. If topsoil remains on the site, Russian-thistle roots are readily invaded by mychorrhizal fungi harbored in the soil [4]. Russian-thistle does not form mychorrhizal associations, and fungal invasion results in the death of the infected root. The fungi consequently invade other Russian-thistle roots. Russian-thistle populations decline, but mycorrizal fungus populations increase and subsequently invade the mycorrhizal association-forming species which comprise the next stage of plant succession. These species usually flourish as a consequence of increased mychorrhizal fungus populations [2]. Dead Russian-thistle plants provide microshading for other establishing plant species [29]. If topsoil is gone, however, Russian-thistle can dominate disturbed sites for up to 10 years. Such sites benefit more from the addition of topsoil than the removal of Russian-thistle [3]. Dry Russian-thistle foliage has been used as an inexpensive mulch on replanted coal mine spoils in Arizona [17]. OTHER USES AND VALUES : Agricultural: Russian-thistle is sometimes harvested for hay and silage. Russian-thistle hay is credited with saving the beef cattle industry in Canada and the United States during the Dust Bowl era, when conventional hay crops failed and no other feed was available for starving animals [18,61]. Russian-thistle is sometimes used for Christmas decoration [7]. OTHER MANAGEMENT CONSIDERATIONS : Range: Lambs entering winter ranges for the first time sometimes develop mouth ulcerations from eating dry Russian-thistle. The ulcerations usually persist for 2 to 3 weeks. Additionally, rain- or snow-softened Russian-thistle often has a laxative effect upon livestock, which may harm already weakened animals [15,53]. Livestock ranges that have deteriorated from drought or overgrazing are frequently invaded and dominated by Russian-thistle [41,52]. Agricultural: Russian-thistle competes with crop plants for space, water, and nutrients [55]. In Washington, Russian-thistle ranked seventh in importance when compared to other crop weeds based upon hectares infested [60]. Russian-thistle is the primary host for the beet leafhopper (Circulifera tenellus) that vectors the curly-top virus of sugar beets, tomatoes, and curcubits (Cucurbita spp.) [18,53]. Russian-thistle shows promise as a hay crop in semiarid regions. When irrigated and fertilized, Russian-thistle grown on a New Mexican site produced 73 percent as much total dry weight matter per annum per hectacre as alfalfa, and contained 65 percent as much protein, while requiring only half as much water [30]. Other: Russian-thistle is often considered a troublesome weed because it obstructs roadways and stream channels, buries fence lines, and causes fire hazards [55]. Control: Burrill and others [14] reported that either 2,4-D or bromoxynil used in combination with dicamba was 80 to 94 percent effective in controlling Russian-thistle, and metribuzin used in combination with chlorsulfuron gave 95 to 100 percent control. Young and Whitesides [60] reported only 12 percent control of Russian-thistle with 2,4-D. Insects from the genera Celeophora, Microlarinus, and Trichosirocalus are being tested as biological contol agents of Russian-thistle. Insect populations of these genera have established in California, but preliminary results suggest that of the three genera, only Trichosirocalus is able to establish in cold climates. Trichosirocalus horridis has been successfully introduced in Canada for Russian-thistle control [40]. To date, there are no data regarding the effectiveness of these insects as contol agents.


SPECIES: Salsola kali
GENERAL BOTANICAL CHARACTERISTICS : Russian-thistle is an exotic, annual, erect, xerohalophytic forb [2,6,34]. It is highly branched and rounded in form, growing from 1 to 3 feet (0.3-1 m) in height and from 1 to 5 feet (0.3-1.5 m) in diameter. The awl-shaped, spiny-tipped leaves bear small, inconspicuous flowers in the leaf axils. The small, winged seed, retained in the leaf axils until after plant death, contains no endosperm tissue, but is instead comprised of a spirally-coiled, complete embryo [34] already containing some chlorophyll [56]. The root system consists of a taproot, reaching 0.3 foot (1 m) or more in depth, and extensive lateral roots. Under crowded conditions, roots are shallow [1]. RAUNKIAER LIFE FORM : Therophyte REGENERATION PROCESSES : Russian-thistle is a highly effective reproducer. After seeds mature in late fall the plant stem separates from the root [61]. The plant is then blown by wind. Seeds, held in the leaf axils, fall to the ground as the plant tumbles [18]. Further dispersal is accomplished when wind scatters the winged seeds. The seed wings may aid in seed germination by absorbing soil moisture. One plant typically produces about 250,000 seeds, which remain viable for less than a year [61]. Fresh seed will germinate at a very limited range of alternating day/night seedbed temperatures: 68/41 degrees Fahrenheit (20/5 deg C) [62]. Over winter, temperature restrictions disappear. In spring, Russian thistle seeds will germinate at virtually any conceivable seedbed temperature, including alternating day/night temperatures of 122/29 degrees Fahrenheit (50/-2 deg C) [63]. In tests conducted in a big sagebrush community in Nevada, Evans and Young [23] noted the following germination percentages at various nighttime minimum temperatures: Temperature (deg C) Germination (%) -3 0 0 26 3 43 5 56 7 88 9 78 10 88 15 78 20 66 25 29 At optimum temperatures (44 to 50 degrees Fahrenheit [7-10 deg C]), germination is accomplished within minutes [55]. This extremely short germination time aids in establishment in desert environments. Germination is epigeal or hypogeal [63]. The spirally-coiled embryo unwinds and pushes the root into the soil. Embryos do not survive if they germinate on compacted soil, or at a soil depth of greater then 5 inches (13 cm) [55]. Russian-thistle seedlings are poor competitors, and do not establish well in crowded communities [61]. SITE CHARACTERISTICS : Russian-thistle grows in disturbed or unoccupied sites at elevations from below sea level (in Death Valley, California) to 8,550 feet (2,600 m) [61]. It grows in any type of well-drained, uncompacted soil with a sunny exposure [55,61]. It is most frequent, however, in alkaline or saline soils due to reduced competition. Russian-thistle cannot tolerate saturated soil for extended periods of time [61]. SUCCESSIONAL STATUS : Obligate Intitial Community Species Russian-thistle is a shade-intolerant initial colonizer in primary and secondary succession. It colonizes barren desert areas that cannot support other flora [61], and invades many different disturbed plant communities [9]. In disturbed big sagebrush communities, Russian-thistle dominates for the first 2 years. After this time plants become overcrowded and stunted [49] and are often replaced by mustards (Descurainia and Sisymbrium spp.) [46]. SEASONAL DEVELOPMENT : The following seasonal development has been reported for Russian-thistle: germinates: late April - August [62] flowers: June - August [31,34,61] seeds mature: August - November [42,61] plant dies: first fall frost [10,31] seeds disseminate: late fall [10,61]


SPECIES: Salsola kali
FIRE ECOLOGY OR ADAPTATIONS : Fire ecology: Russian-thistle aids in spreading fire. It burns easily because the stems are spaced in an arrangement that allows for maximum air circulation [61]. Also, dead plants contribute to fuel load by retaining their original shape for some time before decomposing [23]. The rolling action of the plant spreads prairie wildfire quickly. Fire adaptations: Russian-thistle colonizes a burn when off-site, abscised plants blow across it, spreading seed [61]. FIRE REGIMES : Find fire regime information for the plant communities in which this species may occur by entering the species name in the FEIS home page under "Find Fire Regimes". POSTFIRE REGENERATION STRATEGY : Initial-offsite colonizer (off-site, initial community) Secondary colonizer - off-site seed


SPECIES: Salsola kali
IMMEDIATE FIRE EFFECT ON PLANT : The immediate effects of fire upon Russian-thistle were not found in the literature. Fire presumably kills Russian-thistle and kills at least some of the seed retained in leaf axils. DISCUSSION AND QUALIFICATION OF FIRE EFFECT : NO-ENTRY PLANT RESPONSE TO FIRE : Russian-thistle colonizes a burn site within 1 to 3 years. It dominated a big sagebrush community in Idaho at postfire year 2, contributing 58 percent of the total community biomass [26]. On the Mesa Verde Plateau of Colorado, it codominated a burned area with Bigelow aster (Machaeranthera bigelovii) at postfire year 3 [22]. Once dominant, Russian-thistle retains dominance for an average of 1 more year. At postfire year 3 or 4, populations decline until further disturbance [61]. DISCUSSION AND QUALIFICATION OF PLANT RESPONSE : NO-ENTRY FIRE MANAGEMENT CONSIDERATIONS : The tendency of dead plants to aggregate against fencelines and buildings creates a fire hazard. Tumbling, ignited plants can spread fire, and may bounce across fire lines [61]. Prescribed burning will not control Russian-thistle, since it colonizes from off-site and thrives in disturbed communities.


SPECIES: Salsola kali
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