Index of Species Information
SPECIES: Lycium pallidum
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:
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.
NRCS PLANT CODE:
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
FEDERAL LEGAL STATUS:
No special status
DISTRIBUTION AND OCCURRENCE
SPECIES: Lycium pallidum
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
|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] .
FRES28 Western hardwoods
FRES30 Desert shrub
FRES32 Texas savanna
FRES33 Southwestern shrubsteppe
FRES34 Chaparral - mountain shrub
FRES35 Pinyon - juniper
FRES40 Desert grasslands
AZ CA CO NV NM TX UT MEXICO
BLM PHYSIOGRAPHIC REGIONS:
6 Upper Basin and Range
7 Lower Basin and Range
11 Southern Rocky Mountains
12 Colorado Plateau
13 Rocky Mountain Piedmont
14 Great Plains
KUCHLER PLANT ASSOCIATIONS:
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
K040 Saltbush - greasewood
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
SAF COVER TYPES:
220 Rocky Mountain juniper
235 Cottonwood - willow
239 Pinyon - juniper
241 Western live oak
SRM (RANGELAND) COVER TYPES:
HABITAT TYPES AND PLANT COMMUNITIES:
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) .
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 .
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 .
Shrub-grasslands, in which pale desert-thorn occurs, are preferred habitat
of coyotes at the Pinon Canyon Maneuver Site in southeastern Colorado
Woodrats in the Mohave Desert of California select pale desert-thorn
foliage significantly (p<.001) more often than creosotebush (Larrea
tridentata) foliage .
Mineral composition values of pale desert-thorn collected in May in the
northern Mohave Desert are available .
Dense thickets  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
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:
BOTANICAL AND ECOLOGICAL CHARACTERISTICS
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 .
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)  at Rock
Valley, Nevada follows (values are percent of total root system weight)
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 .
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 . Estimated aboveground net
productivity values of pale desert-thorn at the same site for the period
1971 to 1976 are also available .
RAUNKIAER LIFE FORM:
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 .
Three pale desert-thorn seedlings established at a Rock Valley, Nevada, site
in 1972, but none survived to the following year .
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 .
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
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:
Arizona 3,500-7,000 1,060-2,120 
California below 2,500 below 757 
below 3,960 below 1,200 
Colorado 5,000-7,000 1,500-2,120 
Texas 3,000-7,000 900-2,120 
Trans-Pecos, TX 400-5,200 120-1,575 
Utah 3,300-6,170 1,000-1,870 
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) .
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 :
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 , but some
exhibit fire adaptive traits . These traits are generally only
weakly developed .
Since pale desert-thorn sprouts from the root crown following damage ,
it probably sprouts after fire . However, it may take many years
for desert shrubs to regain their former densities on burned sites .
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) .
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
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:
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 .
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
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 .
DISCUSSION AND QUALIFICATION OF PLANT RESPONSE:
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 . Many perennial desert shrubs are poorly
adapted to fire . Wolfberries in particular may be susceptible to
repeated burning . Postfire colonization by desert shrubs is very
slow initially and may take hundreds of years [12,35]. Rogers and
Steele  suggested a conservative approach when using fire to manage
SPECIES: Lycium pallidum
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