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SPECIES: Ceanothus cuneatus




© Michael W. Tuma

League, Kevin R. 2005. Ceanothus cuneatus. In: Fire Effects Information System, [Online]. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station, Fire Sciences Laboratory (Producer). Available: [].



buckbrush ceanothus
wedgeleaf ceanothus

The scientific name of buckbrush is Ceanothus cuneatus (Hook.) Nutt. (Rhamnaceae) [55,56,58,109]. Infrataxa are:

Ceanothus cuneatus var. cuneatus (buckbrush)
Ceanothus cuneatus var. fascicularis (McMinn) Hoover (sedgeleaf buckbrush) [55,58]
Ceanothus cuneatus var. rigidus (Nutt.) Hoover (Monterey ceanothus) [55,58]





SPECIES: Ceanothus cuneatus
Buckbrush is widely distributed in California, Oregon, and the Baja of Mexico. Buckbrush is found from the Willamette Valley of west-central Oregon, south to the Rogue Valley and Siskiyou Mountains of southwestern Oregon. It is frequent along the coastal ranges of California, to the Liebre, San Gabriel, San Bernardino, Santa Rosa, and Laguna mountains in southern California. Buckbrush is also found in the Sierra Juárez and San Pedro Martir mountains of Baja [34,55,56,58,78,109]. Varieties of buckbrush are found along a similar distribution. Buckbrush is commonly found growing throughout buckbrush distribution in Oregon, California, and Baja while sedgeleaf buckbrush and Monterey ceanothus are confined to areas south of Oregon only.

Plants database provides a distributional map of Buckbrush and its infrataxa.

FRES20 Douglas-fir
FRES21 Ponderosa pine
FRES28 Western hardwoods
FRES29 Sagebrush
FRES34 Chaparral-mountain shrub

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

B.C.N. B.C.S.

1 Northern Pacific Border
2 Cascade Mountains
3 Southern Pacific Border
4 Sierra Mountains

K002 Cedar-hemlock-Douglas-fir forest
K005 Mixed conifer forest
K009 Pine-cypress forest
K010 Ponderosa shrub forest
K011 Western ponderosa forest
K012 Douglas-fir forest
K024 Juniper steppe woodland
K026 Oregon oakwoods
K029 California mixed evergreen forest
K030 California oakwoods
K033 Chaparral
K034 Montane chaparral
K035 Coastal sagebrush
K036 Mosaic of K030 and K035
K047 Fescue-oatgrass
K048 California steppe
K055 Sagebrush steppe

210 Interior Douglas-fir
229 Pacific Douglas-fir
233 Oregon white oak
234 Douglas-fir-tanoak-Pacific madrone
237 Interior ponderosa pine
238 Western juniper
241 Western live oak
243 Sierra Nevada mixed conifer
244 Pacific ponderosa pine-Douglas-fir
245 Pacific ponderosa pine
246 California black oak
247 Jeffrey pine
248 Knobcone pine
249 Canyon live oak
250 Blue oak-foothills pine
255 California coast live oak

107 Western juniper/big sagebrush/bluebunch wheatgrass
110 Ponderosa pine-grassland
109 Ponderosa pine shrubland
201 Blue oak woodland
202 Coast live oak woodland
204 North coastal shrub
205 Coastal sage shrub
206 Chamise chaparral
207 Scrub oak mixed chaparral
208 Ceanothus mixed chaparral
209 Montane shrubland
214 Coastal prairie
215 Valley grassland
216 Montane meadows
405 Black sagebrush

Buckbrush is commonly encountered in most chaparral vegetation types and several forest communities throughout California, Oregon and the Baja of Mexico. While sometimes found in pure stands representing the dominant vegetation, buckbrush more often codominates or associates with other species in shrub stands or is a substantial understory species of pine (Pinus spp.) forests or oak (Quercus spp.) woodlands [30].

In California buckbrush is the dominant shrub species in the ceanothus chaparral vegetation type. Shrub species that may associate with buckbrush include chamise (Adenostoma fasciculatum), hoaryleaf ceanothus (Ceanothus crassifolius), hairy ceanothus (C. oliganthus), blueblossom (C. thyrsiflorus), Nuttall's scrub oak (Q. dumosa), toyon (Heteromeles arbutifolia), and sugar sumac (Rhus ovata) [52].

Chamise chaparral is the most common type of chaparral in California occurring in the north and central Coast Ranges, Sierra Nevada foothills, southern California and northern Baja mountain ranges. This type of chaparral is usually dominated by chamise, although in many stands, buckbrush codominates with chamise and/or whiteleaf manzanita (Arctostaphylos viscida) [7]. Stands where chamise and buckbrush codominate are sometimes referred to as mixed chaparral. Species that associate with buckbrush in this cover type include trees such as blue oak (Q. douglasii) and California buckeye (Aesculus californica), shrubs such as red shank (Adenostoma sparsifolium), Nuttall's scrub oak, birchleaf mountain-mahogany (Cercocarpus betuloides), laurel sumac (Malosma laurina), white and black sage (Salvia mellifera, S. apiana), sugar sumac, Our Lord's candle (Yucca whipplei), and herbs such as giant wildrye (Leymus condensatus), and Eastern Mojave buckwheat (Eriogonum fasciculatum) [8,18,52,74].

The most diverse community where buckbrush frequently occurs in is the montane chaparral of the lower elevations and xeric sites of the Cascade, Klamath, and Siskiyou mountains of southwestern Oregon and northern California, the Transverse and Peninsular ranges of southern California, and the Sierra San Pedro Mártir of northern Baja. Habitat types in this category are foothill woodlands, and mixed coniferous forest. Generally this cover type refers to occurrences of buckbrush found in the understory of transmontane forested slopes of Jeffrey pine (Pinus jeffreyi) and gray pine (P. sabiniana) in California, and Pacific ponderosa pine (P. ponderosa var. ponderosa) and oak woodlands of California and Oregon. Characteristic species that associate with buckbrush in this cover type include trees such as Oregon white oak (Q. garryana), blue oak, California black oak (Q. kelloggii), California shrub live oak (Q. turbinella var. californica), valley oak (Q. lobata), leather oak (Q. durata), interior live oak (Q. wislizenii), coast live oak (Q. agrifolia), canyon live oak (Q. chrysolepis), and California buckeye. Shrubs include whiteleaf manzanita, bigberry manzanita (Arctostaphylos glauca), yerba santa (Eriodictyon californicum), eastern redbud (Cercis canadensis), pointleaf manzanita (A. pungens), Klamath plum (Prunus subcordata), California buckthorn (Frangula californica ssp. cuspidata), common snowberry (Symphoricarpos albus), Mojave ceanothus (Ceanothus greggii var. vestitus), Mohave buckbrush (C. g. var. perplexans), birchleaf mountain-mahogany, thickleaf yerba santa (E. crassifolium), flannelbush (Fremontodendron californicum), California coffeberry (Rhamnus californica), yellowleaf silktassel (Garrya flavescens), and poison-oak (Toxicodendron diversilobum) [19,30,35,52,57,71,84,96]. Also in the montane chaparral, buckbrush associates with less frequented stands of Baker cypress (Cupressus bakeri) in northern California and southern Oregon [31,101], Tecate cypress (C. forbesii) in southern California and Baja [5,32], and bigcone Douglas-fir (Pseudotsuga macrocarpa) in southern California mountains [43]. In Siskiyou County, California, and on lava flows in eastern Shasta County, California, buckbrush associates with small populations of western juniper (Juniperus occidentalis) [23].

The coastal sage scrub habitat type is dominated by California sagebrush (Artemisia californica) and includes buckbrush in areas in or near low elevation coastal aspects. Other species that may associate with buckbrush in this cover type include white, black, and purple sage (Salvia leucophylla), California brittlebush (Encelia californica), eastern Mojave buckwheat, and thickleaf yerba santa [34,52,75].

In California small populations of buckbrush are found on inland dune locations which have minimal soil development. Species that commonly associate with buckbrush in these communities include coast live oak, chamise, California buckeye, Santa Barbara ceanothus (Ceanothus impressus), California prickly phlox (Leptodactylon californicum), and black sage [9].


SPECIES: Ceanothus cuneatus


© 2002 Julie Kierstead Nelson

This description provides characteristics that may be relevant to fire ecology, and is not intended for identification. Keys for identification are available (e.g. [55,56,58,78,109]).

Buckbrush is a native, perennial, evergreen shrub reaching heights of 3.3 to 11.5 feet (1-3.5 m) tall. The branches are rigid. Leaves are opposite, firm, flat, and 5 to 15 mm long, although considerable differences in leaf size have been observed, which is thought to be driven by water availability [27]. There is evidence that buckbrush can withdraw nutrients from senescing leaves [86]. For more information see Seedling establishment/growth. Flowers are 5 to 6 mm broad with short erect horns near the top. Fruits are capsules that contain 2 to 3 seeds, round to oblong in shape, and 0.16 inches (4 mm) long [13,35,55,56,58,78,109]. Roots are many branched from a single tap root and can penetrate "deeply" into the soil [96].

Buckbrush establishment is generally synchronous after burning so buckbrush stands are usually even-aged [60]. Biswell [21] feels substantial mortality of buckbrush begins in stands more than 50 years old.


Buckbrush regenerates from seed [59].

Breeding system: Buckbrush is monoecious [58].

Pollination: Buckbrush is cross-pollinated by insects [58].

Seed production: Buckbrush seed production varies yearly [22].

Seed dispersal: occurs during the spring [61]. The mature capsule bursts upon opening, making an audible pop, and seeds are cast up to a distance of 35 feet (10.7 m) [22]. However, the majority of seeds fall near the parent shrub [35]. Seed casting date and distance depend on phenology of fruit-ripening, temperature, and humidity. Hotter and drier conditions result in further casting which generally occurs during the hot and dry months of July and August [35].

Seed can also be dispersed by insects. California harvester ants are responsible for caching a considerable amount of buckbrush seed below ground, which is thought to protect seeds from lethal temperatures during burning [79].

Seed banking: Seeds of buckbrush are hard-coated, nearly impermeable, and may lie viable in the ground for many years [22,61]. Viable buckbrush seeds are commonly found buried in soils of chaparral [102]. Exactly how long banked buckbrush seed can remain viable needs to be investigated.

Germination: occurs during the spring following fire [102]. Buckbrush seeds require relatively high temperatures during burning (158 to 212 °F (70-100 °C) to facilitate germination [90]. Germination rates are high after fire [33,96] which scarifies buckbrush seed [87,102]. Heat from fire melts or cracks the cuticle of buried seeds [61] which is necessary for germination. Sweeney [102] investigated the effects of fire on seed, and found a majority of buckbrush seed germinated after being exposed to varying degrees of temperature up to 176 °F (80 °C). The effects of higher temperatures are unknown [102]. Germination rates are significantly (P<.01) enhanced when charate (chemical release from burnt wood) from chamise was used synergistically with heat in germination experiments [59]. The mechanism behind charate-stimulated germination is unknown. While germination is stimulated by burning, in the absence of fire, buckbrush can germinate in shrub overstory openings [18,22]. In a greenhouse environment germination of buckbrush was most successful when seeds were planted at depths of 0.5 to 1 inch (1.3-2.5 cm) [2,13].

Seedling establishment/growth: Buckbrush is widely considered an "obligate seeder" or "fire-recruiter." Regeneration depends almost entirely on germination from seed during postfire conditions [1,20,62,102]. During the spring after burning, varying numbers of buckbrush seedlings appear. Very high mortality rates are common during the 1st year after establishment. This is believed to be caused by summer drought and interference from herbaceous competitors (see Plant Response To Fire) [33,96,102]. Schultz and others [96] reported the emergence of buckbrush seedlings in the central California Sierra Nevada foothills occurred in mid-March and April. By mid-June, root depths may reach 30 to 40 inches (76-102 cm) while above ground stems and branches may reach 6 to 8 inches (15-20 cm) tall. Buckbrush roots penetrate much further than those of herbaceous competitors. It is believed that buckbrush' vigorous root growth beyond the maximum penetration of grass roots in the 1st year of growth is critical to obtaining enough moisture to establish [96]. Buckbrush in the absence of fire may become established in shrub openings [22]. In their review of chaparral vegetation, Keeley and Keeley [65] point out that obligate-seeding shrubs, including buckbrush, have more opportunities for genetic recombination than obligate-sprouting species. Recruitment of buckbrush between fire intervals is very uncommon and rarely results in successful establishment under the canopy of mature shrubs, even in stands unburned for more than a century [60,61].

Asexual regeneration: The ability of buckbrush to regenerate vegetatively is unclear. One observation from Biswell and Gilman [22] noted asexual regeneration of buckbrush through layering after a prolonged period without fire and grazing.

Buckbrush covers a wide array of geographic and topographic locations from valley floors to hillsides and foothill slopes. It generally occurs in elevations < 6000 feet (1800 m) in California and Oregon on dry mountain slopes and ridges within the Upper Sonoran Life Zone [55].

Climate of this region is considered "Mediterranean" with a majority of annual precipitation occurring in winter with long summer droughts. Typically buckbrush occurs in areas where annual precipitation ranges from approximately 10 to 35 inches (250-900 mm) and where 80% of the annual total precipitation occurs in the fall, winter, and spring [30]. Annual average precipitation ranges from north to south:

State Location Mean Annual Precipitation Citation
Oregon Medford 16.5 inches (419 mm) [30]
California Santa Rosa 35 inches (888.5 mm) [25]
California Fresno 29.9 inches (760 mm) [35]
California San Mateo County 25.7 inches (654 mm) [1]
California Los Angeles 15.7 inches (400 mm)  
California San Diego 10 inches (250 mm) [77]

Buckbrush occurs in chaparral vegetation types in California and Oregon and is commonly associated with poor, rocky soils [41,61]. Buckbrush is more frequently found growing on nonserpentine soils of sandstone origins than on serpentine soils [92]. However, buckbrush can be found on both types of soils and is considered an indicator species for field identification of serpentine soil conditions in California and Oregon [68].

Buckbrush-grey pine chaparral on serpentine soil in the Red Hills Recreation Management Area, CA. USDA, Forest Service image by Janet Fryer.

Buckbrush stand development is not easily predicted and is dependent on a number of variables including plant association, habitat type, proximity to boundaries with other habitat types, geographic and topographic location, climate, fire intensity, and time since last fire [51]. This is in contrast to early theories that outline succession in chaparral as an orderly progression of seral stages that reach a climax as originally defined by Clements [91].

Buckbrush stands change rapidly during the first 1 to 4 years postfire. In areas where buckbrush associates with sprouting shrub species postfire succession can typically be described in 3 stages: (1) During the 1st postfire year native and nonnative vegetation forms the dominant cover, while chaparral shrub seedlings and sprouts emerge. (2) During the 2nd postfire year, high mortality of shrub and subshrub seedlings takes place with decreased native and increased nonnative herbaceous plants. (3) In subsequent years, the remaining shrub seedlings and sprouts become well established while herbaceous vegetation gradually decreases. After 8 to 10 years, a relatively mature chaparral cover with little understory exists [52,102]. Very little is known about the average life span of buckbrush, although many agree with Biswell's [21] observations that substantial mortality begins in stands >50 years old.

Stand development seems to be largely driven by water availability. While sometimes found in pure stands, buckbrush often codominates or associates with other shrub species during stand development. The subsequent dominance of any one species is greatly influenced by water availability and can be a major contributor to the occurrence and frequency of buckbrush in the resulting stand structure [40].

In most stands buckbrush can form impenetrable thickets that may retard understory development of other plant species [26]. However, in long disturbance-free periods, buckbrush stands can undergo decline because of interference from introduced sprouting shrubs or overstory species from nearby stands [40]. For example, suppression of fire in chaparral is thought to favor crown-sprouting species over obligate seeders. Research conducted in the southern coastal ranges of California found that fire suppression is primarily responsible for the conversion of large acreages of shrub lands where buckbrush occurred to oak woodlands [106]. Buckbrush has shown significant decreases in areas susceptible to shading from overstory species, in particular by Nuttall's scrub oak and toyon on coastal ranges [63,106]. Generally buckbrush declines in undisturbed stands that reach > 100 years old [53,60]. In unburned areas of the south coastal ranges of California [20], stands of buckbrush that have not burned for over a century are replaced by longer lived species such as chamise [40].

Buckbrush is an actinorrhizal plant that has the ability to fix atmospheric nitrogen [24,28,29]. This gives buckbrush a competitive advantage over other non-nitrogen fixing shrubs herbs and grasses, especially on nitrogen-deficient soils [24]. Over a given year buckbrush nodulates nitrogen at an estimated rate of 54 pounds per acre [29].

Buckbrush occurs in the Mediterranean-climate zone where annual summer drought is typical. The unpredictability of both intensity and duration of this drought has a major influence on the development strategies of buckbrush. All plant growth must occur before water stress triggers dormancy. A 2-year study in the foothills of Sequoia National Park, California, found that buckbrush begins phenological development in late winter and early spring and exhibits simultaneous branch elongation, leaf initiation, and flowering. This adaptation insures completion of all phenological stages before the onset of drought [7]. Buckbrush is able to survive extreme drought conditions as observed during the 1975-1977 drought in California [81].

Buckbrush flowers from February to April depending on location [109]. Leaf life span averaged 14.4 months in the eastern foothills of the Santa Cruz Mountains [1]. Buckbrush thrives in the cool, wet winter and withers during the dry summer. Buckbrush is considered a sclerophyll which is characterized by small leaves, short internodes, thick cuticle, sunken stomates, high proportion of lignified cells, and leaves with a waxy coating. All of these traits help buckbrush to survive water loss through transpiration [1].


SPECIES: Ceanothus cuneatus
Fire adaptations: Flammability of chaparral species has been suggested as an adaptation to fire. Mature buckbrush is highly flammable. Since seed of buckbrush is stimulated by scarification by fire (see Germination), flammability is thought to be an adaptation that assists in the germination and establishment of buckbrush [21].

Burning by Native Americans: Before European settlement, burning by Native Americans impacted fire intervals and vegetation structure, especially in areas where buckbrush occurs [4]. This is especially apparent in chaparral stands or oak woodlands where buckbrush and other chaparral shrub species are common in the understory. In California, observations in oak woodlands in the mid-twentieth century found increasing densities of chaparral species, including buckbrush, in the understory of oaks. This is believed to be due to suppression of native American burning practices and wildfire [17]. Burning by aboriginals in California was thought to be primarily for maintenance of hunting grounds and prevention of large "devastating" fires in mature stands of buckbrush, a species recognized by natives to be very important to wildlife. Native Americans probably ignited low-intensity grassfires during the spring in oak woodlands and winter range of regional ungulate species, to prevent buckbrush from being consumed by intense, naturally-ignited fires that typically occurred during mid-summer [17,73]. The extent and rationale of burning in chaparral by natives is in need of further study, especially in the context of ecological restoration.

Fire regimes: Opinions among chaparral scientists conflict on the degree to which chaparral is dependent on fire [40]. Historical fire intervals of 30 to 100 years appear most favorable for buckbrush stand maintenance [77,82]. Theoretically, longer fire intervals favor buckbrush by allowing larger quantities of annually-deposited, long-lived seed to accumulate. This provides better chances for postfire establishment [80]. This is counter to many land management fire prescriptions, especially in wildland-urban interface areas, where hazardous fuel reduction is a priority. Human caused ignitions, intentional and unintentional, cause fire intervals of 20-30 years, especially in stands in close proximity to towns or cities [60]. These intervals may be too short for sufficient seed accumulation.

The following table provides fire regime intervals for communities and ecosystems in which buckbrush commonly occurs. For more information on fire regimes in these communities, see the FEIS review for the dominant species listed here. 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 or Ecosystem Dominant Species Fire Return Interval Range (years)
California chaparral Adenostoma and/or Arctostaphylos spp. < 35 to < 100
coastal sagebrush Artemisia californica < 35 to < 100
California montane chaparral Ceanothus and/or Arctostaphylos spp. 50-100 [82]
California steppe Festuca-Danthonia spp. < 35 [82,100]
western juniper Juniperus occidentalis 20-70 [82]
Jeffrey pine Pinus jeffreyi 5-30
Pacific ponderosa pine* Pinus ponderosa var. ponderosa 1-47
California oakwoods Quercus spp. < 35 [6]
coast live oak Quercus agrifolia 2-75 [50]
coastal Douglas-fir* Pseudotsuga menziesii var. menziesii 40-240 [6,54,91]
California mixed evergreen Pseudotsuga menziesii var. menziesii-Lithocarpus densiflorus-Arbutus menziesii <35
canyon live oak Quercus chrysolepis <35 to 200
blue oak-foothills pine Quercus douglasii-P. sabiniana <35
Oregon white oak Quercus garryana < 35 [6]
California black oak Quercus kelloggii 5-30 [82]
interior live oak Quercus wislizenii < 35 [6]
*Fire-return interval varies widely; trends in variation are noted in the species review.

Shrub without adventitious bud/root crown
Ground residual colonizer (on-site, initial community)
Initial off-site colonizer (off-site, initial community)
Secondary colonizer (on-site or off-site seed sources)


SPECIES: Ceanothus cuneatus
Fire kills buckbrush [64].

The mature canopy of buckbrush is very flammable during the dry season when buckbrush is dormant. The flammability of buckbrush (see Fire adaptations) and subsequent severity of chaparral burns results in the mortality of all parts of the plant [33]. Seeds of buckbrush banked in soils survive burning and germinate the spring following fire [61].

A majority of buckbrush recruitment occurs the spring immediately after burning when seedlings establish from long-lived seeds stored in the soil. A limited number of additional seedlings become established 1 to 2 years after fire [22,62].

Postfire establishment patterns at landscape scale: In the northern Coastal Ranges of California Sweeney [102] found that buckbrush produced thousands of "vigorous" seedlings during the 1st spring after fire. However, seedling mortality rates were very high; 49 of 1,340 seedlings survived (4%) after the 1st dry season. Mortality corresponded closely with declining soil moisture and drought. The majority of mortality occurred after the 1st dry season; in following postfire years survivorship rates stabilized. Four years following fire, 2% of the total seedling crop had survived and become established. Dunne and others [33] found recovery of buckbrush to occur slowly after fire and noted that percent cover equaled 25% of preburn coverage 3 years after burning. Schultz and others [96] in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada found buckbrush mortality rates of 68% after the 1st year postfire.

Since buckbrush establishment is synchronous after burning, buckbrush typically forms even-aged stands [60]. Buckbrush stands can become very dense at maturity [22]. Frequently during early stages of buckbrush stand development, stands are densely crowded and allow few, if any, herbaceous species to occur under the canopy [22]. As stands mature, self-thinning occurs; then stand structure, density, and composition stabilize. Stand thinning seems to result from intraspecific competition for moisture and is highly correlated with how close shrubs grow to one another. Clumped distributions tend to show the greatest rates of mortality during times of high moisture stress. This pattern of mortality is present in both juvenile and mature stands of buckbrush and other ceanothus species [63].

Postfire establishment patterns at small scales: Buckbrush stands can become very dense during maturity allowing few, if any, herbaceous species to occur under its canopy [22]. In these areas postfire emergence and survival of seedlings is high due to a lack of interference from grasses and other herbaceous species [22]. Florence and Florence's [39] observations from prescribed fire activities noted that postfire buckbrush seedlings were frequently found near burned skeletons of buckbrush or other sprouting shrubs. They assumed that the dead remains of the shrubs provided a better habitat for the buckbrush seedlings by protecting the seedlings from browsing. Also the authors hypothesized that high temperatures or charate released during burning may have enhanced germination of buckbrush by increasing mortality of other competing herbaceous and shrub species [39].

Fire and nodulation of buckbrush: In California an irrigation experiment during mid-summer investigated whether water stress inhibits nodulation of postfire buckbrush seedlings. The authors found a significant (P< 0.05) increase in nodulation frequency in well-hydrated sites, compared to adjacent xeric sites, which are typical of buckbrush habitat. Also noted in this study was an interesting delay in nodulation in 1st year postfire seedlings. Nodulation of postfire seedlings did not occur at the onset of spring immediately after germination when soil moisture values where high. Pratt and others [85] suggested that buckbrush might be able to suppress nodulation by delaying nitrogen fixation until adequate carbohydrate reserves and water availability are synchronously established.

Wildfire suppression: policies during the 20th century have interrupted the natural fire cycle of many types of chaparral including those where buckbrush occurs. Current management of chaparral stands includes the use of prescribed fire to maintain natural fire regimes. However, large areas of continuous "decadent" buckbrush chaparral exist where fire has not occurred for over a century. Fires in these areas burn with high intensity over large areas, potentially beyond historical levels of severity [38]. Consequently, fire suppression's overall effects are thought to reduce the numbers of wildfires, but increase overall area burned [76,107]. Note that buckbrush stems identified as "decadent" may not necessarily be dead; see [59].

Frequency of burning: Research conducted during the mid-20th century focused on using frequent fires to reduce buckbrush and chamise stands for browse habitat improvements (see Importance To Livestock And Wildlife). Stands of buckbrush can be decimated when fires are frequent enough to kill postfire seedlings that have not matured enough to produce a seed crop [20]. One experimental burn conducted 3 years after burning on a young stand of buckbrush resulted in 100% mortality of all stems and 0% postfire establishment of new buckbrush seedlings the following spring [53]. This phenomenon has been called "shock stagnation," a semipermanent degradation of the native vegetation in which exotic grasses and/or forbs dominate. This tactic was frequently used during the mid-1900s [59].

The duration of time that buckbrush can exist without fire is unknown.

Seasonality of Burning: Buckbrush seedlings must develop considerable root systems during the spring before the cessation of seasonal rains. Middle- to late-spring burns may result in very high buckbrush seedling mortality [20,39].

Buckbrush exhibited successful rates of establishment when burning was conducted before winter [39]. The authors believe burning before the cool season allows seedlings of buckbrush to establish before annual herbaceous species arrive, giving buckbrush a competitive moisture advantage and subsequent higher rates of survival through the following dry season [39]. However, low fire intensities commonly associated with prescribed fires during the cool season are also directly correlated with high coverages of herbaceous species during the 1st year postfire [38]. Most prescribed fires occur during the cool season due to safety issues. It may be difficult to use prescribed fire for ecological restoration while addressing safety needs. Further research is needed on the effects of seasonality of burning and establishment buckbrush.

Postfire establishment and interference: One concern following fire is possible interference from herbaceous species. Postfire mortality of buckbrush seedlings suggests competition of water and nutrient resources from nearby herbaceous plants is an important factor influencing initial survival rates [102]. This effect may be less common in areas with low rainfall. Schultz and others [96] in the Sierra Nevada of central California found the abundance and vigor of buckbrush seedlings were negatively associated with increasing densities of herbaceous species, especially grasses. Postfire establishment of grasses in this area usually precedes buckbrush, quickly creating a mass of roots difficult for shrub species to push young roots through. The authors believed competition between grasses and buckbrush seedlings for moisture during establishment is responsible for dramatic reductions in numbers of buckbrush seedlings 1 year postfire. In their study, 3 months after emergence, buckbrush growing without interference from other species developed roots to a depth of 43 inches (109 cm) and had 26 inches (66 cm) of lateral growth. In contrast, under the same watering regime, buckbrush seedlings growing along with Italian ryegrass (Lolium multiflorum) had a maximum root depth of 11.5 inches (29 cm) with very little lateral growth [96]. Buckbrush seedling mortality was highest when density of Italian ryegrass was >39% at maturity. Biswell [21] found that native herbaceous density > 65% severely affected survival of buckbrush and other chaparral shrubs. Contrary to Schultz and others [96], Beyers and others [15] found no significant (P>0.05) differences in buckbrush stem densities in plots in southern California that either had or had not been reseeded with Italian ryegrass 5 years postfire. However in this study grass densities were low and rainfall less than average [96].

Postfire competition for light often controls shrub species dominance in chaparral. In ecotonal regions between coastal sage and chaparral, stands 30 years postfire showed declining density of purple sage in mixed stands with buckbrush. This was not caused by allelopathy but by competition for light. During stand maturity buckbrush grows taller and shades purple sage [75]. Similar results have been found from comparable research using different Ceanothus species. [94].

Fire intensity and postfire establishment: Buckbrush establishment is associated with areas where the prefire canopy was dense and consequently high fire severity occurred. Soil heating is the primary trigger to end dormancy for buckbrush (see Seedling establishment/growth). A study hypothesized that in the absence of fire, abnormally large accumulations of fuel over a period of time would result in extreme fire severities, reducing numbers of buried viable seed [76]. However, the seed of buckbrush was found to be very resistant to heat and high fire severity [80]. Prescribed fires in chaparral types are conducted during the fall after the onset of the rainy season and generally exhibit lower fire intensity than typical wildfires during late summer or early fall [33]. Effects of low intensity burns on germination rates of buckbrush are not well known.

Most fire ecology studies conducted in chaparral vegetation have focused attention on the fire ecology of stands that exist on sandstone-derived soils, leaving the fire ecology of stands on serpentine soils largely uninvestigated. Buckbrush is found in serpentine soils, though it is more common and more abundant on nonserpentine soils [92]. This could be due to lower fire severities. Serpentine soils generally support lower densities of chaparral species, have lower concentrations of fuel, and burn with lower severity than fires on nonserpentine soils. These fires may not break seed dormancy in buckbrush [92]. For more information on serpentine flora ecology see [68].

Pre-and postfire grazing: Timing and intensity of cattle grazing can affect buckbrush. Heavy browsing of buckbrush lowers seed production and reduces the potential for future establishment of buckbrush after burning. In areas where heavy grazing occurs, young buckbrush seedlings may not produce sufficient seed before being grazed to regenerate after fire [22]. The combined effects of burning and heavy grazing on buckbrush have been used to convert stands of buckbrush to pasture [21]. Biswell and Gilman [22] recommended burning in areas susceptible to heavy grazing at intervals >20 years to allow for sufficient stand development and seed production.

Buckbrush is especially sensitive to browsing by deer after fire. Light to heavy browsing on young buckbrush seedlings has reduced abundance of seedlings following burning [20]. In California, after an unknown amount of time after burning, "light" browsing by deer resulted in stunted seedlings averaging heights of 18 inches (46 cm). Seedlings protected from browsing by enclosures grew rapidly and averaged >27 inches (69 cm) in height. Mortality rates of stems from browsing were dramatically reduced after shrubs reached 5 years of age [20].


SPECIES: Ceanothus cuneatus
Habitat and browse for wildlife: Many animals browse on the fruits, leaves, and young shoots of buckbrush and coyotes will occasionally eat the berries of buckbrush [11]. Along with typical browsing of foliage and twigs, deer often prefer the tender seedlings of buckbrush. Small rodents such as the deer mouse, California mouse, house mouse, California pocket mouse and birds such as California quail and mourning dove feed on the seeds of buckbrush [72].

After fire, deer and other ungulates prefer grazing in postfire stands of buckbrush. Peak browsing in these areas occurs for up to 3 years after burning [66,67].

Effects of cattle grazing in stands of buckbrush along with manipulation of chaparral for "range improvement" and "improvement of wildlife habitat" are well documented. For more information please refer to [22,44,45,46,47,49,93,95,103].

Palatability/nutritional value: The foliage, twigs, and seedlings of buckbrush are highly palatable to mule deer, black-tailed deer, and domestic sheep and goats [20,47,97]. Overall palatability to cattle is low [104]. Seeds are highly palatable to many small mammals, birds, and insects [26].

Buckbrush offers year around high-protein browse for black-tailed deer, mule deer and other wildlife species [16]. Domestic sheep prefer buckbrush for browse, while cattle will eat buckbrush when other forage is scarce [22]. The following table shows monthly fluctuations in crude protein content of buckbrush [16]. Values equal percentages of crude protein from oven-dried plant material. Crude protein peaks in spring and summer.

January February March April May June July August September October November December
8.0 7.8 9.2 15.6 12.4 9.5 7.9 10.4 7.5 6.5 7.0 8.1

Buckbrush provides high levels of nutrients important to ungulate species. Mineral concentrations of buckbrush for healthy deer populations are reported by Scrivner and others [97]. The following table shows mean percent mineral composition of oven-dry buckbrush material sampled from June, 1985, to July, 1986, in California.

P S Ca Mg K
0.12 0.11 0.62 0.23 0.74

Gordon and Sampson [48] also provide nutritional information on buckbrush.

Cover value: Buckbrush provides cover for many wildlife species including California quail, black-tailed jackrabbit, brush rabbit, and mourning dove [20,26]. The preferred habitat of the chaparral mouse is under the protective branches of buckbrush [70]. Many other small rodents including the deer mouse, California mouse, house mouse, and California pocket mouse, hide, feed, and nest beneath the canopy of buckbrush [70]. Plants frequently grow tall enough, and with sufficient density, to furnish good hiding cover for larger ungulates such as mule deer. Barrett [10] found that black-tailed deer preferred buckbrush chaparral over other adjacent cover types for browse in the foothill region of Mt Lassen, California.

Buckbrush is well suited for use in rehabilitation because of rapid growth rates and an ability to improve soil fertility through nitrogen fixation. Some cultivars are now commercially available [37]. Buckbrush has been successfully planted onto many types of disturbed sites throughout southern California and the desert Southwest [37]. It established well on disturbed sites near Lake Tahoe, California, but exhibited poor long-term survival due to cold winter temperatures [99]. Properly treated seed can be hand-sown onto burned slopes as an emergency revegetation measure in southern California chaparral. Good seedling establishment has been reported following seeding of these sites [12]. Buckbrush can be used for stabilization of neutral and acid soils. However, transplanting from a nursery is recommended due to the difficulty and expense of harvesting seeds [83].

The Miwok Indians of the Sierra Nevada region of California used the young, straight shoots of buckbrush for basketry material. The young shoots are so valuable that the Miwok have historically manipulated stands of buckbrush by pruning, burning, or coppicing to induce rapid elongation of young growth [3]. The Kawaiisu used straightened twigs of buckbrush for arrows and also used the shrub for fire wood [110]. The Mono tribe used stems of buckbrush for basketry materials [4].

No information is available for this topic.

Ceanothus cuneatus: References

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