Index of Species Information

SPECIES:  Spiraea betulifolia


SPECIES: Spiraea betulifolia
AUTHORSHIP AND CITATION : Habeck, R. J. 1991. Spiraea betulifolia. In: Fire Effects Information System, [Online]. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station, Fire Sciences Laboratory (Producer). Available: [].

ABBREVIATION : SPIBET SYNONYMS : Spiraea lucida (Dougl. ex Greene) SCS PLANT CODE : SPBE2 COMMON NAMES : white spirea spirea shiny-leaf spirea birchleaf spirea white meadowsweet TAXONOMY : The currently accepted scientific name of white spirea is Spiraea betulifolia Pall. Two varieties, distinguished by floral characteristics, are [19,23]: S. betulifolia var. betulifolia S. betulifolia var. lucida (Dougl.) Hitchc. LIFE FORM : Shrub FEDERAL LEGAL STATUS : No special status OTHER STATUS : NO-ENTRY


SPECIES: Spiraea betulifolia
GENERAL DISTRIBUTION : White spirea is generally confined to the middle elevation foothills and montane zones of the Intermountain West [19,23,32,40].  In the western United States, this species ranges from southern Idaho, north through eastern Oregon and Washington, and east to north-central Wyoming.  White spirea also occurs in western Montana and in the Black Hills of South Dakota [14,15,19,23,32,40].  In Canada, white spirea occurs in southern British Columbia, southern Saskatchewan, and eastern Alberta [14,19]. ECOSYSTEMS :    FRES20  Douglas-fir    FRES21  Ponderosa pine    FRES23  Fir - spruce    FRES26  Lodgepole pine    FRES29  Sagebrush    FRES36  Mountain grasslands STATES :      ID  MT  OR  SD  WA  WY  AB  BC  SK BLM PHYSIOGRAPHIC REGIONS :     5  Columbia Plateau     8  Northern Rocky Mountains     9  Middle Rocky Mountains    15  Black Hills Uplift KUCHLER PLANT ASSOCIATIONS :    K008  Lodgepole pine - subalpine forest    K011  Western ponderosa forest    K012  Douglas-fir forest    K015  Western spruce - fir forest    K055  Sagebrush steppe    K063  Foothills prairie SAF COVER TYPES :    206  Engelmann spruce    210  Interior Douglas-fir    213  Grand fir    218  Lodgepole pine    237  Interior ponderosa pine SRM (RANGELAND) COVER TYPES : NO-ENTRY HABITAT TYPES AND PLANT COMMUNITIES : White spirea is a dominant shrub species occurring mostly in forested communities of low to moderate precipitation.  Habitat types that include white spirea as an indicator species are the Douglas-fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii), subalpine fir (Abies lasiocarpa), grand fir (A. grandis), ponderosa pine (Pinus ponderosa), and lodgepole pine (P. contorta) climax series [7,20,27,30,36].  White spirea is also found in many moist community types and plant associations [3,10,11]. Publications listing white spirea as an indicator or dominant species in habitat types (hts), community types (cts), or plant associations (pas) are listed below: Area             Classification         Authority               MT              forest hts             Pfister & others 1977 n ID              forest hts             Cooper & others  1991 c ID              forest hts             Steele & others  1981 n WY              forest hts             Hoffman & Alexander 1976 w WY              forest hts             Steele & others  1981 s ID, w WY        forest cts             Mueggler & Campbell 1982 e ID, w WY        forest cts             Steele & others  1983


SPECIES: Spiraea betulifolia
IMPORTANCE TO LIVESTOCK AND WILDLIFE : White spirea is not an important shrub species to livestock or wildlife.  The leaves of white spirea persist on the plant longer than those of other deciduous shrub species, which may account for its moderate food value during autumn [40].  The low food value is sometimes demonstrated by the substantial presence of white spirea on overgrazed ranges, especially in areas where cattle concentrate [40].  White spirea can grow in colonies, but not to the extent where it can be adequately utilized by livestock or wildlife for cover. PALATABILITY : White spirea's palatability rating is poor to fair for domesticated range animals.  Mule deer and elk also find white spirea relatively unpalatable [35].  The species' low palatability may result from the presence of a volatile oil containing bitter salicylic aldehyde [40]. The relish and degree of use shown by livestock and wildlife species for white spirea in Montana is rated as follows [12]:                            Montana      * Information for other states                                           not available. Cattle                       poor Sheep                        fair Horses                       poor Antelope                     fair Elk                          poor Mule deer                    fair White-tailed deer            fair Small mammals                poor Small nongame birds          poor Upland game birds            poor Waterfowl                    poor NUTRITIONAL VALUE : White spirea can serve as summer forage for livestock [39].  Most studies, however, conclude that white spirea is a poor forage species, and is generally not used by livestock or wildlife [12,19,29,35,40]. COVER VALUE : White spirea is rated poor for cover value.  Because it only achieves a height from 1 to 3 feet (60 - 90 cm), the cover value for wildlife is virtually non-existent [18].  The degree to which white spirea provides environmental protection during one or more seasons for wildlife species is as follows [12]:                          Montana        * Information for other states                                           not available.            Elk                        poor Mule deer                  poor White-tailed deer          poor Small mammals              poor Small non-game birds       poor Upland game birds          poor VALUE FOR REHABILITATION OF DISTURBED SITES : White spirea is generally not used for rehabilitation of disturbed sites.  White spirea was used, however, along with other native shrubs, to revegetate road cuts in northwestern Montana [21].  It was found to have a 57 percent survival rate 4 years after planting and a composite rating of 33 percent when measured for growth, vigor, natural spread, and soil stabilization [21].  It was rated as 'medium' for soil erosion reduction potential due to its moderately aggressive growth [18].  In its first 3 years, however, white spirea was also found to show slow growth, and only fair rates of growth, cover reproduction, and maintenance thereafter [7,9,21]. OTHER USES AND VALUES : NO-ENTRY OTHER MANAGEMENT CONSIDERATIONS : White spirea is generally not selectively managed for cover, forage, or other uses.  It has been found to have a high vegetative response to many types of disturbances from logging to wildfires [35,42].  White spirea generally regenerates quickly, and thus provides soil stabilization after disturbance [21].  Since white spirea is not highly selected by wildlife as forage, it would be a good species to introduce into disturbed sites.


SPECIES: Spiraea betulifolia
GENERAL BOTANICAL CHARACTERISTICS : White spirea is a native, moderately shade-tolerant, deciduous, rhizomatous shrub, with root development well into the soil profile [2,9,14,19,35,37].  White spirea has cinnamon-brown scaly bark on its erect stems, which are 1 to 3 feet (30-90 cm) tall [40].  The small flowers are gathered in nearly flat-topped clusters about 1.5 inches (4 cm) across.  The flowers turn brown soon after fertilization and give way to small, dry, podlike fruits [32]. RAUNKIAER LIFE FORM :    Undisturbed State:  Cryptophyte (geophyte)    Undisturbed State:  Phanerophyte (nanophanerophyte)    Burned or Clipped State:  Cryptophyte (geophyte) REGENERATION PROCESSES : White spirea is rhizomatous and usually grows in extensive colonies [2,14,19,35].  Mechanical or natural disturbances rarely destroy the white spirea root system, which usually will sprout within the next growing season.  White spirea stems often show signs of woody swellings due to the fusion of adjacent segments.  Incipient perennating buds are well distributed along the entire length of the rhizome [2].  Any section of the rhizome is probably capable of generating new stems if it is large enough to provide the carbohydrates necessary for sprouting.  White spirea also appears capable of some layering from aerial stems. Bradley [2] found a high proportion of white spirea perennating tissues residing in the mineral soil at an average depth of 4.4 inches (11.2 cm). White spirea produces small seeds that are occasionally dispersed via small birds, rodents, and strong winds.  Overall seed production and dispersal is low.  A soil seed-bank sampling study found white spirea to be the least represented shrub species [25].  Seedlings of white spirea are rarely found [35]. SITE CHARACTERISTICS : White spirea is common on brushy or open slopes, as well as in forests from the foothills through the montane zone.  It is often abundant in low-elevation (1,000 to 4,000 feet [305-1,219 m]) dry forests, but can also be found in some high-elevation (10,000 feet [3,048 m]) wet forests [19,23,32].  White spirea grows well on dry, rocky sites because of its rhizomatous nature [15,32].  Soil moisture does not play a major role in the distribution and phenology of white spirea [14].  White spirea occupies forest habitat types associated with parent material ranging from limestone to quartz [6,28].  Aspect had a major influence on the survival of transplanted white spirea in northwestern Montana [21]. Survival was significantly lower on western aspects than on either southern or eastern aspects. SUCCESSIONAL STATUS : White spirea appears to be a satisfactory indicator plant for varying climatic conditions [14].  Descriptions of northern and central Idaho habitat types indicate that white spirea increased in importance as an indicator species in the slightly drier and warmer conditions found in ponderosa pine and Douglas-fir habitat types. White spirea's canopy cover declines gradually beneath a tree overstory, making it an indicator of late-seral to climax conditions. In drier portions of Douglas-fir/ninebark (Physocarpus malvaceus) habitat communities, which often border Douglas-fir/white spirea types, white spirea may persist as a climax component of the shrub layer.  In much of the Douglas-fir/ninebark habitat type, however, white spirea gradually gives way to ninebark, making it a late seral indicator [35]. SEASONAL DEVELOPMENT : Seasonal development of white spirea is closely related to temperature [14].  In eastern Washington, white spirea developed up to 2 months later at higher elevations than at lower elevations [14].  Bud break generally occurs in April, and first bloom occurs anywhere from May to July.  Phenological development was drastically retarded for transplanted white spirea (first bloom and seed production) in eastern Washington [14].  Seasonal progression of white spirea phenology does not relate well to calendar dates or photoperiodic tables, due to the temperature differences between elevational sites. Approximate timing of phenological events for white spirea at different elevations on the Entiat Experimental Forest, eastern Washington, from 1972 to 1973 were as follows [14]: Phenological Phase                  Elevation                           590 m       1105 m        1635 m                         (1,935 ft)   (3,624 ft)    (5,363 ft) Bud Break              late March   early April  late April 4-6 leaf development   early April  mid-April    early May Floral initiation      early May    mid-May      May-June First bloom            May-June     mid-June     July Peak bloom             mid-June     early July   July


SPECIES: Spiraea betulifolia
FIRE ECOLOGY OR ADAPTATIONS : White spirea is highly resistant to fire-kill.  It sprouts from surviving root crowns, and from rhizomes positioned 2 to 5 inches (5-13 cm) below the soil surface [8]. POSTFIRE REGENERATION STRATEGY :    survivor species; on-site surviving root crown or caudex    survivor species; on-site surviving rhizomes


SPECIES: Spiraea betulifolia
IMMEDIATE FIRE EFFECT ON PLANT : White spirea is almost always top-killed following fires of moderate to high intensity.  The rhizomes are seldom consumed in similar fire conditions [2,8,9,35]. DISCUSSION AND QUALIFICATION OF FIRE EFFECT : NO-ENTRY PLANT RESPONSE TO FIRE : White spirea demonstrates high survival capabilities following holocaustic wildfires [38].  It is a rhizomatous shrub that not only survives burning, but can often flower the year immediately following the burn [9,35].  Geier-Hayes [17] found white spirea to increase in cover and frequency following disturbance by fire.  In fact, white spirea was found to increase in canopy cover 3 to 5 years after a burn [26].  On lightly burned sites, white spirea showed no significant (5%) levels of nutrient accumulations [33]. DISCUSSION AND QUALIFICATION OF PLANT RESPONSE : White spirea relies on sprouting for postfire regeneration [25]. Sprouting from surviving rhizomes ensures abundant regrowth after fires, if conditions are suitable [25].  Bushey [4], however, found that white spirea decreased noticeably in postfire transects.  Soil morphology and depth to rhizomes are important components for estimating potential fire survival [2]. On ponderosa pine and Douglas-fir communities in the Blue Mountains of northeastern Oregon, white spirea cover and frequency were higher on sites that had been thinned 6 years previously than on prescribed burned, thinned-and-burned, or control sites.  White spirea was determined to be an indicator species for thinned sites (P0.05).  For further information on the effects of thinning and burning treatments on white spirea and 48 other species, see the Research Project Summary of Youngblood and others' [43] study. The following Research Project Summaries also provide information on prescribed fire use and postfire response of plant community species including white spirea: FIRE MANAGEMENT CONSIDERATIONS : White spirea has generally not been the primary target of fire management objectives.  Because white spirea has a substantial portion of its rhizomes in mineral soil, it has been ranked in the highest fire-survival category [2].  Therefore, white spirea can be relied on as a dependable fire-survivor species.


SPECIES: Spiraea betulifolia
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Forest vegetation of the        Black Hills National Forest of South Dakota and Wyoming: a habitat type        classification. Res. Pap. RM-276. Fort Collins, CO: U.S. Department of        Agriculture, Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Forest and Range Experiment        Station. 48 p.  [1181] 21.  Hungerford, Roger D. 1984. Native shrubs: suitability for revegetating        road cuts in northwestern Montana. Res. Pap. INT-331. Ogden, UT: U.S.        Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Intermountain Forest and        Range Experiment Station. 13 p.  [1220] 22.  Kuchler, A. W. 1964. Manual to accompany the map of potential vegetation        of the conterminous United States. Special Publication No. 36. New York:        American Geographical Society. 77 p.  [1384] 23.  Lackschewitz, Klaus. 1991. Vascular plants of west-central        Montana--identification guidebook. Gen. Tech. Rep. INT-227. 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