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SPECIES:  Lycium pallidum
Pale desert-thorn. Image by Patrick J. Alexander, hosted by the USDA-NRCS PLANTS Database.



SPECIES: Lycium pallidum
AUTHORSHIP AND CITATION: Matthews, Robin F. 1994. Lycium pallidum. In: Fire Effects Information System, [Online]. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station, Fire Sciences Laboratory (Producer). Available: []. Revisions: On 3 August 2018, the common name of this species was changed in FEIS from: pale wolfberry to: pale desert-thorn. Images were also added.
ABBREVIATION: LYCPAL SYNONYMS: NO-ENTRY NRCS PLANT CODE: LYPA COMMON NAMES: pale desert-thorn boxthorn desert thorn pale wolfberry rabbit thorn TAXONOMY: The scientific name of pale desert-thorn is Lycium pallidum Miers. (Solanaceae) [23,31,33,43,47]. Infrataxa are: Lycium pallidum var. oligospermum C. L. Hitch., rabbit thorn Lycium pallidum var. pallidum [20,31,33,43], pale desert-thorn LIFE FORM: Shrub FEDERAL LEGAL STATUS: No special status OTHER STATUS: NO-ENTRY


SPECIES: Lycium pallidum
GENERAL DISTRIBUTION: Pale desert-thorn ranges from southern Colorado, Utah, and Nevada south to California, Arizona, New Mexico, and western Texas [23,33,43,47]. The typical variety apparently has a more southerly distribution than L. pallidum var. oligospermum, which is found in the Mohave Desert and the northern Sonoran Desert in California [20,31,33,43]. Pale desert-thorn is also found in Mexico in Sonora, Chihuahua, Zacatecas, and San Luis Potosi [43].
Distribution of pale desert-thorn in the United States. Map courtesy of USDA, NRCS. 2018. The PLANTS Database. National Plant Data Team, Greensboro, NC [2018, August 3] [41].
   FRES28  Western hardwoods
   FRES29  Sagebrush
   FRES30  Desert shrub
   FRES32  Texas savanna
   FRES33  Southwestern shrubsteppe
   FRES34  Chaparral - mountain shrub
   FRES35  Pinyon - juniper
   FRES40  Desert grasslands


    6  Upper Basin and Range
    7  Lower Basin and Range
   11  Southern Rocky Mountains
   12  Colorado Plateau
   13  Rocky Mountain Piedmont
   14  Great Plains

   K023  Juniper - pinyon woodland
   K024  Juniper steppe woodland
   K027  Mesquite bosque
   K031  Oak - juniper woodlands
   K032  Transition between K031 and K037
   K037  Mountain-mahogany - oak scrub
   K038  Great Basin sagebrush
   K039  Blackbrush
   K040  Saltbush - greasewood
   K041  Creosotebush
   K042  Creosotebush - bursage
   K043  Paloverde - cactus shrub
   K044  Creosotebush - tarbush
   K053  Grama - galleta steppe
   K054  Grama - tobosa prairie
   K057  Galleta - three-awn shrubsteppe
   K058  Grama - tobosa shrubsteppe
   K059  Trans-Pecos shrub savanna
   K060  Mesquite savanna
   K061  Mesquite - acacia savanna

    68  Mesquite
   220  Rocky Mountain juniper
   235  Cottonwood - willow
   239  Pinyon - juniper
   241  Western live oak
   242  Mesquite


Pale desert-thorn is characteristic of Mohave Desert vegetation and, in
addition to species already mentioned, is associated in that region with
winterfat (Ceratoides lanata), range ratany (Krameria parvifolia),
ephedra (Ephedra spp.), spiny hopsage (Grayia spinosa), Schockley
goldenhead (Acamptopappus schockleyi), Fremont dalea (Dalea fremontii),
spiny menodora (Menodora spinescens), prickly pear (Opuntia spp.), and
yucca (Yucca spp.) [1,5,8,29,40,44].

Pale desert-thorn is also found throughout the Sonoran and Chihuahuan
deserts and is associated with species including ocotillo (Fouquieria
splendens), ironwood (Olneya tesota), saguaro (Carnegiea gigantea),
false-mesquite (Calliandra eriophylla), feather dalea (Dalea formosa),
brittle bush (Encelia farinosa), leatherstem (Jatropha dioica), yucca,
agave (Agave spp.), prickly pear and cholla (Opuntia spp.), and catclaw
(Acacia spp.) [9,19,32].

Pale desert-thorn sometimes occurs in riparian woodlands such as those in
the Rincon Mountains of Arizona.  In these habitats it is associated
with species such as sycamore (Platanus wrightii), willow (Salix spp.),
Arizona walnut (Juglans major), Fremont cottonwood (Populus fremontii),
alligator juniper (Juniperus deppeana), Arizona white oak (Quercus
arizonica), and velvet ash (Fraxinus velutina) [7].

Pale desert-thorn is not listed as a dominant or codominant shrub species
in available publications.


SPECIES: Lycium pallidum
IMPORTANCE TO LIVESTOCK AND WILDLIFE: Pale desert-thorn fruits are consumed by birds and some rodents [24,26,33], and its foliage may be browsed by livestock [23,24,33,42,43]. It is little used by big game, however [26]. Pale desert-thorn is an important postnesting food for phainopepla in the Colorado River Valley. The spring phainopepla diet consists mainly of pale desert-thorn fruits and insects [4]. Shrub-grasslands, in which pale desert-thorn occurs, are preferred habitat of coyotes at the Pinon Canyon Maneuver Site in southeastern Colorado [16]. Woodrats in the Mohave Desert of California select pale desert-thorn foliage significantly (p<.001) more often than creosotebush (Larrea tridentata) foliage [30]. PALATABILITY: NO-ENTRY NUTRITIONAL VALUE: Mineral composition values of pale desert-thorn collected in May in the northern Mohave Desert are available [45]. COVER VALUE: Dense thickets [43] of pale desert-thorn probably provide cover for birds and small mammals. VALUE FOR REHABILITATION OF DISTURBED SITES: Specific information regarding the use of pale desert-thorn for rehabilitating disturbed sites is not available in the literature. Wolfberries (Lycium spp.), however, have been used to rehabilitate abandoned farmland in the Sonoran Desert lowlands and disturbed sites near Red Rock, Arizona. The sites were restored by establishing berms on the contour and then seeding with wolfberries and other desert shrubs [22]. OTHER USES AND VALUES: Historically, Native Americans have eaten pale desert-thorn berries and have used the plant for a wide variety of medicinal purposes [23,33,43]. Pale desert-thorn is grown as an ornamental [33,43]. OTHER MANAGEMENT CONSIDERATIONS: NO-ENTRY


SPECIES: Lycium pallidum
GENERAL BOTANICAL CHARACTERISTICS: Pale desert-thorn is a spiny, densely branched shrub with stems 3.3 to 9.9 feet (1-3 m) tall. Branches may be spreading to erect. The axillary flowers are bell-shaped and are borne singly or in clusters. The fruit is a red juicy berry with 20 to 50 seeds [20,31,33,43,47]. Pale desert-thorn may form dense thickets [43]. The distribution of small and large roots of pale desert-thorn on desert pavement underlain by caliche at 20 to 40 inches (50-100 cm) [2] at Rock Valley, Nevada follows (values are percent of total root system weight) [44]: Depth 0-10 cm 10-20 cm 20-30 cm 30-40 cm 40-50 cm 50+ cm ______________________________________________________________________ large 27.5 28.3 9.8 5.4 3.5 0 small 2.9 10.5 6.5 3.2 2.6 0 The exact sizes of large and small roots were not given. The roots of wolfberry species are tough and fibrous. Root systems are relatively extensive in comparison with aerial portions, often extending 25 to 30 feet (7.5-9.0 m) from the plant [42]. Phytomass measurements for new leaf, stem, flower, and fruit productivity of pale desert-thorn at Rock Valley, Nevada in wet and dry years are available in the literature [5]. Estimated aboveground net productivity values of pale desert-thorn at the same site for the period 1971 to 1976 are also available [39]. RAUNKIAER LIFE FORM: Phanerophyte REGENERATION PROCESSES: Pale desert-thorn regenerates from cuttings, root suckering, and layering. It also sprouts from the base when damaged [42,43]. Pale desert-thorn seeds are probably dispersed by birds and other animals, like those of other wolfberry species [28]. Three pale desert-thorn seedlings established at a Rock Valley, Nevada, site in 1972, but none survived to the following year [2]. Good seed crops are produced by wolfberry species almost every year. After extraction, seeds should be dried and stored in sealed containers at 41 degrees Fahrenheit (5 deg C), or stratified in moist sand. Stratified seeds of other wolfberry species maintain good viability for 6 months. Dormancy in wolfberry seeds is variable. Some wolfberry species seeds germinate well without pretreatment, while germination of others is improved by stratification. Seeds can be sown in the fall as soon as the fruits ripen, or stratified seed can be sown in the spring and covered lightly with about 0.25-inch (0.64-cm) of soil. Two-year-old seedlings may be outplanted [36]. SITE CHARACTERISTICS: Pale desert-thorn is found on plains and flats, along washes and arroyos, on dry rocky hills, mesas, and bajadas, and on rocky slopes and canyons of hills and mountains [18,19,29,23,31,33,46]. It is tolerant of saline soils [45]. In the Mohave Desert at Rock Valley, Nevada, pale desert-thorn occurs in desert scrub vegetation on sites at 3,300 feet (1,000 m) elevation with soils derived from calcareous alluvium. The soil surface is well-developed desert pavement underlain by a caliche layer that prevents root penetration [2,3,40]. Pale desert-thorn mostly occurs at the following elevations: feet meters _____________________________________________________________________ Arizona 3,500-7,000 1,060-2,120 [23] California below 2,500 below 757 [31] below 3,960 below 1,200 [20] Colorado 5,000-7,000 1,500-2,120 [18] Texas 3,000-7,000 900-2,120 [43] Trans-Pecos, TX 400-5,200 120-1,575 [33] Utah 3,300-6,170 1,000-1,870 [47] SUCCESSIONAL STATUS: Little information is available on the successional status of pale desert-thorn. It occurs in mid-seral and late seral communities of the upper Rio Puerco watershed in New Mexico that are dominated by oneseed juniper (Juniperus monosperma), broom snakeweed (Gutierrezia sarothrae), or alkali sacaton (Sporobolus airoides) [14]. SEASONAL DEVELOPMENT: Pale desert-thorn flowers from February to May or June throughout its range [23,31,33,43]. In the Mohave Desert pale desert-thorn is one of the first plants to break dormancy, and does so when night temperatures are around freezing and maximum air temperatures average 60 degrees Fahrenheit (15 deg C) [1,3,38]. It is also one of the first species to shed its leaves when air and soil temperatures increase above 86 degrees Fahrenheit (30 deg C). Pale desert-thorn may produce leaf and flower buds after summer and fall rains [1,3]. The following dates were recorded for phenological development of pale desert-thorn at Rock Valley, Nevada, over an 8-year period [38]: Year first leaf first flower first fruit ___________________________________________________________________ 1968 Feb. 2 Mar. 3 April 4 1969 Feb. 14 April 2 April 18 1970 Feb. 16 April 13 April 20 1971 Jan. 25 Mar. 12 none 1972 Feb. 18 Mar. 7 Mar. 15 1973 Feb. 20 Mar. 13 Mar. 22 1974 Feb. 4 Mar. 26 April 2 1975 Jan. 24 Mar. 18 April 2 1976 Mar. 4 April 2 April 16


SPECIES: Lycium pallidum
FIRE ECOLOGY OR ADAPTATIONS: Many perennial desert shrubs are not well adapted to fire [12], but some exhibit fire adaptive traits [27]. These traits are generally only weakly developed [35]. Since pale desert-thorn sprouts from the root crown following damage [43], it probably sprouts after fire [27]. However, it may take many years for desert shrubs to regain their former densities on burned sites [35]. The sprouting ability of pale desert-thorn is most likely dependent on fire severity. Dense clumps of brush containing pale desert-thorn may be somewhat impervious to fire, as are clumps containing Berlandier's wolfberry (L. berlandieri) [10]. Wolfberry species seedling establishment was noted after a fire at a Sonoran Desert site. The seeds may have survived fire in the soil or on burned plants, or may have been dispersed from adjacent unburned areas [35]. POSTFIRE REGENERATION STRATEGY: Tall shrub, adventitious-bud root crown Secondary colonizer - off-site seed 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: Lycium pallidum
IMMEDIATE FIRE EFFECT ON PLANT: Severe fires may kill pale desert-thorn, but low- to moderate-severity fires probably only consume its aerial portions. DISCUSSION AND QUALIFICATION OF FIRE EFFECT: NO-ENTRY PLANT RESPONSE TO FIRE: Specific information on the response of pale desert-thorn to fire is not available in the literature. In general, wolfberry species sprouted rapidly after controlled June fires in Sonoran Desert scrub vegetation near Phoenix, Arizona. The well developed wolfberry root systems escaped damage from the fire, allowing them to capitalize on increased water and nitrogen availability in the postfire environment. Wolfberries had established their former density and cover by 35 postfire months. Wolfberry plants had similarresponses in both open shrub and tree microhabitats [27]. Wolfberry species sprouted and seedlings established within 3 years following a June wildfire in a Sonoran desert scrub community near Phoenix, Arizona. No information was given on fire severity or intensity [35]. Berlandier's wolfberry, a related species, was reduced by prescribed fires in southern Texas [10,11,17], but the effects were short-lived and canopy diameter had recovered to prefire levels by the end of the first growing season following the fire [17]. DISCUSSION AND QUALIFICATION OF PLANT RESPONSE: NO-ENTRY FIRE MANAGEMENT CONSIDERATIONS: Fires are not prevalent in many desert communities due wide spacing between shrubs and sparse ground cover [12,21]. Unusually heavy winter rains, however, may produce a cover of annual species dense enough to carry a fire when cured [21]. Many perennial desert shrubs are poorly adapted to fire [12]. Wolfberries in particular may be susceptible to repeated burning [27]. Postfire colonization by desert shrubs is very slow initially and may take hundreds of years [12,35]. Rogers and Steele [35] suggested a conservative approach when using fire to manage desert regions.


SPECIES: Lycium pallidum
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