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SPECIES:  Hymenoclea salsola
Burrobrush. Wikimedia Commons image by Stan Shebs.



SPECIES: Hymenoclea salsola
AUTHORSHIP AND CITATION: Tesky, Julie L. 1993. Hymenoclea salsola. In: Fire Effects Information System, [Online]. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station, Fire Sciences Laboratory (Producer). Available: []. Revisions: On 12 July 2018, the common name of this species was changed in FEIS from: white burrobrush to: burrobrush. Images were also added. ABBREVIATION: HYMSAL SYNONYMS: Hymenoclea salsola var. patula (Nelsen) Peterson & Payne NRCS PLANT CODE: HYSA COMMON NAMES: burrobrush cheesebush desert pearl pearlbush TAXONOMY: The scientific name of burrobrush is Hymenoclea salsola Tor. & Gray. There are three recognized varieties [2,21,22,27]: Hymenoclea salsola Torr. & A. Gray var. fasciculata (A. Nelson) K.M. Peterson & Payne Hymenoclea pentalepis (Rydb.) L. Benson. Hymenoclea salsola var. salsola LIFE FORM: Shrub FEDERAL LEGAL STATUS: No special status OTHER STATUS: NO-ENTRY


SPECIES: Hymenoclea salsola
GENERAL DISTRIBUTION: Burrobrush is found in the Sonoran, Mojave, and Colorado deserts of Baja California, southern California, southern Nevada, extreme southwest Utah, Arizona, and northwest Mexico [18,22,27,46].  A small, relict population occurs in the southern end of the Central Valley of California [12].
Distribution of burrobrush. Map courtesy of USDA, NRCS. 2018. The PLANTS Database. National Plant Data Team, Greensboro, NC [2018, July 12] [32].
   FRES29  Sagebrush
   FRES30  Desert shrub
   FRES35  Pinyon - juniper


    7  Lower Basin and Range
   12  Colorado Plateau

   K023  Juniper - pinyon woodland
   K024  Juniper steppe woodland
   K040  Saltbush - greasewood
   K041  Creosotebush
   K042  Creosotebush - bursage
   K043  Paloverde - cactus shrub
   K044  Creosotebush - tarbush

   238  Western juniper
   239  Pinyon - juniper


Burrobrush is commonly found in creosotebush (Larrea tridentata),
shadscale (Atriplex confertifolia), and saltbush (Atriplex spp.) scrub,
Joshua tree (Yucca brevifolia) woodlands, and pinyon-juniper woodlands
[27,36,30].  Johnson [15] describes a burrobrush community type in
the desert washes of the Mojave Desert characterized by white
burrobrush, desert saltbush (Atriplex polycarpa), desert rabbitbrush
(Chrysothamnus paniculatus), and catclaw acacia (Acacia greggii).  Hanley
and Brady [14] describe a paloverde (Cercidium spp.)-burrobrush
community type in Sonoran Desert washes.

In addition to the above mentioned species, burrobrush is commonly
associated with smoke tree (Dalea spinosa), white bursage (Ambrosia
dumosa), brittle bush (Encelia farinosa), jojoba (Simmondsia chinensis),
sweetbush (Bebbia juncea), desert agave (Agave deserti), ocotillo
(Fouquieria splendens), range ratany (Kramerica parvifolia), teddybear
cholla (Opuntia bigelovii), desert willow (Chilopsis linearis), and
rubber rabbitbrush (Chrysothamnus nauseosus) [42,44,45].

A publication listing burrobrush as a codominant species in desert
wash communities is listed below:

Vegetation and plant communities of southern California deserts-- a
   functional view [15].


SPECIES: Hymenoclea salsola
IMPORTANCE TO LIVESTOCK AND WILDLIFE: NO-ENTRY PALATABILITY: NO-ENTRY NUTRITIONAL VALUE: NO-ENTRY COVER VALUE: Some arroyo habitats where burrobrush occurs provide den sites for the desert tortoise [43]. VALUE FOR REHABILITATION OF DISTURBED SITES: NO-ENTRY OTHER USES AND VALUES: The Seri Indians of Sonora, Mexico, use burrobrush twigs and stems in several remedies.  The twigs or leaves are mixed with all-thorn (Koeberlinia spinosa) twigs, boiled, and the tea taken to treat skin rashes.  Seri also drank the tea to relieve pain in the lungs and trachea, and to reduce swelling.  Additionally, they use white burrobrush as a remedy for rheumatism [10]. OTHER MANAGEMENT CONSIDERATIONS: Burrobrush causes hay fever [3,22].


SPECIES: Hymenoclea salsola
GENERAL BOTANICAL CHARACTERISTICS: Burrobrush is a native, short-lived, drought-deciduous, perennial shrub 3 to 8 feet (1-2.5 m) tall and two- or three-fold as wide [2,4,22,27].  It is rounded and often straggly with slender, puberulent branches and narrow, often threadlike or needlelike leaves to 0.7 to 3 inches (2-7.5 cm) long [7,18,21,27].  The flower heads are small and numerous [2,7,22].  Burrobrush has a shallow root system consisting of a relatively short taproot with prominent laterals [20]. RAUNKIAER LIFE FORM: Phanerophyte REGENERATION PROCESSES: Burrobrush reproduces mostly by seed but can also reproduce by sprouting [13,29,41].  Flowers are borne on 2-year-old branches which, following fruit development, die back to the ground.  Flowers are wind pollinated [21].  Burrobrush fruits contain only one seed and are disseminated by wind or water [19,21,37]. The seeds have high viability and germination rates compared to other desert shrubs [26,41].  In a 16-day germination study, they had one of the highest rates of germination (57 percent) of seven species of desert shrubs.  Burrobrush seedlings emerged well from 0.39- and 0.79-inch (1- and 2-cm) plantings but not from depths of 1.5 inches (4 cm) or more [41].  Stratification has been shown to have no effect on germination rate.  Seed treatments used to increase burrobrush germination in the laboratory, and their results, have been described by Graves and others [13]. SITE CHARACTERISTICS: Burrobrush is commonly found in sandy washes, alluvial fans, and rocky slopes [2,18,21].  It generally grows on well-drained, sandy, alkaline soils [22,33], and is found at elevations between 2,200 and 2,950 feet (670-900 m) [39]. SUCCESSIONAL STATUS: Burrobrush is a short-lived pioneer or invader species.  It is common and often very abundant on disturbed sites [24,34,35].  White burrobrush is often the primary short-lived pioneer species found in small desert washes [36].  It may be present in very low numbers in stable, old creosotebush communities [36].  The life span of white burrobrush is not known but is estimated at only a few decades [34]. Burrobrush was the most abundant pioneer shrub on a disturbed pipeline construction site in creosotebush scrub vegetation of the Mojave Desert.  In some disturbed areas burrobrush made up as much as 85 percent of the vegetative cover 12 years after the original vegetation had been removed [35].  Another Mojave Desert study of disturbed creosotebush scrub, at three military camps abandoned for 40 years, found that burrobrush was dominant in the majority of disturbed sites.  It also had percentage cover values similar to or greater than controls in most areas where substrate alterations were significant [24]. SEASONAL DEVELOPMENT: Burrobrush flowers from March through June [1,18,20,22].  New leaf and twig growth is initiated after summer and winter rains.  Both leaf and twig tissues are thus present during the periods of peak seasonal productivity [6].  At one site in southern Nye County, Nevada, the range of beginning dates of phenophases over a 6-year period was as follows [1]:      leaf- March through April      flower bud- mid-March through mid-April      flower- early April through early May.


SPECIES: Hymenoclea salsola
FIRE ECOLOGY OR ADAPTATIONS: Fires are infrequent in communities where burrobrush occurs because of low productivity and discontinuous fuels [23]; nevertheless, fire is a natural component of these communities [16,42].  White burrobrush establishes after fire via off-site seeds and sprouting (sprout origin unspecified) [29,38].  Because it seeds prolifically, burrobrush can quickly colonize burned sites [38]. POSTFIRE REGENERATION STRATEGY:    Small shrub, adventitious-bud root crown    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: Hymenoclea salsola
IMMEDIATE FIRE EFFECT ON PLANT: Burrobrush is often top-killed by fire.  Most burrobrush plants were burned to ground level by a severe summer fire in the Snow Creek area of Riverside County, California [23].  In a canyon in the San Ysidro Mountains, California, a July wildfire in the chaparral-desert ecotone top-killed nearly all burrobrush plants.  Occasional small pockets of plants in protected areas were not harmed [29]. PLANT RESPONSE TO FIRE: Burrobrush populations recover quickly after fire via off-site seeds and sprouting [23,29].  Five years after the Snow Creek fire, burrobrush frequency and cover were greater on burned than unburned sites [23].  Following the July fire in the San Ysidro Mountains, more than 90 percent of burrobrush plants survived by sprouting.  Some burrobrush started sprouting within 2 months after the fire.  Regrowth is summarized below [29]:                 # of resprouting     Mean # of        Mean length of                    plants/ha        sprouts/plant      sprouts (cm) 2 months after      5                     1                     3.8 fire (Sept) 4 months after    114                     9                    14.5 fire (Nov) 7 months after    247                     6                    10.4 fire (Feb) 10 months after    79                    12                    33.3 fire (June) 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 burrobrush, that was not available when this species review was written. FIRE MANAGEMENT CONSIDERATIONS: NO-ENTRY


SPECIES: Hymenoclea salsola
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