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SPECIES: Pleuraphis rigida



Matthews, Robin F. 2000. Pleuraphis rigida. 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/plerig/all.html [].




Hilaria rigida (Thurber) Benth. ex Scribn. [11,21,26,54]




big galleta


The currently accepted scientific name of big galleta is Pleuraphis rigida Thurber (Poaceae) [20,25]. Big galleta hybridizes naturally with galleta (P. jamesii) [19,20,40,54].




No special status



SPECIES: Pleuraphis rigida

Big galleta's range extends from southern Utah, Colorado, and Nevada south through California and Arizona and into northern Mexico [20,21,27,53,54].


FRES30 Desert shrub
FRES35 Pinyon-juniper
FRES40 Desert grasslands


6 Upper Basin and Range
7 Lower Basin and Range
11 Southern Rocky Mountains
12 Colorado Plateau


K023 Juniper-pinyon woodland
K039 Blackbrush
K040 Saltbush-greasewood
K041 Creosotebush
K042 Creosotebush-bursage
K043 Paloverde-cactus shrub
K053 Grama-galleta steppe


239 Pinyon-juniper


211 Creosotebush scrub
212 Blackbush
504 Juniper-pinyon pine woodland
506 Creosotebush-bursage
507 Palo verde-cactus


Big galleta is widely distributed throughout Mohave and Sonoran desertscrub communities [31,36,50,51]. Within these communities, big galleta is often associated with creosotebush (Larrea tridentata), white bursage (Ambrosia dumosa), blackbrush (Coleogyne ramosissima), Joshua tree (Yucca brevifolia), banana yucca (Y. baccata), Mohave yucca (Y. schidigera), range ratany (Krameria parvifolia), winterfat (Krascheninnikovia lanata), brittle bush (Encelia farinosa), ephedra (Ephedra spp.), yellow paloverde (Cercidium microphyllum), ocotillo (Fouquieria splendens), cholla (Opuntia spp.), bladdersage (Salazaria mexicana), wolfberry (Lycium spp.), Mohave desertrue (Thamnosma montana), globemallow (Sphaeralcea spp.), and grama (Bouteloua spp.) [2,9,31,50,51].

Classifications describing plant communities in which big galleta is a dominant or codominant species follow:

Vegetation types of Utah [2]
A vegetation classification system applied to southern California [38]
Mohave desertscrub [50]
Sonoran desertscrub [51]


SPECIES: Pleuraphis rigida

Big galleta is considered a valuable forage plant for cattle and domestic sheep in the Mohave Desert [22]. Its coarse, rigid culms make it relatively resistant to heavy grazing and trampling [27,41].

Blackbrush communities in southern Nevada that contain a major big galleta component are heavily utilized by bighorn sheep and are referred to as 'preferred habitat' [5]. Big galleta is also a component of bighorn sheep habitat in the Harquahala Mountains of Arizona [29].

Mule deer in Arizona utilize trace amounts of big galleta [28].


Big galleta has been referred to as 'highly palatable' to cattle and horses in California during growth periods following rains [42].

Palatability of big galleta for livestock and wildlife in Utah has been rated as follows [12]:

Cattle good
Domestic sheep fair
Horses good
Pronghorn fair
Elk poor
Mule deer fair
Small mammals fair
Small nongame birds fair
Upland game birds fair
Waterfowl poor


Nutritional composition (%) of big galleta from the Harquahala Mountains, Arizona, was [44]:

Month Dry matter Protein ADF* NDF** Lignin Cellulose
Jan-Feb 86.12 86.12 3.35 49.79 71.48 8.91
Mar-Apr 31.79 58.49 5.69 45.42 74.49 9.04
May-Jun 33.76 73.44 4.22 46.07 71.35 8.13
Jul-Aug 30.52 71.09 5.95 44.65 71.54 7.96
Sep-Oct 32.05 57.52 5.32 45.02 70.73 7.71
Nov-Dec 38.27 66.26 3.43 52.15 77.12 8.94
Solubles Hemicellulose Ether extract Ash
Jan-Feb 28.53 21.69 1.49 7.24
Mar-Apr 25.51 29.32 1.92 7.60
May-Jun 28.65 25.29 2.13 7.03
Jul-Aug 28.46 26.89 3.16 8.87
Sep-Oct 29.27 25.87 1.84 9.64
Nov-Dec 22.89 24.97 0.93 7.46
*acid detergent fiber
**non-acid detergent fiber



Big galleta provides fair cover for small mammals and small nongame birds in Utah [12].


Big galleta's clumped growth form stabilizes blowing sand [46]. It stabilizes sand dunes in the lower Colorado River Valley of the Sonoran Desert and in some Mohave Desert communities [50,51].


No entry


No entry


SPECIES: Pleuraphis rigida

Big galleta is a native perennial grass. It is highly branched at the base, giving it a bush-like appearance. The coarse, rigid culms are erect or decumbent and reach 12 to 40 inches (30-100 cm) in height [11,20,21,27]. Big galleta's clumped growth form is a result of the tillers [36,37] or short rhizomes it produces [11,37,46].

Big galleta is reported to be more effective than many other desert plants at extracting water from the soil during dry periods [15,16,18]. Its root system tends to be shallow and extends radially from the base of the plant. Mean root depths of big galleta plants at sites in the Sonoran Desert ranged from 3 to 4 inches (8-10 cm) [10,15,37].




Big galleta primarily reproduces by rhizomes [42], and most likely by tillering as well.

Little information is available on germination characteristics of big galleta. Seed production is generally very poor [19] and seedling establishment appears to be rare [41].


Big galleta is found on dry, open, sandy to rocky slopes and flats, on sand dunes, and in bajadas, scrublands, woodlands, and desert areas [20,21,27,46]. Big galleta occurs on all soil textures, but displays poor growth on clays [12].

Big galleta is reported to be the most drought tolerant of the Pleuraphis species and is well adapted to desertscrub communities [19]. It is widely distributed on sand dunes throughout the lower Colorado River Valley of the Sonoran Desert and in some Mohave Desert communities [50,51]. In Arizona, big galleta reaches best development in depressions and on heavy alluvial soils below 4,000 feet (1200 m) [27]. Big galleta is generally found below 4,800 feet (1600 m) in California [20] and below 3,600 feet (1220 m) in Utah [54].


Big galleta colonizes sand dunes and disturbed sandy areas throughout the Sonoran and Mohave deserts [9,32,36,51].

An apparent symbiotic relationship exists between big galleta and cholla cacti (Opuntia spp.) in the Mohave Desert. Big galleta acts as a nurse plant to cholla seedlings while juvenile cholla offer big galleta protection from herbivores. However, cholla plants larger than 27.5 inches (70 cm) eventually shade big galleta out [10]. Big galleta also apparently acts as a nurse plant to California barrel cactus (Ferocactus cylindraceus) and desert agave (Agave deserti) on Sonoran Desert sites [15,16].

Big galleta was not found on young (5-year-old) debris flow terraces in the Grand Canyon, but was present on 28-year-old and 240-year-old sites [4].


Big galleta generally undergoes 2 major growth periods, coinciding with the typical bimodal rainfall patterns within its area of distribution [41]. It also can complete its life cycle rapidly in response to periodic rains. In 1 California study following an August 11th rainfall, big galleta flowered by August 30th and dispersed seed by September 15th [36]. Big galleta typically flowers from February through June in the Mohave Desert [49], and from February through September in Arizona [27].


SPECIES: Pleuraphis rigida

Little information is available on big galleta's response or adaptations to fire. However, other species of the Pleuraphis genus have been studied. Following fire, galleta sprouts from rhizomes [24] and tobosa grass (P. mutica) sprouts from rhizomes and the basal root crown [6,34].

In the Mohave Desert, big galleta communities generally have fuels too sparse to carry fire. However, fire may occur in big galleta swales where density of the grass is great enough to support the spread of fire [23].


Fire regimes for plant communities in which big galleta occurs are summarized below. Find further 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".
Community Dominant Range of Fire Return Interval
Pinus edulis 10-49 years [8]
P. cembroides 20-70 years [33,48]
Cercocarpus ledifolius* 10-1,350 350 years [1,43]
* Fire-return interval varies widely; trends in variation are noted in the Species Review.


Rhizomatous herb, rhizome in soil


SPECIES: Pleuraphis rigida

Damage to big galleta from fire varies, depending on whether big galleta is dormant when burned. If big galleta is dry, damage may be severe. However, when plants are green, fire will tend to be less severe and damage may be minimal, with big galleta recovering quickly [23].


No entry


Fire most likely top-kills big galleta. Like tobosa grass and galleta, big galleta also probably sprouts from rhizomes following fire. Big galleta was present in the 1st growing season following fires in creosotebush communities of the western Sonoran desert in California [7].

Response to fire of the other Pleuraphis species previously mentioned has been documented. Tobosa grass is tolerant of fire and has been reported to regain or exceed prefire coverage within 1 to 3 years following fire if annual precipitation is average or higher [6,55,56]. Galleta is reported to regain prefire coverage within 2 years following fire [24], although following a winter burn with adequate soil moisture, it yielded only 75% as much forage in the 1st postfire growing period as the unburned control [55]. Both grasses were found to decrease after fire if burned in years of below average precipitation [13,35,55,56].


No entry


The likelihood of damage to big galleta from fire most likely increases if plants are burned during dormancy [23], or in years of below average precipitation.

Pleuraphis rigida: References

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4. Bowers, Janice E.; Webb, Robert H.; Pierson, Elizabeth A. 1997. Succession of desert plants on debris flow terraces, Grand Canyon, Arizona, U.S.A. Journal of Arid Environments. 36(1): 67-86. [27546]
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