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SPECIES: Hilaria belangeri
Curly-mesquite. Wikimedia Commons image from: Hitchcock, A.S. (rev. A. Chase). 1950. Manual of the grasses of the United States. USDA Miscellaneous Publication No. 200. Washington, DC. 1950. -, Public Domain,


SPECIES: Hilaria belangeri

Zlatnik, Elena. 1999. Hilaria belangeri. In: Fire Effects Information System, [Online]. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station, Fire Sciences Laboratory (Producer). Available: /database/feis/plants/graminoid/hilbel/all.html [].




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curlymesquite grass
common curly-mesquite

longleaf curly-mesquite


The scientific name of curly-mesquite is Hilaria belangeri (Steud.) Nash (Poaceae) [27,31,32]. There are 2 varieties of curly-mesquite [31]:

Hilaria belangeri var. belangeri (Steud.) Nash, curly-mesquite
Hilaria belangeri var. longifolia (Vasey) A.S. Hitchc., longleaf curly-mesquite




No special status


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SPECIES: Hilaria belangeri

Curly mesquite occurs in the southwestern United States [32,36].

Distribution of curly mesquite. Map courtesy of USDA, NRCS. 2018. The PLANTS Database. National Plant Data Team, Greensboro, NC. [2018, October 9] [54].


FRES32   Texas savanna
FRES33   Southwestern shrubsteppe
FRES34   Chaparral-mountain shrub
FRES35   Pinyon-juniper
FRES38   Plains grasslands
FRES40   Desert grasslands


AZ    NM    TX


  3   Southern Pacific Border
  7   Lower Basin and Range
12   Colorado Plateau
13   Rocky Mountain Piedmont
14   Great Plains


K023   Juniper-pinyon woodland
K031   Oak-juniper woodlands
K058   Grama-tobosa shrubsteppe
K060   Mesquite-savanna
K061   Mesquite-acacia
K061   Mesquite-live oak savanna
K086   Juniper-oak savanna


  68   Mesquite
239   Pinyon-juniper
241   Western Live oak
242   Mesquite


503   Arizona chaparral
505   Grama-tobosa shrub
508   Creosotebush-tarbush
701   Alkali sacaton-tobosagrass
702   Black grama-alkali sacaton
705   Blue grama-galleta
715   Grama-buffalograss
728   Mesquite-granjeno-acacia
729   Mesquite
733   Juniper-oak
734   Mesquite-oak


Curly-mesquite appears in desert and semi-desert grasslands and shrubsteppes. In desert plains grasslands in the Southwest, curly-mesquite and blue grama (Bouteloua gracilis) dominate, with hairy grama (B. hirsuta), black grama (B. eriopoda), tobosa (Hilaria mutica), threeawn species (Aristida spp.), New Mexico feathergrass (Stipa neomexicana), sideoats grama (B. curtipendula), and bush muhly (Muhlenbergia porteri). Occasional honey mesquite (Prosopis glandulosa) and acacia (Acacia spp.) are also found in this community [25].

In southern Texas, curly-mesquite appears in thornscrub woodland with honey mesquite, brasil (Condalia obovata), huisache (A. farnesiana), blackbrush acacia (A. rigidula), white brush (Aloysia gratissima), Texas persimmon (Diospyros texana), cactus (Opuntia spp.), prairie broomweed (Amphiachyris dracunculoides), sensitivebriar (Shrankia latidens), Indian mallow (Abutilon incarnum), Bermuda grass (Cynodon dactylon), red threeawn (Aristida purpurea), buffelgrass (Cenchrus ciliaris), and bristlegrass (Setaria spp.) [9].

On the Edwards Plateau, Texas, curly-mesquite is part of short-and mid-grass rangelands, with dominant overstories of redberry juniper (Juniperus pinchottii) and honey mesquite and understories of red threeawn, red grama (B. trifida), hairy tridens (Erioneuron pilosum), Reverchon bristlegrass (S. reverchonii), needleleaf bluet (Hedyotis acerosavar. acerosa), Parks groomwell (Lithospermum parksii), mouse-ear (Tiquilia canescens), and longstalk greenthread (Thelesperma longipes) [17].

Vegetation typings describing communities in which curly-mesquite is dominant include:

Flora and vegetation of the Rincon Mountains, Pima County, Arizona [7]
Biotic communities of the Southwest [13]
A vegetation classification system for New Mexico, U.S.A. [16]
A vegetation classification system applied to southern California [41]


SPECIES: Hilaria belangeri

Curly-mesquite can be an important forage species in the desert Southwest [25,28,53]. In some parts of central and western Texas, curly-mesquite is the most important cattle forage [14]. Horses, cattle, domestic sheep, domestic goats, pronghorn, and deer graze it year-round [36]. Curly-mesquite is not highly productive [28].


Curly-mesquite is one of the more palatable grass species in the Southwest [53]. Cattle use is high throughout the plant's range [19,23,28,30].


Curly-mesquite is of fair to good nutritional value [20,28,56]. Protein content of curly-mesquite in Arizona peaks around 13% in August and reaches a low of nearly 2% in November and December [49].

Nutritional content (%) of immature curly-mesquite is as follows [40]:

Nutrient Content
Ash 15.7
Crude fiber 25.6
Ether extract 2.5
N-free extract 39.0
Protein 17.2
Calcium 1.04
Magnesium 0.31
Phosphorus 0.26
Potassium (%) 0.79



In general, shortgrass prairies featuring curly-mesquite are not an important habitat for breeding birds [29].


Curly-mesquite has good soil binding qualities and grows on most soils, so it has potential as a rehabilitation species [4,37,47,57]. Commercial seed is hard to get, so mulching with hay is the most economical seed source [10,11]. Also, curly-mesquite is not drought resistant, so revegetated sites need sufficient irrigation [10,11].


No entry


Curly-mesquite responds well to disturbance [33]. Curly-mesquite is highly grazing tolerant [3,4,21,33,39,43,57]. Following herbicide trials in huisache and mesquite stands in southern Texas, curly-mesquite was the first grass species to reinvade treated areas [6].

Resinbush (Euryops mulitifus), an introduced shrub from Africa, prevents the growth of curly-mesquite from up to 5 to 6.5 feet (1.5-2 m) away [37].


SPECIES: Hilaria belangeri

Curly-mesquite is a native, perennial, warm-season shortgrass. Tufts grow to 4 to 12 inches (10-30 cm) tall [24]. The plant is a sod-former that sends out slender stolons to produce new tufts [27,56].

Longevity of curly-mesquite in southern Arizona was determined to be shorter than 9 years on grazed study plots and shorter than 5 years on ungrazed plots [15].




Curly-mesquite reproduces by seed or, more commonly, by long stolons that establish new tufts [14,27,53,56]. In a good season, the plant can spread as much as 13 feet (4 m) [14].

Plants produce very few seeds and are often sterile [14,56]. Curly-mesquite is not self-fertile [14]. After 20 years uncontrolled storage, only 6% of curly-mesquite seeds germinated near Globe, Arizona [52]. Seed germination increased from 59 to 92% and 55 to 87% in 2 trials after an afterripening period of 12 weeks. Removing the seed fascicles also increases germination percentage and lengthens storage periods [42].

The presence of seeds in the soil seedbank depends, in part, on management practices. In a soil seedbank study in a semiarid Texas grassland, curly-mesquite, which was a dominant feature of the extant vegetation, had high germinable seed density (254/m2) under heavy continuous grazing. Seed density was low to none under grazing exclusion [34,33].


Curly-mesquite is found on dry, open foothills, mesas, rocky slopes, and swales throughout the Southwest [29,32,53]. The plant grows on a wide variety of soils, but grows best on loams to clay loams with pH of 6.8 to 7.4 [36].

Curly-mesquite is not a particularly drought-tolerant species [10]. In Arizona desert grasslands, curly-mesquite sites receive 13-19 inches (330-483 mm) of precipitation [45]. The semidesert grasslands in New Mexico and Arizona, of which curly-mesquite is a prominent component, receive between 10 and 18 inches (250 and 450 mm) annual precipitation, over 50% of which comes from April to September [12].

In southeastern Arizona, curly-mesquite is most common on rolling uplands and south-facing treeless slopes, from 1,500 to 6,000 feet (450-1818 m) [32], particularly on sites with much exposed rock and sparse litter [4] and well-drained clay soils [58].


Curly-mesquite is a mid-seral species [26,45]. Curly-mesquite, due to its grazing tolerance, dominates on overgrazed sites [33,45,57].

Curly-mesquite is not shade tolerant [36,56].


Curly-mesquite is one of the first grasses to start growth in the late spring [34,51], with seedheads emerging about 1 month later [36,51]. In some areas it is dependent on summer rains to initiate growth. In southern Arizona, annual summer rains normally begin in July, at which time plants begin their rapid growth, mature quickly, and begin to dry up by the middle of October [38]. Except for a few green shoots in the spring, the grasses show no further growth until the summer rains. In the coastal plains of Texas, curly-mesquite grows throughout the year, wherever moisture is available [8]. Its growth there does not follow a rigid seasonal pattern, as the area normally receives 30 inches (760 mm) of precipitation yearly. In Texas, flowering occurs mostly form August to October, but occasionally from March to November [24].

Curly-mesquite is dormant during drought [56].


SPECIES: Hilaria belangeri

Curly-mesquite is often top-killed by fire, but due to its stoloniferous growth pattern, it is usually able to survive and recover quickly [5].

Mean fire interval for presettlement southwestern desert grasslands was approximately 10 years [28,58].


Surface rhizome/chamaephytic root crown

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".


SPECIES: Hilaria belangeri

Curly-mesquite is often top-killed by fire but usually survives [5,55].


Stoloniferous grasses like curly-mesquite generally are less affected by fire than bunchgrasses, due to the smaller amounts of dead, dry material remaining on the plant. Fires tend to burn more quickly over the grass and not penetrate into growing points [5].


In the 2nd year following spring prescribed burns in a Madrean evergreen woodland in Arizona, abundance of curly-mesquite was significantly (p<0.05) greater on the burned than on the unburned sites [5].

Following a March burn in western Texas in a honey mesquite/tobosa-sideoats grama (Bouteloua curtipendula)-buffalo grass (Buchloe dactyloides)-threeawn community, curly-mesquite grass production increased 28% in the 1st growing season after fire [55].

The Research Project Summary, Response of herbaceous vegetation to winter burning in Texas oak savanna provides information on postfire response of curly-mesquite and other herbaceous species that was not available when this species review was originally written.


No entry


Because curly-mesquite does not regenerate reliably by seed, spring burning under cool conditions that preserve growing points causes less mortality than fall burning. Forage production increases moderately following burning [5,55].


SPECIES: Hilaria belangeri

Zlatnik, Elena, compiler. 1999. Response of curly-mesquite to burning in two Arizona desert ecosystems. In: Hilaria belangeri. In: Fire Effects Information System, [Online]. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station, Fire Sciences Laboratory (Producer). Available: /database/feis/ [ ].


Bock, Jane H.; Bock, Carl E. 1987. Fire effects following prescribed burning in two desert ecosystems. Final Report: Cooperative Agreement No. 28-03-278. Fort Collins, CO: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Forest and Range Experiment Station. 20 p. [5].


Two study sites were burned on May 25 and June 12, 1984.


The study took place in southeastern Arizona at The National Audubon Society's Appleton-Whittell Research Sanctuary near Elgin, Santa Cruz County.


The Lyle Canyon oak woodland site featured sideoats grama (Bouteloua curtipendula), plains lovegrass (Eragrostis intermedia), Texas bluestem (Schizacharium cirratum), Hall's panic grass (Panicum hallii), goldeneye (Viguiera spp.), Louisiana sagewort (Artemisia ludoviciana), bindweed (Convolvulus spp.), warty caltrop (Kallstremia parviflora), wait-a-minute bush (Mimosa biuncifera), velvet-pod mimosa (M. dysocarpa), yerba de pasmo (Baccharis pteronioides), Emory oak (Quercus emoryi), and Arizona white oak (Q. arizonica).

The Bald Hill grassland site featured plains lovegrass, wolftail (Lycurus phleoides), 3 species of threeawn (Aristida spp.), sprucetop grama (Bouteloua chondrosiodes), sideoats grama, spreading fleabane (Erigeron divergens), shrubby falsemallow (Malvastrum bicuspidatum), dwarf morningglory (Evolvulus spp.), spreading snakeherb (Dyschoriste decumbens), tansyleaf aster (Machaerathera tanacetifolius), wait-a-minute bush, velet-pod mimosa, and yerba de pasmo.


Curly-mesquite was in the early phase of growth.


The site is in the foothills on the west side of the Huachuca Mountains at 4,950 feet (1500 m) elevation. Temperatures range from a 29 degree Fahrenheit (-1.73 oC) January mean minimum to a June mean maximum of 90 degrees Fahrenheit (32.4 oC). Mean annual precipitation is 17 inches (430 mm), mostly falling in the summer monsoon between July and September.


The Madrean evergreen site at Lyle Canyon burned on May 25, 1984, between 10 a.m. and noon. Air temperature was 90 to 92 degrees Fahrenheit (32-33 oC). Relative humidity ranged from 16 to 18%, and winds were from 5 to 10 miles per hour (8-16 km/h). Fuel moistures were estimated between 5 to 6%.

The grassland site at Bald Hill burned on June 12, 1984, between 10 and 11:30 a.m. Air temperatures ranged from 84 to 88 degrees Fahrenheit (29-31 oC), with relative humidity from 13 to 16% and variable winds gusting from 5 to 22 miles per hour (8-35.2 km/h).

The Bald Hill grassland fires moved slowly, 3.3 to 13.2 feet/minute (1-4 m/minute), with flame lengths from 2.6 to 4.6 feet (0.8-1.4 m) in height. Heat releases were 160 to 540 kW/m.



At the Lyle Canyon oak woodland site, abundance of curly-mesquite was not significantly difference between the burned and unburned plots for the 1st growing season following the burn. In the 2nd growing season, abundance was significantly higher (P<0.05) on the burned site.

On the Bald Hill grassland site, all species of grasses declined during the 1st postfire season but recovered fully after 2 years.



Curly-mesquite is not damaged by fire. It may increase in abundance following a spring fire. This study was part of an extensive of body of research on fire effects in semidesert grassland, oak savanna, and Madrean oak woodlands of southeastern Arizona. See the Research Project Summary of this work for more information on burning conditions, fires, and fire effects on more than 100 species of plants, birds, small mammals, and grasshoppers.

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