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SPECIES:  Ambrosia dumosa
Burrobush in Onyo County, CA. Image by Larry Blakely, courtesy of CalPhotos.



SPECIES: Ambrosia dumosa
AUTHORSHIP AND CITATION: Marshall, K. Anna. 1994. Ambrosia dumosa. In: Fire Effects Information System, [Online]. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station, Fire Sciences Laboratory (Producer). Available: []. Revisions: On 28 June 2018, the common name of this species was changed in FEIS from: white bursage to: burrobush. Images were also added. ABBREVIATION: AMBDUM SYNONYMS: Franseria dumosa Gray [27] NRCS PLANT CODE: AMDU2 COMMON NAMES: burrobush bursage burroweed white bursage TAXONOMY: The scientific name for burrobush is Ambrosia dumosa (Gray) Payne [35]. It is a member of the aster family (Asteraceae). There are no recognized infrataxa. LIFE FORM: Shrub FEDERAL LEGAL STATUS: No special status OTHER STATUS: NO-ENTRY


SPECIES: Ambrosia dumosa
GENERAL DISTRIBUTION: Burrobush occurs throughout the Sonoran and Mojave deserts although it is typically considered a Mojave Desert species [1].  It ranges north to Death Valley, California, southern Nevada, and southwestern Utah.  It extends along the Gulf in Baja California as far south as Bajia Los Angeles and into Sonora as far south as Tiburon Island [41].
Distribution of burrobush in the United States. Map courtesy of USDA, NRCS. 2018. The PLANTS Database. National Plant Data Team, Greensboro, NC [2018, June 28] [48].

   FRES30  Desert shrub


    3  Southern Pacific Border
    6  Upper Basin and Range
    7  Lower Basin and Range
   12  Colorado Plateau

   K041  Creosotebush
   K042  Creosotebush - bursage
   K043  Paloverde - cactus shrub

   242  Mesquite


Burrobush is a dominant or codominant member of most plant
communities in the Sonoran and Mojave deserts.  It usually occurs in
open, species-poor communities with creosote bush (Larrea tridentata).

At the northern boundary of burrobush, in the transition zone
between the Mojave and Great Basin deserts, associated species of the
creosote bush-burrobush community include wolfberry (Lycium spp.),
range ratany (Krameria parvifolia), Mojave yucca (Yucca schidigera),
California jointfir (Ephedra funera), spiny hopsage (Grayia spinosa),
and winterfat (Krascheninnikovia lanata) [38,47].  The density of 
burrobush is about 2,500 plants per hectare [3,47].

Approximately 70 percent of the Mojave Desert is covered with open or
very open stands of creosote bush and burrobush [15,29,40].
Associated species in the Mojave Desert include desertsenna (Cassia
armata), Nevada ephedra (Ephedra nevadensis), white burrobrush
(Hymenoclea salsola), and wolfberry [22].

In the Sonoran Desert, associated members of the creosote bush-
burrobush community are acacia (Acacia paucipina), fourwing saltbush
(Atriplex canescens), ocotillo (Fouquieria splendens), big galleta
(Hilaria rigida), cholla (Opuntia spp.) and western honey mesquite
(Prosopis glandulosa var. torreyana) [40].  In the Arizona Upland
Subdivision of the Sonoran Desert, the density of burrobush is 549.7
plants per hectare and burrobush cover is 2.7 percent.  In the Lower
Colorado River Valley, the density of burrobush is 84 plants per
hectare and burrobush cover is 0.1 percent [29].

In addition to the creosote bush-burrobush association, burrobush
is a member of the following associations:  Joshua tree (Yucca
brevifolia)-big galleta [24], saguaro (Carnegiea gigantea)-paloverde
(Cercidium spp.) [39], Sonoran creosote bush scrub, Mojave creosote bush
scrub, and Mojave mixed woody scrub [22].

Publications listing burrobush as a dominant or codominant species

Sonoran Desert [10]
Preliminary descriptions of the terrestrial natural communities of California
Vegetation of the Santa Catalina Mountains: community types and
  dynamics [34]
Mojave Desert scrub vegetation [60]


SPECIES: Ambrosia dumosa
IMPORTANCE TO LIVESTOCK AND WILDLIFE: Burrobush is an important browse species in several areas of the Sonoran Desert.  Browsing pressure on burrobush is particularly heavy during years of low precipitation, when production of winter annuals is low [8]. Burrobush is of intermediate forage value [21].  It is fair to good forage for horses and fair to poor for cattle and sheep.  However, because there is often little other forage where burrobush grows, it is often highly valuable to browsing animals [24].  Webb [51] observed that sheep browsed primarily on new growth and seeds. In the Mojave Desert, 8 percent of mature burrobush plants were browsed by black-tailed jackrabbits.  Forty-three percent of transplanted seedlings were browsed.  Fourteen percent of browsed seedlings were more than 90 percent consumed [26]. Many desert rodents, including kangaroo rats, eat burrobush seeds [57]. PALATABILITY: Burrobush is moderately palatable to cattle and sheep and slightly more palatable to horses.  Closely cropped burrobush plants on heavily stocked range indicates inadequate forage rather than high palatability [23]. Burrobush is palatable to feral asses.  Fecal analysis indicated that burrobush was the primary forage used by feral asses in winter [21]. NUTRITIONAL VALUE: The nutrient value of burrobush fluctuates seasonally; it is greater in the spring and less in the fall [21].  In a 2-year study in the Lower Colorado River Valley, burrobush had a gross energy value of about 4.2 kilocalories per gram.  Crude protein was highest in February at 10 percent, declining the rest of the year to 4 to 7 percent.  Phosphorus content was highest in spring at 1,110 milligrams per kilogram of plant material, declining to 500 milligrams per kilogram in August and September [21]. In the northern Mojave Desert, Romney and others [38] estimated the nutrient load of new burrobush leaves as follows: Nitrogen        1.29   kg/ha Phosphorous     0.114  kg/ha Sodium          0.035  kg/ha Potassium       1.70   kg/ha Calcium         0.93   kg/ha Magnesium       0.17   kg/ha Reichman [56] estimated that burrobush seeds contain 3,838 calories per gram or 23.72 calories per seed. COVER VALUE: NO-ENTRY VALUE FOR REHABILITATION OF DISTURBED SITES: Burrobush may be used to revegetate disturbed sites in southwestern deserts.  For instance, burrobush may be planted along California highways where unirrigated perennial vegetation has not survived [12]. Burrobush may be planted from containerized plants with a high probability of success.  Plantings should be made in late winter or early spring, although the time of planting is less important than the vigor of the seedlings.  Rodent protectors should be used [12]. OTHER USES AND VALUES: Burrobush is a host for sandfood (Pholisma sonorae), a parasitic plant with a sweet, succulent, subterranean flowerstalk.  Sandfood was a valuable food supply for desert peoples [58,59]. OTHER MANAGEMENT CONSIDERATIONS: Creosote bush-burrobush communities are poorly suited for livestock grazing because of low productivity and low water availability [23]. Burrobush is sensitive to browsing.  Browsing significantly decreased the cover and volume of burrobush by 27 and 21 percent, respectively, in the Mojave Desert [51].  In the Lower Colorado River Valley, overbrowsing decreased the cover of burrobush from 2.26 to 0.04 percent [21]. Pollution from electric power generating facilities may also decrease burrobush.  Burrobush showed intermediate sensitivity to sulphur dioxide and nitrogen dioxide fumigation [45].


SPECIES: Ambrosia dumosa
GENERAL BOTANICAL CHARACTERISTICS: Burrobush is a native, drought-deciduous rhizomatous shrub growing from 8 to 24 inches (20-60 cm) tall.  Its many slender, stiff branches form a compact, hemispherical crown [14,41].  The leaves of burrobush are small and deeply divided.  They may become so dry that it is difficult to tell whether they are alive or dead [41]. The staminate and pistillate heads of burrobush intermingle throughout the length of its racemes [41].  The pistillate heads are two-flowered, producing obovoid fruits 0.2 to 0.8 inches (5-20 mm) long. The burs generally contain 20-35 flattened, scattered, unhooked spines that are about 0.08 inches (2 mm) long [33]. The root system of burrobush is derived from a segmented root crown, and is mostly comprised of lateral roots [14].  Roots may grow 5 to 15 times the length of the stem [41] and extend to a depth of 28 inches (70 cm) [14].  Anderson [4] found the shoot to root dry weight ratio of burrobush to be 1.38.  The leaf to root ratio was 0.18. Definitive information on the longevity of burrobush is not available in the literature.  Due to cloning, burrobush may be an extremely long-lived shrub [32].  Some researchers, however, have suggested that the longevity of burrobush is similar to that of its noncloning congener, triangle bursage (A. deltoidea):  somewhat less than 50 years [31,63]. RAUNKIAER LIFE FORM:    Phanerophyte    Chamaephyte REGENERATION PROCESSES: Burrobush reproduces both vegetatively and sexually. Vegetative reproduction:  Muller [32] and Wright and Howe [52] have described vegetative reproduction in burrobush.  As burrobush plants age, their crowns open irregularly with the successive deaths of individual aerial shoots.  The clone slowly spreads to as much as 3.3 feet (1 m) in diameter.  The original seedling shoot branches intricately at its base and below the soil.  The short rhizomes root independently so that the death of the seedling stem and subsequent rotting away of the original root crown disconnects the rhizomatous shoots.  Windblown soil and organic debris accumulate about the base of burrobush clones, producing a sizable mound over time [32]. Sexual reproduction:  Burrobush flowers anytime during the spring, summer, and fall if enough rain falls [1].  It produces seeds abundantly, and seedlings establish in open space [31].  Large numbers of burrobush seedlings emerge following heavy fall precipitation [6].  In September of 1976, after a record rainfall near Ocotillo, California, the density of burrobush seedlings was 466 plants per acre (1,151 plants/ha) [55]. Burrobush seeds have prickles that easily enter and remain in skin and hair, so burrobush is probably dispersed by mammals.  Although burrobush has moderately heavy fruits with low lofting ability, requiring an air current of 87.9 centimeters per second, Maddox and Carlquist [30] suggested that the tumbling ability of the fruits aids in dispersal. Germination experiments have been performed on burrobush.  Young and Young [54] found that 30 days of moist stratification treatment at 35 degrees Fahrenheit (1.7 deg C) markedly improved burrobush germination.  Graves and others [19] found that both moist sand stratification and carbon treatments improved 7- and 14-day germination of burrobush. SITE CHARACTERISTICS: Burrobush commonly grows on arroyos, bajadas, gentle slopes, valley floors, and sand dunes at elevations up to 3,000 feet (900 m) throughout the Sonoran and Mojave deserts [27,32,41,44,53].  It occurs on calcareous, sandy, alluvial soil that is often underlain by a caliche hardpan [3,13,29,41,54].  Burrobush grows in pure stands or with associates, especially creosote bush, in barren or open areas [24,31,41]. Temperatures in the Sonoran and Mojave deserts are variable and extreme. At Puerto Libertad, Sonora, near the southern boundary of burrobush distribution, the mean annual temperature is 68.37 degrees Fahrenheit (20.2 deg C).  Daytime temperatures in the summer often reach 117 degrees Fahrenheit (47 deg C) [11].  In Rock Valley, Nevada, near the northern boundary of burrobush distribution, temperatures range from 5 degrees Fahrenheit (-15 deg C) in winter to 117 degrees Fahrenheit (47 deg C) in summer [3]. Phenological events in the Sonoran and Mojave deserts are triggered by rain.  In the Sonoran, rainfall averages 4 to 12 inches (100-300 mm) annually with a bimodal distribution [29].  The Mojave gets more winter than summer rain [29].  In Rock Valley, Nevada, rainfall averages 5.524 inches (138.1 mm), with 60 percent falling between September and February [7]. Low soil oxygen may be a controlling factor in the distribution of desert species.  Burrobush was more tolerant of low soil oxygenation than creosote bush [20]. SUCCESSIONAL STATUS: Succession in the desert is difficult to characterize because there is no clear change in species composition over time.  For instance, in creosote bush-burrobush communities, both burrobush and creosote bush persist in the community even though changes in their relative abundances may occur. Most burrobush are located on bare soil away from other plants. McAuliffe [31] found that 83 to 92 percent of all young burrobush in creosote bush-burrobush communities were located in bare spaces. Burrobush was the principal colonizer of open spaces in those communities. Once established, burrobush acts as a nurse plant to creosote bush and other desert species, providing improved microhabitat and protection from herbivory [16,31].  McAuliffe [31] found that 85.5 percent of all young creosote bush were either rooted beneath the canopies of live burrobush or positioned next to dead ones.  Most creosote bush establishment apparently occurs while the burrobush are alive.  The smallest creosote bush in McAuliffe's study were associated exclusively with live burrobush. Because of its colonizing ability, burrobush is a common pioneer on disturbed areas in the Mojave Desert [36].  In a comparison between vegetation in disturbed and undisturbed sites, burrobush was subdominant to creosote bush on control sites and dominant on disturbed sites 40 years after disturbance [36].  Vasek [50] noted that while burrobush colonizes open space by large-scale seedling establishment, creosote bush depends upon cloning or requires burrobush for establishment. Creosote bush-burrobush communities are probably adapted to continual or relatively slight disturbance such as lightly shifting sand surfaces [49,50].  If slight disturbance does occur, creosote bush-burrobush communities recover quickly in terms of species composition [36]. SEASONAL DEVELOPMENT: Burrobush leafs out in February or March; the mean leafing-out date in Rock Valley, Nevada, was February 23.  The mean flowering date was May 2 [46].  Burrobush seeds usually germinate following heavy September precipitation [6].  A minimum amount of rainfall is required to induce germination.  For instance, a 1971 rain of 1 to 1.96 inches (25-49 mm) was sufficient but neither an August 1972 rain of 0.68 inch (17 mm) nor a July rain of 0.84 inch (21 mm) promoted germination [2]. Burrobush has a drought dormancy period in the summer and may have an induced dormancy period during the winter if freezing night temperatures kill its leaves [1].


SPECIES: Ambrosia dumosa
FIRE ECOLOGY OR ADAPTATIONS: There is little mention of fire in relation to burrobush in the literature.  One study described limited sprouting and seedling establishment after fire [9]. Fires in the desert are infrequent and of low severity because production of annual and perennial herbs seldom provides a fuel load capable of sustaining fire.  In the Mojave Desert, there is little record of fires.  Humphrey [25] stated that the creosote bush-burrobush community is "essentially nonflammable" because the shrubs are too sparse to carry fire. Woody remains of burrobush take about 40 years to decay beyond the point of recognitions [31]. POSTFIRE REGENERATION STRATEGY:    Small shrub, adventitious-bud root crown    Rhizomatous shrub, rhizome in soil    Initial-offsite colonizer (off-site, initial community) 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: Ambrosia dumosa
IMMEDIATE FIRE EFFECT ON PLANT: Fire generally kills burrobush.  A low-severity fire occurred in the Coachella Valley, California, after 7 years of above normal precipitation.  Some burrobush plants survived because the fire burned patchily.  However, most burrobush plants burned because their canopies contained numerous small branches in proximity to herbaceous fuels.  A few burrobush plants were only scorched; they retained most of their branches and dried foliage.  Eighty-nine percent of burrobush plants were killed by the fire [9]. DISCUSSION AND QUALIFICATION OF FIRE EFFECT: NO-ENTRY PLANT RESPONSE TO FIRE: Burrobush sprouted at low rates after the low-severity fire in the Coachella Valley, California.  Only 6 out of 16 scorched plants and 2 out of 81 burned plants sprouted [9].  Burrobush seedling establishment on burned sites was poor during the first growing season after the fire but increased in later growing seasons.  Poor seedling establishment was probably unrelated to seed availability since burrobush occurred in adjacent unburned areas [9].  In postfire year 5, cover of burrobush on burned sites was 1 percent while cover on adjacent unburned sites was about 5.8 percent [9]. DISCUSSION AND QUALIFICATION OF PLANT RESPONSE: The Research Project Summary Nonnative annual grass fuels and fire in California's Mojave Desert provides information on prescribed fire and postfire response of plant community species, including burrobush, that was not available when this species review was written. FIRE MANAGEMENT CONSIDERATIONS: Biomass production and thus fuel loadings vary seasonally and annually for burrobush.  In 1971 and 1974 in Rock Valley, Nevada, estimated abovegound stem dry mass of burrobush was 31 and 41 grams per square meter, respectively.  Net aboveground production was consistently higher in spring than in fall.  In 1973, after an above average year of rainfall, flowers and fruits made up almost half of the new tissue produced by burrobush [47].


SPECIES: Ambrosia dumosa
REFERENCES: 1.  Ackerman, T. L.; Romney, E. M.; Wallace, A.; Kinnear, J. E. 1980.        Phenology of desert shrubs in southern Nye County, Nevada. In: Great        Basin Naturalist Memoirs No. 4. Nevada desert ecology. Provo, UT:        Brigham Young University: 4-23.  [3197] 2.  Ackerman, Thomas L. 1979. Germination and survival of perennial plant        species in the Mojave Desert. Southwestern Naturalist. 24(3): 399-408.        [12219] 3.  Ackerman, Thomas L.; Bamberg, Sam A. 1974. Phenological studies in the        Mojave Desert at Rock Valley (Nevada Test Site). In: Lieth, Helmut, ed.        Phenology and seasonality modeling. New York: Springer-Verlag: 215-226.        (Ecological studies; Analysis and synthesis, volume 8).  [21506] 4.  Anderson, D. J.; Perry, R. A.; Leigh, J. H. 1972. Some perspectives on        shrub/environment interactions. In: McKell, Cyrus M.; Blaisdell, James;        Goodin, Joe R., tech. eds. Wildland shrubs--their biology and        utilization: An international symposium: Proceedings; 1971 July; Logan,        UT. Gen. Tech. Rep. INT-1. Ogden, UT: U.S. Department of Agriculture,        Forest Service, Intermountain Forest and Range Experiment Station:        172-181.  [3794] 5.  Barbour, M. G.; MacMahon, J. A.; Bamberg, S. A.; Ludwig, J. A. 1977. The        structure and distribution of Larrea communities. In: Mabry, T. J.;        Hunziker, J. H.; DiFeo, D. R., Jr., eds. Creosote bush: Biology and        chemistry of Larrea in New World deserts. U.S./IBP Synthesis Series 6.        Stroudsburg, PA: Dowden, Hutchinson & Ross, Inc.: 227-251.  [7172] 6.  Beatley, Janice C. 1974. Phenological events and their environmental        triggers in Mojave Desert ecosystems. Ecology. 55: 856-863.  [4165] 7.  Bowers, Michael A. 1987. Precipitation and the relative abundances of        desert winter annuals: a 6-year study in the northern Mohave Desert.        Journal of Arid Environments. 12: 141-149.  [4850] 8.  Brady, Ward W.; Walker, Sally; Whysong, Gary L. 1978. Evaluating        long-term utilization on white bursage. In: Proceedings, 1st        international rangeland congress; 1978 August 14-18; [Location unknown].        Denver, CO: Society for Range Management: 524-525.  [4339] 9.  Brown, David E.; Minnich, Richard A. 1986. Fire and changes in creosote        bush scrub of the western Sonoran Desert, California. American Midland        Naturalist. 116(2): 411-422.  [537] 10.  Burk, Jack H. 1977. Sonoran Desert. In: Barbour, M. G.; Major, J., eds.        Terrestrial vegetation of California. New York: John Wiley and Sons:        869-899.  [3731] 11.  Castellanos, A. E.; Molina, F. E. 1990. Differential survivorship and        establishment in Simmondsia chinensis (jojoba). 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