SPECIES: Ceanothus sanguineus

Ceanothus sanguineus: INTRODUCTORY


SPECIES: Ceanothus sanguineus
Johnson, Kathleen A. 2000. Ceanothus sanguineus. In: Fire Effects Information System, [Online]. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station, Fire Sciences Laboratory (Producer). Available: http://www.fs.fed.us/database/feis/ [].


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redstem ceanothus

The currently accepted scientific name of redstem ceanothus is Ceanothus sanguineus Pursh. (Rhamnaceae) [43,44,51,60,110].


No special status

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SPECIES: Ceanothus sanguineus
Redstem ceanothus occurs from the Siskiyou Mountains of northern California to southern British Columbia, including Vancouver Island, and extends eastward in montane sites to western Montana [43,44]. It also occurs in northern Michigan [110].

FRES20 Douglas-fir
FRES21 Ponderosa pine
FRES22 Western white pine
FRES23 Fir-spruce
FRES24 Hemlock-Sitka spruce



1 Northern Pacific Border
2 Cascade Mountains
4 Sierra Mountains
5 Columbia Plateau
8 Northern Rocky Mountains

K001 Spruce-cedar-hemlock forest
K002 Cedar-hemlock-Douglas-fir forest
K004 Fir-hemlock forest
K005 Mixed conifer 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
K020 Spruce-fir-Douglas-fir forest

205 Mountain hemlock
206 Engelmann spruce-subalpine fir
210 Interior Douglas-fir
211 White fir
212 Western larch
213 Grand fir
215 Western white pine
224 Western hemlock
225 Western hemlock-Sitka spruce
227 Western redcedar-western hemlock
228 Western redcedar
229 Pacific Douglas-fir
230 Douglas-fir-western hemlock
237 Interior ponderosa pine
243 Sierra Nevada mixed conifer
244 Pacific ponderosa pine-Douglas-fir
245 Pacific ponderosa pine
247 Jeffrey pine
256 California mixed subalpine

109 Ponderosa pine shrubland
409 Tall forb

Redstem ceanothus is a prominent component of seral brushfields in western hemlock (Tsuga heterophylla), grand fir (Abies grandis), western redcedar (Thuja plicata), Douglas-fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii), and mixed conifer communities of the Northwest [26]. In both the Cascade Range and the Rocky Mountains it is found primarily in the ponderosa pine (Pinus ponderosa) zone and in parts of the mixed conifer and western hemlock zones [16].

Idaho and Montana: Common brushfield associates of redstem ceanothus in Douglas-fir forests include Rocky Mountain maple (Acer glabrum), Saskatoon serviceberry (Amelanchier alnifolia), ninebark (Physocarpus malvaceus), oceanspray (Holodiscus discolor), Scouler willow (Salix scouleriana), pachistima (Pachistima myrsinites), common snowberry (Symphoricarpos albus), and snowbrush ceanothus (Ceanothus velutinus) [4,15].

Seral shrubs occurring with redstem ceanothus in western redcedar forests of northern Idaho include common snowberry, trailing blackberry (Rubus ursinus), thimbleberry (R. parviflorus), white spirea (Spiraea betulifolia), creeping snowberry (Symphoricarpos mollis), and bitter cherry (Prunus emarginata) [78]. Common brushfield associates of redstem ceanothus in Idaho (and eastern Washington) grand fir forests include Scouler willow, Rocky Mountain maple, Saskatoon serviceberry, oceanspray, syringa (Philadelphus lewisii), bitter cherry, cascara (Rhamnus purshiana), white spirea, snowbrush ceanothus, and blue elderberry (Sambucus cerulea [26,68,86].

Oregon and Washington: Common shrub associates of redstem ceanothus in western hemlock forests of western Oregon and Washington include vine maple (Acer circinatum), oceanspray, creeping snowberry, and California hazel (Corylus cornuta var. californica) [26].

Tall shrub associates of redstem ceanothus in mixed conifer forests of southwestern Oregon include vine maple, California hazel, Pacific yew (Taxus brevifolia), and giant chinquapin (Chrysolepsis chrysophylla) [26].

Shrub associates of redstem ceanothus in burned ponderosa pine-Douglas-fir forest in northeastern Oregon include ninebark, white spirea, and common snowberry [50].



SPECIES: Ceanothus sanguineus
Redstem ceanothus provides important food and cover for many wildlife species, most notably Rocky Mountain elk [16,59,64,69,86]. Redstem ceanothus is browsed throughout much of the year but is generally of greatest importance to elk during the winter months when food is scarce [59,64,69,86]. In an Idaho study, redstem ceanothus was estimated to constitute one-third of the winter diet of elk [69,86]. Redstem ceanothus is probably less important as summer browse, when elk inhabit sites above the range of this plant [59,115].

White-tailed and mule deer feed on redstem ceanothus intensively during much of the year [16,52,53,105]. Snowshoe hares feed heavily on the foliage of redstem ceanothus in some areas [16], and winter rodent use of seedlings has been reported in northern Idaho [86]. Birds, rodents, ants, and other insects consume large numbers of seed [27] and may eliminate as much as 99% of the annual seed crop in some areas [16].

All classes of livestock eat redstem ceanothus. It is fair to excellent domestic sheep browse [106] and is a nutritious food source for lambs. Adult sheep can feed on plants up to 6 feet (1.8 m) in height by bending the flexible branches to within reach [114].

Young tender foliage and twigs of redstem ceanothus are particularly palatable to large ungulates [28,62,71,105]. Palatability may be enhanced by fire, as older, tougher browse is replaced by nutritious new growth [62,86]. Palatability to elk varies seasonally but is generally highest in winter. Redstem ceanothus is a preferred white-tailed deer forage throughout the year [105] and is palatable to mule deer in Montana [21].

Redstem ceanothus is at least moderately palatable to cattle [75,105] and has been rated as having fair to excellent palatability for domestic sheep [106].

The nutrient content of redstem ceanothus has been examined by a number of researchers [5,18,63,68]. Asherin [5] reported that the fat content of dormant redstem ceanothus twigs is relatively low compared with other co-occurring shrubs, though crude fiber and crude protein content are similar. In the Asherin study, fat content of the twigs ranged from 1.53 to 1.81%, crude protein ranged from 8.12 to 9.36%, and crude fiber ranged from 27.40 to 28.62%. Values are percent of dry weight.

Following spring and fall burns in northern Idaho, nutrients were measured in redstem ceanothus sprouts [63,68]. Crude fiber was the only nutrient that increased significantly (P < 0.01) in new growth the first year after burning, ranging from 35.07% in an unburned control to 45.68% following a fall burn. Protein ranged from 3.37% in a control site to 4.80% in a fall burn. Fat content ranged from 0.67% in a spring burn site to 1.49% in a control site. Values are expressed a percent of dry weight.

Redstem ceanothus provides excellent cover for many birds and mammals. In northeastern Oregon, dense brushfields of redstem ceanothus and ninebark provide cover for mule deer [11]. These shrubs provide particularly good thermal cover during cold, windy periods. Numerous small birds and mammals find cover in shrubfields formed by redstem ceanothus and other tall, seral shrubs. Brushy clearcuts provide good habitat for birds such as the rufous-sided towhee, western bluebird, Nashville warbler, and olive-sided flycatcher [34]. Many small mammals, including deer mice, voles, and chipmunks, are favored by brushfields which develop after timber harvest and subsequent slash burning [10].

The degree to which redstem ceanothus provides cover in Montana is rated as follows [21]:
Elk                    fair
Mule deer              fair
White-tailed deer      fair
Small mammals          fair
Small nongame birds    good 
Upland game birds      fair
Redstem ceanothus develops a deep root system that can aid in soil stabilization [18,47]. This species can be nursery propagated [6,39,97], and has been successfully planted on logged sites, roadcuts, and acid mine spoils [34,47,108].

For large-scale seeding Gratowski [33] recommended that seeds be heat-treated and sown immediately during late fall rains just before snowfall. The seeds stratify naturally in the soil over winter and germinate the next spring. Seed collection techniques have been described [92,97]. Young seedlings are susceptible to stem rot or "damping off," cold winter temperatures, and herbivores [97].

Hungerford [47] observed good vigor after redstem ceanothus was planted on Montana roadcuts and reported that it was especially well suited for use on eastern aspects. Survival rates 4 years after initial plantings were as follows [47]:
                    % survival

spring plantings        32
fall plantings          14
all plantings           26
The role of redstem ceanothus as a nitrogen-fixer in improving soil fertility, especially on a long-term basis, is discussed below under Management Considerations.

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Stand improvement: Shrubfields in northern Idaho that originated following wildfires have been successfully broadcast burned to rejuvenate redstem ceanothus [65,66,67,68,69,86,111]. Increases in cover and frequency of redstem ceanothus following timber harvest have been documented by a number of researchers in a variety of plant communities and geographic locations [23,61,80,96]. Following timber harvest, redstem ceanothus establishes primarily from seed present in the seedbank [1,48,49,77]. Because germination is favored by heat scarification, treatments that include postharvest burns create the most favorable conditions for the development of ceanothus. Please refer to the Fire Effects section of this report for further information.

Interference with conifers: Seral shrubs occasionally form dense brushfields that inhibit conifer growth, though only 1 study was found that examined redstem ceanothus specifically [1]. This study reported that in grand fir habitat types of northwestern Montana, interference between redstem ceanothus and regenerating conifer seedlings was slight. Participants in a conference on the role of ceanothus species in ecosystems pointed out that studies of other ceanothus species, notably snowbrush ceanothus, have shown better initial establishment of conifers under shrub cover than in the open, though conifer growth was later slowed by interference [16]. Conference participants hypothesized that reduced conifer growth attributed to interference from ceanothus would be balanced by long-term site nutritional benefits provided by this nitrogen-fixing genus.

Interference from other vegetation: Because herbaceous vegetation competes with redstem ceanothus in some locations, Leege and Godbolt [67] recommended that grass seeding be avoided where increasing redstem ceanothus for ungulate browse is a primary management objective. Nitrogen fixation: The ability of redstem ceanothus to fix nitrogen can help promote other species by improving soil fertility, primarily through the decomposition and cycling of its high quality litter [9,16,18,76,104]. Rates of nitrogen fixation by redstem ceanothus have been estimated as high as 176 pounds per acre (80 kg/ha) annually in parts of British Columbia [9]. Binkley and Husted [8] found that, in addition to higher foliar nitrogen levels in Douglas-fir seedlings growing in association with redstem ceanothus, foliar calcium and magnesium of the seedlings was also higher. Authors suggest that enhancement of site fertility by redstem ceanothus, as well as its benefits to wildlife and site stability, make it an attractive candidate for mixed plantations with conifers [9,16].

Grazing/browsing: Overall density of redstem ceanothus is greater in ungrazed stands [119,120], and in some areas cattle suppress growth during the first years after timber harvest [40]. Redstem ceanothus was significantly more abundant on clearcuts where only cattle have grazed than in areas of both wildlife and cattle use [56,57]. In an Oregon study, plants grew an average of 18 inches (46 cm) annually when grazed only by cattle but averaged only 7 (18 cm) inches annual growth when utilized by deer, elk, and cattle [40]. Redstem ceanothus may be seriously damaged by both wildlife and livestock on overbrowsed sites [28,119,120]. Garrison [30] suggested approximately 50% removal of twigs and foliage during the fall as an appropriate level of use to maintain plant carbohydrate reserves.

Mechanical removal: Redstem ceanothus appears to be resistant to mechanical removal. Studies indicate that plants can exhibit increased growth when clipped up to 50% during the spring [114]. However, the amount of sprout height attained after mechanical removal is related to stored carbohydrate reserves [73] and may depend on season of treatment. In clipping studies, plants clipped to ground level exhibited highest mortality when foliage was removed during flowering. Plants clipped during full bloom produced only one-third as much annual growth as plants clipped earlier in the spring during the active bud stage [65]. Redstem ceanothus can be severely damaged by the removal of stems in fall but is unharmed by the removal of leaves [114].


SPECIES: Ceanothus sanguineus
Redstem ceanothus is a deciduous, shade-intolerant, open erect shrub that grows 3 to 10 feet (1-3 m) in height [43,64]. It is native to North America [92]. Redstem ceanothus has an adventitious root crown with growing points near the ground surface [,103]. The seed of redstem ceanothus is approximately 0.08 inch (2.03 mm) long [41,54].

An important characteristic of most, probably all, ceanothus species is their potential ability to fix large amounts of nitrogen via symbiotic association with root-inhabiting actinomycetes [8,12,16,18]. Nitrogen fixation by ceanothus shrubs may comprise the dominant nitrogen input to some northwest forest ecosystems, especially during secondary or postfire succession [9,12,24]. Please refer also to the Value and Use section of this report for further information.


Redstem ceanothus primarily reproduces through seed, although vegetative regeneration can occur following fire and other disturbance [101,103].

Seed and germination: Most species of ceanothus are prolific seed producers, though annual variation has been noted, and sprouts can produce at least some seed by 3 to 6 years of age [16]. Redstem ceanothus seeds have both water-impermeable seedcoats and dormant embryos that inhibit germination [13,27,33,41,54,83,95]. Relatively high temperatures may be required [95,111], with germination occurring after exposure to temperatures of 185 to 212 degrees Fahrenheit (85-100oC) [83,95]. Heat followed by stratification improves germination [13,33,90,95]. Rodents, birds, and insects can damage or consume up to 99% of the annual seed crop [16,27]. An Idaho study of redstem ceanothus seeds found that insect damage to seeds accounted for a loss of 9% to 27% of seeds in fruits from 1975 to 1977.

Seed banking: Seed banking is of primary importance in redstem ceanothus [54,55,63,77,103]. Large numbers of seed may remain dormant for decades while stored in the soil or duff [27,55]. Logging and fire create conditions favorable for germination, and numerous seeds germinate simultaneously, even where parent plants are no longer present. Kramer [54] reported viable seed densities ranging from 1.9 to 107 per square foot (21-1155/m2) in central Idaho, and Morgan and Neuenschwander [77] observed seed densities of 0.92 per square foot (10/m2) in uncut stands within western redcedar/queencup beadlily (Clintonia uniflora) habitat types of northern Idaho.

Seed dispersal: Ripe seeds of redstem ceanothus are propelled a short distance away from the parent plant as capsules mature and break apart [54]. Rodents, birds, and ants may also disperse some seed, primarily locally [16].

Seedling establishment: Most seedlings emerge within 1 year after disturbance, although small amounts of seed continue to germinate for up to 8 years [86]. Following fire in northern Idaho, 96% of all seedlings emerged during the 1st growing season, with emergence decreasing over the next 3 years [86]. Later seedlings presumably respond to increased heat absorption by the exposed soil rather than the initial heat generated by fire. Germination of redstem ceanothus is usually poor after mechanical scarification [89], but scattered individuals commonly establish after logging in Douglas-fir forests of the western Cascades [35].

Although plants develop rapidly from seed [100], early mortality is often high [16]. Seedlings are vulnerable to damage by insects, heavy winter ungulate and rodent use, drought, fungus, and competition [27,86,89]. Seedling survival appears to be related to aspect and other site characteristics, climatic factors, and the season and intensity of disturbance [16,86]. Most seedling losses occur the 1st year after emergence [86], with many succumbing to August droughts [5]. Those that are still alive by the 2nd growing season generally survive. In northern Idaho, 30.2% of all redstem ceanothus seedlings survived the 1st summer but only 3.4% remained alive by the 2nd growing season. In another Idaho study, only 9% of all seedlings that survived the 1st summer actually established [86]. Stand densities generally level off by 5 to 6 years of age [16].

Early growth of redstem ceanothus is often rapid. Twigs have reportedly grown as much as 48 inches (122 cm) in a single growing season in the Selway drainage of northern Idaho [111]. Growth slows as plants age, with annual twig growth of older stands (32-36 years) averaging 9.3 to 12 inches (23.6-30.5 cm) [16]. Redstem ceanothus may be killed by late-season frosts, particularly on south slopes, or by extreme winter temperatures [29,69,114].

Vegetative regeneration: Redstem ceanothus often sprouts after the root crown is damaged [53,68,83]. Both root crown sprouting [42,62,100] and upper stem sprouting [109] have been reported after fire. Apical dominance plays an important role in determining the location and extent of sprouting. Dormant buds on the root crown sprout after aboveground vegetation is completely removed. Where portions of the upper stem remain intact, stems commonly sprout. Sprouting is related to age and vigor of the parent plant and may be much reduced beneath a dense tree canopy [42].

Redstem ceanothus grows best on relatively moist slopes in the open or in partial shade [106] and is often most prominent at mid-slope [80]. It is reported at 2,400 feet (732 m) in western Montana [21]. It is reported at 4,000 feet (1200 m) in northern California [43]. Soils are often low in organics (2.0 to 2.5%) [80]. Redstem ceanothus is a prominent component of talus communities within the western hemlock zone of Washington and Oregon [26].

Redstem ceanothus is associated with early- or mid-seral stages of forest succession [14,16,35,96,120]. In a study of western Montana habitat types, Arno and others [4] list the redstem ceanothus-ninebark community as a seral "structural stage" in postfire successional sequences in Douglas-fir climax forests. Redstem ceanothus is a prominent colonizer after fire [4,50,80,96,100,112,113].

Redstem ceanothus plays a prominent role in dense brushfields that develop throughout its range after fire or timber harvest and subsequent burns [15,45,48,49,112]. It is less shade tolerant than many other brushfield species [45] and disappears as tree canopy cover increases. Mueggler [80] determined that redstem ceanothus cover was positively correlated with years since disturbance, until the development of overstory tree canopy, when it began declining. As tree canopy cover reached 56 to 100%, the shrub disappeared. In the absence of subsequent disturbances, redstem ceanothus may be replaced by oceanspray and chokecherry (Prunus virginiana) [16].

Western redcedar-western hemlock: Redstem ceanothus is prevalent in initial shrub stages in western redcedar-western hemlock habitat types of northern Idaho [100] and in western hemlock-Douglas-fir forests of Oregon's western Cascades [96]. This shrub is a particularly important early seral species in western redcedar/pachistima and western redcedar/queencup beadlily habitat types of northern Idaho [77,78], where it can dominate a nearly closed shrub canopy within 3 to 5 years after high-severity burns [78]. Cover subsequently declines through year 15 as the overstory develops and shade levels increase [78]. In western hemlock-Douglas-fir forests of Oregon, maximum cover is generally attained within 15 years after timber harvests which are followed by broadcast burns [96]. Shrubs such as redstem ceanothus may dominate seral brushfields in western redcedar-western hemlock types for 25 to 50 years but are generally lacking in adjacent undisturbed stands [77,78].

Grand fir: Redstem ceanothus is generally absent in mature grand fir forests of northwestern Montana although common on nearby disturbed sites with a history of logging and/or burning [1,2]. On a western Montana site, no redstem ceanothus was present in mature, uncut sites, while clearcut and burned sites 7 to 16 years old had 8% redstem ceanothus cover. In these sites the logging slash was piled by bulldozer and burned [1]. Redstem ceanothus established as early as the 1st year after fires in grand fir/pachistima habitat types of north-central Idaho [78,118] and dominated some sites by the 3rd to 14th year after logging and burning [112]. Redstem ceanothus, along with snowbrush ceanothus, dominated the understory by year 12 in clearcut and broadcast-burned grand fir/pachistima habitat types of Idaho [117].

Douglas-fir: Redstem ceanothus is a prominent early successional component in Douglas-fir forests west of the Cascades and in parts of the northern Rocky Mountains, especially after wildfire or logging and burning [4,14,16,35,36,50,74,99]. In Oregon Douglas-fir forests a dense shrub layer including redstem ceanothus began forming by the 3rd growing season following logging without burning [46]. Redstem ceanothus and other tall shrubs dominated burned areas in Douglas-fir forests of northwestern Montana for 6 to 10 years but then declined as conifer cover developed [28]. Ceanothus species may slow succession by forming brushfields [16]. (Refer to Management Considerations in the Value and Use section of this report for more information.) In Douglas-fir forests of southern Idaho, redstem ceanothus may dominate certain sites for as long as 25 years [61].

Cholewa and Johnson [14] studied Douglas-fir/ninebark communities in northern Idaho that had been undisturbed since 1900, when they were logged and/or burned. Burning or logging followed by burning led to a higher percent cover of redstem ceanothus than logging alone, which led to a higher percent cover of oceanspray.

Mixed conifers: In mixed-conifer forests of northeastern Oregon, redstem and snowbrush ceanothus can dominate clearcuts within 14 years after initial disturbance but typically begin to decline by year 20 [57].

Throughout most of its range, redstem ceanothus flowers from April through June and produces fruit by June or July [81,87,92]. Annual variation in phenological development has been reported. Dates for phenological events in northern Idaho are shown here [87]:
Phenological                      Year
                 1971             1972             1973
                 starts  ends     starts  ends     starts  ends 

bud swelling     ----    4/27     4/19    5/6      4/3     4/23
leafing out      5/4     5/26     5/12    6/2      5/2     6/4
stem elongation  5/11    7/8      5/19    8/12     5/16    6/26
flowering        5/19    6/2      5/27    6/13     5/16    6/4
fruiting         6/9     7/27     6/13    8/1      6/4     8/3


SPECIES: Ceanothus sanguineus
Redstem ceanothus is primarily dependent on fire for regeneration [1,74,83,86,112]. Without periodic fires, this "obligate pioneer" declines markedly in both vigor and density. It is one of the 1st brushfield shrubs to decline as shade levels increase [61,65,80,86,89]. Redstem ceanothus remains vigorous when burned at 10- to 15-year intervals [65,72]. This shrub may be best adapted to summer wildfires that provide heat scarification followed by cold, moist stratification over winter [63].

Redstem ceanothus exhibits numerous specialized adaptations to fire. Seed banking is particularly important [54,63,77]. Seeds are heat-resistant and germinate in large numbers only after severe fires create favorable growing conditions. Mineral soil provides an excellent seedbed for initial development and growth [77]. Stickney [100,102,103] identified redstem ceanothus as characteristic example of residual colonizer species that rely on fire for improving the seedbed and heat activation of ground-stored seed. He noted that if temperatures generated during burning are insufficient to heat-treat this type of seed, as in the case of fires that burn only the upper portion of duff, seeds will remain dormant [103].

Redstem ceanothus also sprouts from the root crown after aboveground growth is consumed by fire and may regain abundant canopy cover where mature plants were present prior to fire [61,62,68,82,100,109].

Fire regimes for plant communities in which redstem ceanothus occurs are summarized below. For further information regarding fire regimes and fire ecology of communities where this species is found, see the Fire Ecology and Adaptations section of the FEIS species summary for the plant community or ecosystem dominants.

Community or Ecosystem Scientific Name of Dominant Species Mean Fire Return Interval
Pacific ponderosa pine* Pinus ponderosa var. ponderosa 1-47 years
Rocky Mountain Douglas-fir* Pseudotsuga menziesii var. glauca 40-140 years [13]
coastal Douglas-fir* P. menziesii var. menziesii 95-242 [79,94]

*fire return intervals vary widely; trends in variation are noted in the FEIS species summary

Small shrub, adventitious bud/root crown
Ground residual colonizer (on-site, initial community)


SPECIES: Ceanothus sanguineus
Severe fire top-kills redstem ceanothus, but low-severity fires may leave portions of the crown undamaged [65,78,88]. Because portions of the root crown can survive, mortality of mature plants is usually low [65,68]. Seeds of redstem ceanothus can survive surface fires when buried in the soil, though severe, duff-reducing fires may kill some seed [77,83,103].

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Redstem ceanothus usually increases rapidly after fire through seedling establishment and/or basal sprouting, and initial postfire canopy recovery or development is usually rapid [68,70,86,88]. Plants burned in the spring sprout readily and continue growing until onset of winter dormancy. Plants burned in the fall usually do not sprout until the following spring. Sprouting is more likely after fires of relatively low severity, where preburn plant vigor is high [70]. Owens [88] observed that vigorous basal sprouting is stimulated by total destruction of the crown. In that study annual twig growth was greater on plants with more than 50% canopy mortality than on those with less than 50% mortality.

Following prescribed broadcast shrubfield burns in western redcedar habitat in northern Idaho, researchers observed that plants burned in late March or early April resumed growth within 4 to 8 weeks, whereas those burned in October did not sprout until spring [63,68,86]. Because none of the treatment areas burned completely, sampling was restricted to plants completely top-killed by the fire. The table below shows the mean number of basal sprouts before the fire and at the end of the 1st growing season after spring and fall burning [68].

Preburn Postburn
Spring (n=23) 4.1 32.3
Fall (n=18) 2.9 25.6

Large reserves of dormant seed in the soil seed bank allow redstem ceanothus to reoccupy a site where mature plants are absent, and seeds are the primary mode of postfire regeneration [77]. Because fire stimulates the germination of seed, large even-aged stands often result [63,68,86]. In the Idaho study described in the previous paragraph, as many as 96% of all seedlings emerged during the 1st year, with emergence decreasing during the following 3 years [63,68,86]. Redstem ceanothus seedling emergence on those sites was noted up to 8 years after fire [86].

Germination and establishment is typically better after late summer or fall fires than after spring fires [5,16,85,86,111]. Soil moisture is usually lower in fall; so late-season burns tend to be hotter at the soil surface, causing greater heat scarification. Initial seedling emergence may be up to 4 times greater following fall burns than following spring burns [16]. In northern Idaho, fall burns resulted in the germination of 242,000 seeds per acre (599,010/ha) by the following spring [63]. Approximately 60,000 seedlings per acre (148,515/ha) emerged following spring burns in the same area [62,63,64]. Orme and Leege [86] observed seedling emergence of 186,000 per acre (460,396/ha) after fall burns, but only 47,000 per acre (113,861/ha) after spring burns. A hot summer crown fire in the Selway drainage of Idaho produced 400,000 seedlings per acre (990,099/ha) [111]. Seed bank densities declined from 0.92 per square foot (10/m2) in undisturbed stands to 0.5 per square foot (5/m2) on 2-year-old burns within western redcedar habitat types of northern Idaho [77]. For more information about heat-stimulation of germination, please refer to sections on Botanical and Ecological Characteristics and Fire Ecology in this report.

Seedling survival is also typically greater after fall burns. Researchers observed 29% seedling survival after fall burns, but only 15% survival after spring burns. Seedlings establishing after spring burns must often compete with vigorous stands of bracken (Pteridium aquilinum) or thimbleberry when overtopped by these fast-growing species. Seedlings that followed fall burns exceeded average heights of those produced by spring burns within 4 months. Seedling height on spring-burned plots in Idaho ranged from 1.6 to 2.3 inches (4.0-5.7 cm) by 16 months [86]. Fall seedlings grew from 1.0 to 1.7 inches (2.5-4.3 cm) in height by the 4th month and averaged 2.6 to 5.1 inches (6.6-13 cm) after 16 months of growth [62,64,86].

Postfire canopy recovery or development can be rapid and vigorous in both forests and brushfields. The duration and magnitude of redstem ceanothus dominance generally increases with the severity of fire [16,37,38,50,78]. In northern Idaho, canopy cover from redstem ceanothus seedlings reached nearly 12% within 2 years in a clearcut and burned western redcedar forest [77,78]. In that study, maximum cover was reached by postfire year 5 in severely burned sites then decreased through postfire year 15. Initial cover development was much slower on low-severity burns and continued to increase until postfire year 15 [78]. High-severity burns were characterized as including little remaining unconsumed surface organic matter or dead and fallen wood less than 3 inches (7.5 cm) in diameter [77,78].

Postfire recovery is also generally rapid in grand fir, Douglas-fir, and ponderosa pine communities. Heights of 3-year-old redstem ceanothus seedlings averaged 0.8 feet (0.2 m) and increased to 2.4 feet (0.7 m) by postfire year 12 in grand fir habitat types of central Idaho. Seedling numbers increased rapidly by the 2nd season following wildfire in ponderosa pine communities of Idaho, with heights comparable to those attained in unburned plots by the 4th year after fire [72].

In a northern Idaho shrubfield, maximum crown heights ranged from 23 to 60 inches (58-152 cm) within 2 years after fire where average preburn crown height of 70 inches (177 cm) had been reported. Crown diameter increased to 50 inches (128 cm) from a preburn average of 31 inches (79 cm) [65].

In the Blue Mountains of eastern Oregon, Johnson [50] measured redstem ceanothus response to fire in mixed stands of ponderosa pine and Douglas-fir. The shrub was not present in any of the stands before burning but reached 12% cover within 5 years after fire. Fires on those sites were described as severe, meaning tree and shrub canopies were consumed and tree boles deeply charred.

Fires that are "too frequent or intense" may eliminate ceanothus species by destroying seeds and plants [16,83].


The Research Project Summary Understory recovery after low- and high-intensity fires in northern Idaho ponderosa pine forests provides information on prescribed fire and postfire response of plant community species including redstem ceanothus.

Redstem ceanothus declines as brushfields age, and may disappear from the understory if dense tree canopy develops [63,65,80]. Prescribed fire can be a useful tool for rejuvenating decadent stands, enhancing overall browse production, and increasing mineral availability for deer and elk [68,72]. Increases in deer and elk utilization of redstem ceanothus are commonly observed within several years after fire [111]. Burning at 10- to 15-year intervals has been suggested for maintaining vigor and browse value [65,72]. The authors do not discuss any limit to the number of burn cycles that can be repeated. Although forage availability may be reduced the first 2 years after fire, overall production subsequently increases dramatically over preburn levels [52]. Browse production can be increased 4-fold after burns in Douglas-fir/ninebark habitat types of western Montana, with much of the increase attributable to redstem and snowbrush ceanothus [32]. Seasonal timing of prescribed burns can influence the benefit to ungulates. During the 1st winter after treatment, spring burns provide browse in the form of vigorous sprouting and growth. Fall burns yield little if any immediate winter forage [68].

Orme and Leege [86] recommend fall burning "after frost has cured herbaceous fuels and before fall rains have saturated the ground and fuels." Temperatures should ideally be above 70 degrees Fahrenheit (21 oC), and humidity below 30%. However, burning can be carried out at lower temperatures and higher humidity if vegetation is first slashed to promote greater heat scarification at the ground surface. Spring burns can sometimes be effective on dry east or west aspects at high elevations [86].

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