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Bromus madritensis, Bromus rubens

Compact brome. Wikimedia Commons image by Javier Martin. Red brome infestation. Image by John M. Randall, The Nature Conservancy,


Simonin, Kevin A. 2001. Bromus madritensis, Bromus rubens. In: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station, Fire Sciences Laboratory (Producer). Available: /database/feis/plants/graminoid/brospp/all.html [ ].

Images were added on 13 September 2018, and the common name of Bromus madritensis was changed from soft chess to compact brome.


For red brome:
Anisantha madritensis (L.) Nevski [76]
B. madritensis subsp. rubens (L.) Husnot [41,46]


compact brome
foxtail chess
Spanish brome

red brome

This Species Review covers 2 related brome species: compact brome (Bromus madritensis L.) and red brome (Bromus rubens L.) (Poaceae). Although the 2 bromes are treated as separate species in this review, FEIS recognizes that there is taxonomic disagreement about Bromus madritensis in the strict sense. Some systematists recognize compact brome and red brome as 2 subspecies of Bromus madritensis: 1) the type subspecies (Bromus madritensis subsp. madritensis) and 2) red brome (Bromus madritensis subsp. rubens (L.) Husnot) [41,46]. There is consensus that the 2 entities are very closely related [1,84], with both scientific names used in current literature.

This Species Review considers Bromus madritensis in the broad sense. Following the systematics of several authorities, this review uses the scientific name Bromus madritensis L. for compact brome and Bromus rubens L. for red brome [36,47,49,80,82, 81,83]. Studies concerning United States populations of B. m. subsp. rubens may be interpreted as B. rubens [1,84]. Where possible, distinctions are made between compact brome (B. madritensis) and red brome (B. rubens). The common name compact brome may apply to either taxon when the literature cited did not distinguish between compact brome and red brome in areas where their distributions overlap (mostly California).


No special status

The California Exotic Pest Plant Council includes compact brome on the A-1 list: Most invasive wildland pest plants; widespread [25].


SPECIES: Bromus madritensis, Bromus rubens
Compact brome is native throughout Europe and the British Isles [36,41,46,49,76,80,83]. In western North America, it occurs widely in coastal and central California and is also recorded from Reno, Nevada, and Portland, Oregon [66,84]. It has a scattered distribution to the east, occurring in Michigan, Virginia, and Mississippi [47]. It is also introduced in Hawaii [75].

Red brome is native to southern Europe [80]. In North America, it is distributed from central Washington south to Baja California and east to central Idaho, southwestern Texas, and Sonora [66,84]. It is casually adventive in the Northeast [36] and introduced in Hawaii [75].

Distributions of compact brome (left) and red brome (right) in the United States. Maps courtesy of USDA, NRCS. 2018. The PLANTS Database. National Plant Data Team, Greensboro, NC. [2018, September 13] [81].

FRES28 Western hardwoods
FRES29 Sagebrush
FRES30 Desert shrub
FRES34 Chaparral-mountain shrub
FRES40 Desert grasslands
FRES42 Annual grasslands

STATES/PROVINCES: (key to state/province abbreviations)

B.C.N. Son.

2 Cascade Mountains
3 Southern Pacific Border
4 Sierra Mountains
5 Columbia Plateau
6 Upper Basin and Range
7 Lower Basin and Range

K027 Mesquite bosques
K030 California oakwoods
K033 Chaparral
K035 Coastal sagebrush
K038 Great Basin sagebrush
K039 Blackbrush
K041 Creosotebush
K042 Creosotebush-bursage
K043 Paloverde-cactus shrub
K044 Creosotebush-tarbush

242 Mesquite
249 Canyon live oak
250 Blue oak-foothills pine
255 California coast live oak

201 Blue oak woodland
202 Coast live oak woodland
205 Coastal sage shrub
206 Chamise chaparral
207 Scrub oak mixed chaparral
208 Ceanothus mixed chaparral
209 Montane shrubland
210 Bitterbrush
211 Creosotebush scrub
212 Blackbush
214 Coastal prairie
215 Valley grassland
401 Basin big sagebrush
413 Gambel oak
414 Salt desert shrub
503 Arizona chaparral
506 Creosotebush-bursage
507 Palo verde-cactus

Compact brome and red brome are invasive weeds. They are most prevalent in desert shrub and annual grassland communities [2,5,10,11,20,32,59].

Compact brome:

California: Compact brome is a dominant invader of the historical perennial grasslands of California [2,5]. It is widely distributed over central and southern California [69]. It has also invaded steppe ecosystems of the southern San Joaquin Valley, the Great Basin, and the Mojave Desert [6].

Common grass associates of compact brome within the western foothill annual grassland of the Sierra Nevada include soft chess (Bromus mollis), ripgut brome (B. diandrus), compact fescue (Vulpia myuros), slender wildoat (Avena barbata), California melic (Melica californica), and Sandberg bluegrass (Poa secunda). Common forbs include cutleaf filaree (Erodium cicutarium), Napa thistle (Centaurea melitensis), clover (Trifolium spp.), hairy lotus (Lotus subpinatus), and godetia (Godetia dudleyana) [15].

Common associates in California oak savannah include blue oak (Quercus douglasii), interior live oak (Q. wislizenii) [27,32], valley oak (Q. lobata) [78], gray pine (Pinus sabiniana) [27,32], and California buckeye (Aesculus californica) [32]. Common shrub associates include wedgeleaf ceanothus (Ceanothus cuneatus) and chaparral whitethorn (C. leucodermis). Soft chess, ripgut brome [32], slender wildoat, wild oat (A. fatua) [32,78], mouse barley (Hordeum leporium) [78], and fescue (Festuca spp.) [32] are common grasses. Common forb associates include cutleaf filaree [27,32], longbeak storksbill (Erodium botrys), burclover (Medicago polymorpha), and clover [32].

Common coastal sage scrub shrub associates of compact brome include black sage (Salvia mellifera) and California buckwheat (Eriogonum fasciculatum) [54].

Classifications describing plant communities in which compact brome is a dominant species are as follows:

CA: [17,38,53,67]

Red brome:

Nevada: Red brome is a dominant annual of blackbrush (Coleogyne ramosissima) communities at 4,000 to 5,000 feet (1,200-1,500 m). In the western Yucca Flat of southern Nevada, red brome is a member of creosotebush (Larrea tridentata)-blackbrush transition communities between 4,000 and 4,300 feet (1,200-1,300 m), and is infrequent in creosotebush associations between 3,000 and 4,000 feet (900-1,200 m). Red brome is abundant within creosotebush-saltbush (Atriplex spp.)-blackbrush communities [10]. Red brome is a prominent member of blackbrush communities within the Mojave Desert [11,20].

Utah:  Red brome is common in blackbrush, juniper (Juniperus spp.), creosotebush [64], and sand sagebrush (Artemisia filifolia) [64,70] communities of Utah. It is most commonly found at base of shrubs in shadscale and white burrobush (Hymenoclea salsola) communities [62].

Arizona: Red brome is an invader of Arizona desert scrub [59]. It is also an invasive understory species of mature mesquite bosques (Prosopis spp.), which were historically open with a ground cover of saltbushes or annual and perennial native grasses and forbs [23].


SPECIES: Bromus madritensis, Bromus rubens
Compact brome and reed brome are a cool-season [64] exotic annual grasses with culms from 4 to 28 inches (10-70 cm) tall. Their inflorescence is a panicle, 1 to 4 inches (3-11 cm) tall, with long awns [66]. Compact brome is distinguished from red brome by having relatively hairier stems and leaf sheaths, more lax panicles, and wider lemmas [1,41].

Compact brome is drought resistant, with high water-use efficiency [10,21].


Compact brome germinates well under the winter temperature regime of southern California [3]. Sunlight may enhance germination at higher temperatures. Freshly harvested red brome seeds are unable to germinate in the dark at temperatures above 59 degrees Fahrenheit (15 C), but freshly harvested seeds  usually germinate in the dark at temperatures between 41 and 59 degrees Fahrenheit (5-15 C). White light inhibits germination even at low irradiance. Dry storage at 68 degrees Fahrenheit (20 C) removes the inhibitory effects of higher temperatures ( > 68 degrees Fahrenheit (20 C)), widening the seeds' temperature range for germination and eliminating their sensitivity to light [28].

Red brome germinates at a less exact rainfall and temperature requirement than native species [11]. In general, fall rains promote germination and establishment . In blackbrush communities of southern Nevada, Beatley [10] found red brome germination followed heavy rains (> 1 inch (3 cm)) between October and December. However, germination is not limited to fall and may occur following heavy spring rains. 

Laude [57] evaluated seedling emergence from freshly harvested and stored red brome seeds, which were were planted in a greenhouse setting and monitored for 28 days. Increased storage time increased percent emergence, with germinants achieving 100% emergence in October, 5 months after mid-June seed collection.

High levels of cadmium and nickel impair emergence of red brome [65].

Compact brome and red brome prefer disturbed sites in Mediterranean climates [41,66].  Elevational ranges are described below by state:

Species State Range
compact brome, red brome California 7,200 feet (2,200 m) [41]
red brome Nevada  1,200 to 6,000 feet ( 370-1,800m) [44,48]
red brome southern Nevada 4,000 to 5,000 feet (1,200-1,500 m) [10]
red brome Utah 3,000 to 5,000 feet (910-1,520 m) [64]

Regional: In California, compact brome prefers areas receiving less than 9.8 inches (250 mm) annual rainfall [8]. Compact brome is a dominant species in California valley grasslands receiving less than 7.5 inches (190 mm) rainfall [40], and is abundant in California valley grasslands receiving less than 12 inches (305 mm) annual precipitation. In areas with annual precipitation greater than 12 inches (305 m), compact brome is replaced by soft chess [7,8]. 

Bowers [19] monitored the relative abundance of northern Mojave Desert annuals over 6 years in relation to precipitation. Red brome density was highest during years receiving 2.4 to 4.2 inches (63-109 mm) precipitation; results are summarized below:

Pre-census precipitation (mm) between 1970-1976:

Year Sept.-Oct. Nov.-Dec. Jan.-Feb. Total Mean red brome/0.25m2
1971 0 37.4 8.1 45.5  0.113
1972 0 41.4 0 41.4  0.132
1973 40.4 29.7 70.9 141.0  0.073
1974 3.8 24.9 35.0 63.7  0.959
1975 25.9 35.3 5.1 66.3  1.012
1976 5.8 4.8 98.0 108.6  6.780

Soils: Red brome commonly occurs in small patches on shallow soils, growing best where there is little competition from other annuals [86]. In southern Nevada, red brome occupies blackbrush communities with coarse-textured soils, showing best growth under shrubs and peripheries of shrub canopies [10]. Upland clay and sandy loam ranges and rolling sandy hills receiving 8 to 12 inches (203-305 mm) precipitation promote good growth in southern Utah 60.

Red brome is often found in areas with relatively high levels of sulfur dioxide pollution [69].

The presence of compact brome and red brome are closely related to annual precipitation. They are commonly early or mid-seral species where annual precipitation is greater than 9.8 inches (250 mm)  [40].

Red brome is commonly an early to mid-seral species in California chaparral. It is usually sparse in early succession chaparral systems of northern California but may increase rapidly in areas of low soil fertility and moisture [16]. Peak population numbers require several years for seed dispersal into burns or buildup from on-site producers. Continued disturbance such as grazing and repeated low-severity fires favor red brome over native early-seral chaparral species [52]. 

Within blackbrush communities of Nevada, red brome persists in high-density stands for many years [10].

In general, red brome initiation and establishment is a direct response to fall rains. Initial growth is relatively slow, followed by a rapid increase in vegetative growth coinciding with warming spring temperatures [8]. Flowering and fruiting generally occur in April and May [10]. Seeds are disseminated in summer [8].

No profound phenological differences are apparent between red brome individuals from the Mediterranean and California regions [45]. However, Wu and Jain [85] have observed phenological variation in seed weight, lemma length, plant height, and tiller production between populations of different environments.


SPECIES: Bromus madritensis, Bromus rubens
Red brome generally shortens fire return intervals [59,60,87]. The increased presence of red brome has promoted fires in areas where fire was previously infrequent due to insufficient fuels [68]. Once established red brome may increase fire frequency by enhancing potential for start and spread [10]. In general, red brome produces an abundant and continuous cover of persistent fine fuels, promoting fast, "hot" fires [21].

Desert: Areas of the Mojave Desert dominated by red brome are more susceptible to fire than areas dominated by native forbs. Dead red brome culms and blades are persistent (commonly 2 years); herbage of most Mojave Desert annual species usually lasts 1 year or less. Red brome produces high amounts of persistent flammable fuels in perennial plant interspaces, promoting ignition and spread [22].

Heat generated by burning red brome is sufficient to ignite and consume dead stems of native Mojave Desert forbs. Flames may also consume small shrubs such as white bursage (Ambrosia dumosa), winterfat (Krascheninnikovia lanata), white burrobush, and Anderson wolfberry (Lycium andersonii). However, flames fueled by red brome are generally insufficient to ignite large shrubs such as creosote bush [21].

Within the Sonoran Desert, dead and dry red brome is easily ignited, supporting fast-moving surface fires [68]. Fire return intervals are also shortened, changing the vegetal composition through increase of non-native components and loss of native plant species [72].

California chaparral:  The invasion of red brome has contributed to short fire return intervals and the subsequent degradation of chaparral [87]. Keeley [50] has observed shorter fire intervals (< 10 years) resulting from the increased presence of red brome and other exotic annuals. Greater fire frequency has promoted the degradation of native herb communities and promoted communities of chaparral shrubs with an exotic, annual understory [87]. Dead stems and litter are persistent, promoting spread of fire in shrub communities, especially across areas between shrubs and trees [44,87].

O'Leary and Westman [63] attribute red brome within early postfire coastal sage scrub communities to off-site seed sources.

As nonnative species, compact brome and red brome have no historic fire regime in North America. The following table provides some fire regime intervals for areas where compact brome and red brome presently occur. Compact brome and red brome may alter fire intervals within these communities. Find further fire regime information for the plant communities in which these species may occur by entering the species' names in the FEIS home page under "Find Fire Regimes".

California chaparral Adenostoma and/or Arctostaphylos spp. < 35 to < 100
sagebrush steppe Artemisia tridentata/Pseudoroegneria spicata 20-70
coastal sagebrush Artemisia californica < 35 to < 100
cheatgrass Bromus tectorum < 10
California montane chaparral Ceanothus and/or Arctostaphylos spp. 50-100
paloverde-cactus shrub Cercidium microphyllum/Opuntia spp. < 35 to < 100
mountain-mahogany-Gambel oak scrub Cercocarpus ledifolius-Quercus gambelii < 35 to < 100
blackbrush Coleogyne ramosissima < 35 to < 100
creosotebush Larrea tridentata < 35 to < 100
Ceniza shrub Larrea tridentata-Leucophyllum frutescens-Prosopis glandulosa < 35
California oakwoods Quercus spp. < 35
oak-juniper woodland (Southwest) Quercus-Juniperus spp. < 35 to < 200
blue oak-foothills pine Quercus douglasii-Pinus sabiana <35
bur oak Quercus macrocarpa < 10
interior live oak Quercus wislizenii < 35 [24]

Initial off-site colonizer (off-site, initial community)
Secondary colonizer (on-site or off-site seed sources)


SPECIES: Bromus madritensis, Bromus rubens
Fire kills compact brome and red brome [34].

No entry

Red brome establishes from on- or off-site seed sources following fire [63].

Red brome showed dramatic increases in the Sonoran Desert following prescribed burns in a desert scrub of paloverde, buckhorn cholla (Opuntia acanthocarpa), and triangle bursage. Results are summarized below [58]:

Cover (%) within open microhabitat:
Control 1985 Control 1986 Prefire 1985 12 postfire months (1985) 24 postfire months (1985)* 36 postfire months (1986)*
1.02 0.48 3.56 7.22 11.81 12.89

Cover (%) in shrub microhabitat:
Control 1985 Control 1986 Prefire 1985 12 postfire months (1985) 24 postfire months (1985)* 36 postfire months (1986)*
0.68 4.77 7.42 9.17 11.67 26.61
*Coverage data taken from areas burned in 1983

Davis and Hickson [29] evaluated postfire vegetation development within coastal chaparral of California. Past fires in the area studied was either accidental or planned burns. Areas sampled ranged from 1 to 50 years since fire. Overall, red brome showed greater frequency of occurrence within oak plots than in shrub plots. Red brome was an important invader of chamise chaparral in the 3rd and 5th postfire seasons, slowly disappearing with increased brush cover. Before fires, red brome was restricted to trails, firebreaks, and openings [42].

Red brome was a dominant species on western and southern slopes (330 feet (100 m)) the first 2 years after fire in California coastal sage scrub. Postfire annual precipitation was 1 to 5 times greater than mean annual precipitation [51].

Fall burns: Red brome and California buckwheat were dominant species 5 years after a September wildfire in a 7-year-old rockrose (Cistus spp.) field, originally planted from nursery grown seedlings. The wildfire occurred on a 30 to 35 degree north facing slope at 2,700 feet (820 m). [61].

Hansen [39] observed postfire coverage of red brome after fall prescribed burns in the Tulare Basin of California. Seasonal precipitation directly influenced red brome postfire response. One-year postfire cover of red brome was equal to or greater than control plot coverage when precipitation was below average and the majority of precipitation occurred in the fall (September-November). In contrast, red brome presence was greatly reduced in the 1st and 2nd postfire growing season if greater than normal precipitation occurred in fall and spring. Repeated burning had the greatest negative effect on red brome numbers, resulting in large decreases even in wet years.

Spring burns: Cave [26] monitored 1- and 2-year postfire vegetation response in the Sonoran Desert after a 12 June 1981 controlled burn and a 26 April 1980 wildfire. Sites were at 1,500 feet (450 m) on a paloverde (Cercidium microphyllum)-cactus (Opuntia spp.)-triangle bursage association. Red brome density was reduced by 96 to 98% in the 1st postfire year compared to unburned and prefire controlled burn sites, respectively. Biomass was reduced by 70 and 65%, with cover showing 86 and 80% reductions. Precipitation prior to and during the 1982 growing season was less than precipitation in 1981.

Red brome dominated blackbrush areas 1 year after a "hot" spring wildfire [9].

For information on response of red brome and other annual grassland herbs to prescribed fire, see Hansen's [39] thesis: The effect of fire and fire frequency on grassland species composition in California's Tulare Basin.pdf.

O'Leary and Westman [63] suggest off-site seed as a source of red brome within early postfire coastal sage scrub communities.

Stipa spp. have successfully competed with red brome within perennial grasslands of Camp Pendleton, California, subjected to annual burning [5].

Shrublands: Within the Mojave Desert of Arizona, red brome prefers disturbed sites, especially areas where shrubs have been removed by fire. Red brome readily invades blackbrush communities susceptible to fire. Once established red brome increases fire frequency by enhancing the potential for start and spread [10]. Red brome shows vigorous vegetative growth in blackbrush communities where shrubs have been removed by fire. Red brome is prominent the first 2 to 3 postfire years in blackbrush communities, after which perennial grasses and shrubs dominate [9].

Wildfires in California chaparral occur during hot dry summer months. Prescribed burning usually occurs during winter months, resulting in low-intensity burns. Red brome is a dominant species following winter fires. Temperatures of low-intensity winter fires are not high enough to kill red brome seeds [34].

Desert: Fire spread is extensive and rapid when red brome is codominant with Schismus spp. in native perennial interspaces of the Mojave Desert. Data for experimental fires conducted in August of 1995 are presented below. Fine fuels are presented in kg/ha, dominant annuals are those with > 25% relative cover [21]. For further information on this study, see the Research Project Summary Nonnative annual grass fuels and fire in California's Mojave Desert.

Site Beneath canopy fuel Interspace fuel Dominant annuals, beneath canopy Dominant annuals, interspace Interspace fire spread (m/minute) Area burned (% of 2.25 ha)
Central Mojave 300 25 Bromus-Schismus Schismus 0 0
Southern Mojave 700 200 Bromus Bromus-Schismus 12 50 (continuous)
Western Mojave 800 100 Bromus-Schismus Schismus 1 50 (patchy)


SPECIES: Bromus madritensis, Bromus rubens
In general, compact brome and red brome are of little value to livestock and big game. The long awns of red brome are harmful to livestock when seeds are ripe [43]. Under some circumstances, red brome may provide a source of forage. Krausman and others [55] observed light desert mule deer use (< 1% of seasonal diet) of red brome in Arizona. Desert bighorn sheep also use red brome [73].

Desert cottontail prefer red brome. Heaviest use occurs in winter [79].

The palatability of red brome to livestock and wildlife in Utah has been rated as follows [30]:

Elk Poor
Mule deer Fair
Antelope Fair
Upland game bird Fair
Waterfowl Poor
Small nongame bird Fair
Small mammal Good

The calcium:phosphorous ratio for red brome is 1:2 [37].

Seegmiller and others [73] conducted a nutritional analysis of red brome within the Harlequin Mountains, Arizona. Red brome parts selected for analysis (leaves, flowers, new growth) were those used by desert bighorn sheep. Results (mean %) are presented below:

Dry Matter  Protein  Lignin  Cellulose  Cell Solubles  Hemicellulose  Ether Extract  Ash 
January-February 36.17 11.29 8.63 24.24 40.21 20.12 2.32 13.94
March-April 36.51 5.80 5.06 28.70 34.25 26.64 1.89 7.66
May-June 97.72 3.32 6.58 31.19 24.28 31.16 0.66 10.85
July-August 89.28 4.00 7.45 33.31 23.78 28.47 2.08 11.71

Compact brome provides fair cover for small mammals and small nongame birds [30].

No entry

No entry

Red brome is common in open canopies of Arizona chaparral subjected to heavy grazing [18]. Betancout [13] attributes red brome expansion in the Upper Sonoran Desert of central and southern Arizona to climate change. Since 1976, increased winter precipitation has promoted the spread of red brome. In relatively dry areas of the Southwest, red brome may displace native species during wetter years [4,14,44]. Relatively drier winters and wetter summers may slow the red brome invasion [13].

The smut Ustilago bullata is common on red brome in Nevada. Infected plants produce fewer viable seeds than uninfected plants [44].

In California chaparral, fall germination of compact brome gives the grass a competitive advantage over shrub seedlings, which usually germinate in spring [15]. Compact brome competes with California sagebrush (Artemisia californica) seedlings during their 1st growing season. Planting shrubs that are 1 or more years old increases their competitive ability against red brome [31]. Bartolome and others [8] found mulch  provided no significant (p > 0.05) benefit to standing crops compact brome in areas of California receiving less than 9.8 inches (250 mm) annual precipitation.

Compact brome is an annual weed in California cereal crops [28].

Bromus madritensis, Bromus rubens: REFERENCES

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2. Amme, David; Pitschel, Barbara M. 1990. Restoration and management of California's grassland habitats. In: Hughes, H. Glenn; Bonnicksen, Thomas M., eds. Restoration `89: the new management challenge: Proceedings, 1st annual meeting of the Society for Ecological Restoration; 1989 January 16-20; Oakland, CA. Madison, WI: The University of Wisconsin Arboretum, Society for Ecological Restoration: 532-542. [14721]
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20. Bowns, James E.; West, Neil E. 1976. Blackbrush (Coleogyne ramosissima Torr.) on southwestern Utah rangelands. Research Report 27. Logan, UT: Utah State University, Utah Agricultural Experiment Station. 27 p. [3831]
21. Brooks, Matthew L. 1999. Alien annual grasses and fire in the Mojave Desert. Madrono. 46(1): 13-19. [34386]
22. Brooks, Matthew Lamar. 1998. Ecology of a biological invasion: alien annual plants in the Mojave Desert. Riverside, CA: University of California. 186 p. Dissertation. [37220]
23. Brown, David E.; Lowe, Charles H.; Hausler, Janet F. 1977. Southwestern riparian communities: their biotic importance and management in Arizona. In: Johnson, R. Roy; Jones, Dale A., tech. coords. Importance, preservation and management of riparian habitat: a symposium: Proceedings; 1977 July 9; Tucson, AZ. Gen. Tech. Rep. RM-43. Fort Collins, CO: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Forest and Range Experiment Station: 201-211. [5348]
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