Index of Species Information

SPECIES:  Malosma laurina


SPECIES: Malosma laurina
AUTHORSHIP AND CITATION : Howard, Janet L. 1992. Malosma laurina. In: Fire Effects Information System, [Online]. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station, Fire Sciences Laboratory (Producer). Available: [].
ABBREVIATION : MALLAU SYNONYMS : Rhus laurina Nutt. ex T. & G. [38] SCS PLANT CODE : RHLA4 COMMON NAMES : laurel sumac TAXONOMY : The currently accepted scientific name of laurel sumac is Malosma laurina (Nutt. ex T. & G.) Nutt. ex Abrams [68]. There are no recognized subspecies, varieties, or forms. LIFE FORM : Shrub FEDERAL LEGAL STATUS : No special status OTHER STATUS : NO-ENTRY


SPECIES: Malosma laurina
GENERAL DISTRIBUTION : Laurel sumac is distributed along the Pacific Coast from the Point Conception region of Santa Barbara County, California, south to La Paz, Baja California Sur [35,40]. It also occurs on Santa Catalina, San Clemente, Cedros, and Gudalupe islands [12]. ECOSYSTEMS : FRES28 Western hardwoods FRES34 Chaparral - mountain shrub STATES : CA MEXICO BLM PHYSIOGRAPHIC REGIONS : 3 Southern Pacific Border KUCHLER PLANT ASSOCIATIONS : K030 California oakwoods K035 Coastal sagebrush K037 Mountain-mahogany - oak scrub SAF COVER TYPES : 255 California coast live oak SRM (RANGELAND) COVER TYPES : NO-ENTRY HABITAT TYPES AND PLANT COMMUNITIES : Laurel sumac occurs in coastal sage scrub, chaparral, and hardwood woodland formations [4,8]. It occasionally grows in nearly pure stands in coastal sage scrub [18,40]. More commonly, it codominates with California sagebrush (Artemisia californica) and black, white, or purple sage (Salvia mellifera, S. apiana, S. leucophylla), or is a less important community member [28,59]. Other coastal sage scrub associates are toyon (Hetermoles arbutifolia), sugar bush (Rhus ovata), lemonadeberry (R. integrifolia), misson manzanita (Xylococcus bicolor), needlegrasses (Stipa spp.), perennial ryegrass (Lolium perrenne), and giant wildrye (Elymus condensatus) [29,34,35,49]. In mixed chaparral, it often codominates with bigpod ceanothus (Ceanothus megacarpus) and spiny ceanothus (C. spinosus) [50]. It is usually an associate in desert scrub and seral chamise (Ademostoma fasciculatum) communities [10,19]. Desert scrub associates include desert ceanothus (C. gregii), desert almond (Prunus fasciculata), bush poppy (Denromecon rigida), and flannelbush (Fremontodendron californicum) [18,21]. Besides chamise, common chamise chaparral associates include hoaryleaf ceanothus (C. crassifolius), hairy ceanothus (C. obliganthus), California scrub oak (Quercus dumosa), Eastwood manzanita (Arctostaphylos glandulosa), and bigberry manzanita (A. glauca) [11,21,22]. In woodlands, laurel sumac is an understory associate in Engelmann oak (Quercus emgelmannii), valley oak (Q. lobata), coast live oak (Q. agrifolia), and California black walnut (Juglans californica) [33,42,52,62,66]. Riparian associates include California bay (Umbellularia californica), hollyleaf cherry (Prunus ilicifolia), poison-oak (Toxicodendron diversilobum), and toyon [11,41]. It is also found in riparian California sycamore (Platanus racemosa)-white alder (Alnus rhombifolia) associations bordering chaparral [18]. Common fire-follower associates are deerweed (Lotus scparius), sticky nama (Nama parryi), and bush lupine (Lupinus longifolius) [14]. Publications listing laurel sumac as a codominant species are as follows: The community composition of California coastal sage scrub [28] A vegetation classification system applied to southern California [40]


SPECIES: Malosma laurina
IMPORTANCE TO LIVESTOCK AND WILDLIFE : Black-tailed deer lightly browse laurel sumac seedlings and fruits [14]. Other mammals and birds, including California quail, also eat the fruits [5,55]. PALATABILITY : Laurel sumac browse is rated as useless for all classes of livestock and wildlife [48]. Even overpopulated feral goat and pig herds on Santa Catalina Island do not use it [17,34]. NUTRITIONAL VALUE : NO-ENTRY COVER VALUE : Laurel sumac provides deep shade [48,55], which is presumably used by animals during hot weather. VALUE FOR REHABILITATION OF DISTURBED SITES : Laurel sumac seedlings were planted on an old field in the Sepulveda Wildlife Refuge that was being restored to coastal sage scrub. Seedlings showed greater than 75 percent survival in the first year [41]. Brinkman [5] provides laurel sumac seed processing, storage, and germination information. Plants may also be started from root cuttings. Survival of young plants is greater when given microshading and summer waterings [52]. OTHER USES AND VALUES : Attractive evergreen leaves, reddish-brown branches, and relative freedom from garden pests makes laurel sumac a desirable ornamental within its range [9,48]. It is also a valued bee food [9,23]. The Chumash made flour from dried laurel sumac fruits. They used the root bark to make a tea for treating dysentery [53]. OTHER MANAGEMENT CONSIDERATIONS : Laurel sumac increases under heavy grazing. Populations on the Channel islands have greatly expanded since livestock introduction [34]. The shrubs are not frost-hardy, probably because of active stem growth during winter [67]. Major cold waves in the winters of 1949 and 1978 resulted in severe laurel sumac die-back. Poor frost tolerance is probably why the species is limited to areas south of Point Conception [35]. Citrus growers use laurel sumac presence as an indicator of frost-free sites with the potential to support citrus orchards [18].


SPECIES: Malosma laurina
GENERAL BOTANICAL CHARACTERISTICS : Laurel sumac is a fast-growing, native, sclerophyllous shrub from 6.6 to 16 feet (2-5 m) in height at maturity [7,46,56]. The evergreen leaves are aromatic and somewhat glaucous. Flowers are borne on terminal panicles. The fruit is a drupe containing a single, hard-coated seed [5,7]. The lignotuber is large and massive, measuring as much as 2.6 feet (0.8 m) in diameter [11,52]. Laurel sumac roots are deep and extensive; vertical root depth of one individual in the Santa Monica Mountains exceeded 43.6 feet (13.2 m) [11]. The shrubs are at least moderately long-lived. Ring counts of the branches of larger individuals on the San Gabriel River floodplain showed ages of 35 to 47 years. The massive lignotubers and roots were undoubtedly much older but could not be aged due to extensive rot [51]. Little information is available on age distribution in a typical stand. Mixed laurel sumac-lemonadeberry stands on Santa Catalina Island are uneven-aged [34]. RAUNKIAER LIFE FORM : Phanerophyte REGENERATION PROCESSES : Sexual: The honeybee is an important laurel sumac pollinator [7,9,23]. Seed production is low but consistent [62]; some seed is produced each year. Seed falls beneath the parent plant or is disseminated by frugivorous animals. Soil-stored seed is probably sound for many years [5], but long-term viability studies are lacking. Scarification by hydrochloric acid, heat, or mechanical means breaks dormancy. Temperatures for optimal heat scarification are from 200 to 240 degrees Fahrenheit (93-115 deg C) [6,47]. A study was conducted to test the germination capacity of fresh seed of seven chaparral species after exposure to elevated temperatures. It showed that laurel sumac and the taxonomically related sugarberry required higher temperatures for germination than all other species tested. Germination capacity of laurel sumac seed was 52 percent following five minute dry heat exposure at 220 to 240 degrees (104-115 deg C) but lowered to 20 percent at the 140- to 160-degree (60-71 deg C) range [61]. Drought sensitivity is a major factor inhibiting recruitment. Laurel sumac seedlings appear approximately 1 month later than most chaparral shrub seedlings, and their taproots grow slowly [50,52]. Germination and growth are favored on sites with summer microshade. Mortality is usually greatest the first summer following germination [14]. Seedlings are also sensitive to cold. They grow slowly at near-freezing temperatures, and frost kills them [7]. The preponderance of laurel sumac on southern aspects is probably due to the more rapid growth of seedlings on these warmer sites during years of high precipitation [35]. Vegetative: Laurel sumac sprouts from the lignotuber following damage to aboveground portions of the plant [11,55,60,61,62]. SITE CHARACTERISTICS : Laurel sumac occurs in maritime, Mediterranean, and semiarid climates [37,39,58,65]. Insular populations, exposed to the maritime climate, undergo little seasonal fluctuation in the mild temperatures. Summer drought occurs, but the effects are moderated by frequent fog and low clouds [65]. Populations in Mediterranean and semiarid climates receive 90 percent of annual rainfall from November to April. Precipitation in the Santa Monica Mountains, where a Mediterranean climate predominates, averages 30 inches per year (762 mm/yr) [2]. Hot, dry Santa Ana foehn winds occur in coastal mountains during fall [35]. Soils supporting laurel sumac are acidic to neutral, well-drained, dry, and often rocky or gravelly [2,18]. In riparian zones laurel sumac is most common on gravelly outwash areas [18,51]. Soil textures in which laurel sumac is found are sand or sandy loam [24,51]. Parent materials include diorite, shale, sandstone, and sandstone with conglomerate. Laurel sumac does not occur on unconsolidated sand, limestone-, or serpentine-derived soils [24,32,58]. It is favored on soils with high exchangable potassium levels. Peak abundance occurs on coastal sites with heavy litter layers. Laurel sumac is less frequent inland [29,58]. Slope varies from 0 to 80 degrees; it is most common on southern exposures [24,29]. Laurel sumac occurs at elevations below 3,000 feet (914 m) [34.35.38] SUCCESSIONAL STATUS : Facultative Seral Species Laurel sumac is a moderately successful initial colonizer of disturbed sites and a strong residual colonizer [47,55,62]. Sprouts and surviving seedlings persist through climax in coastal sage scrub and mixed chaparral communities [8,50,58]. In alluvial scrub communities, laurel sumac usually establishes from seed from mid-seres through climax. When seasonal floods do not excavate the roots, however, it quickly establishes dominance in the initial community [51]. SEASONAL DEVELOPMENT : New leaf growth is initiated in February, and leaves are retained for about 12 months [20,56]. Maximum stem elongation occurs in June [11], but stems continue to grow throughout the year [67]. Flora primordia develop directly prior to flowering, which begins in May. Peak flowering ends in July, but blooming sometimes continues into December [5,26,56]. Fully ripened fruits first appear in September. The fruits often remain on the parent plant until spring [5,55].


SPECIES: Malosma laurina
FIRE ECOLOGY OR ADAPTATIONS : Fire Ecology: Historical documents show that prior to fire suppression, southern California chaparral usually burned in summer. Fires typically crept down slopes by means of falling brands and coals, and only occasionally formed the hot runs on steep slopes that are typical of today's fires. Large fuels often smoldered for months. This fire behavior resulted in a mosaic of numerous small burns throughout the landscape. This landscape pattern is still evident in northern Baja California, where fire suppression is not practiced. In contrast, most contemporary southern California fires occur in fall during Santa Ana Winds, and consume large patches of chaparral. There is a sharp increase in the size of individual burns north of the international border. Fire suppression has reduced the number of fires, but because of the increase in burn size, total acreage burned is approximately the same on either side of the border [35]. Southern California chaparral fires typically crown out, burning all or most of the aboveground portions of shrubs [1]. Natural fire frequency varies from a few years to as long as 60, although shrubs cannot survive many short-interval fires [35]. Chaparral stands become extremely flammable within 30 to 60 postfire years, depending upon stand productivity, climate, and topography [44]. Laurel sumac has several botanical features which encourage fire. Aromatic compounds in the leaves increase fire intensity [20]. Elapsed time before ignition of partially dry laurel sumac foliage was 1.80 seconds at 1,382 degrees Fahrenheit (750 deg C) under laboratory conditions [36]. The high surface-to-volume ratio of leaves (126 cm sq/cu cm) transfers heat to the plant's interior branches following ignition, resulting in more rapid combustion of the shrub [46]. Also, mature laurel sumac stands have deep litter layers. A study of litter accumulation in chaparral in southern California and northern Baja California showed that laurel sumac produced the deepest litter of the seven chaparral species measured [58]. Plant Adaptations: Laurel sumac's adaptations to fire include the ability to sprout from the lignotuber after aboveground portions are burned and postfire seed germination [11,60,61,62,63]. Like most chaparral shrubs, laurel sumac stores photosynthate reserves in the extensive roots. These reserves are metabolized during postfire sprouting. Laurel sumac also stores photosynthate reserves in its large lignotuber. This extra store of reserves probably gives laurel sumac a postfire competitive edge over many chaparral species [11]. The seedcoats of laurel sumac seeds in the seedbank are cracked by fire, resulting in postfire seedling recruitment [62,62]. 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". POSTFIRE REGENERATION STRATEGY : Tall shrub, adventitious-bud root crown Ground residual colonizer (on-site, initial community) Secondary colonizer - off-site seed


SPECIES: Malosma laurina
IMMEDIATE FIRE EFFECT ON PLANT : Laurel sumac is typically top-killed by fire, although hot fire may result in some shrub mortality. A summer wildfire on Otay Mountain, San Diego County, completely top-killed all laurel sumac [64]. Fall wildfire in the Topanga-Tuna Canyon of the Santa Monica Mountains burned 100 percent of the plants. Most shrubs were top-killed by this fire, but some were completely killed. Many laurel sumac snags were noted when the burn site was inspected at postfire year 3 [49]. Westman and O'Leary [59] reported that if fireline intensity is over 4,400 BTU/min/sq ft (199 kcal/sec/sq m), laurel sumac lignotubers fail to sprout. DISCUSSION AND QUALIFICATION OF FIRE EFFECT : The majority of the literature reports that laurel sumac is completely top-killed by fire [1,27,43,49,52]; occasionally, however, a few stems survive. An "intense" wildfire started on November 3, 1949, in the San Gabriel Mountains; ambient temperature was 90 degres Fahrenheit (32 deg C), humidity was 9 percent, and fuel moisture was 0.5 percent. Despite these conditions, the largest branches of older laurel sumac leafed out the next year [24]. PLANT RESPONSE TO FIRE : Top-killed plants sprout quickly. Twenty-two percent of laurel sumac top-killed by an October wildfire in mixed chaparral in the Santa Monica Mountains sprouted within 15 days after fire. By April of the following year, 100 percent of the lignotubers of burned shrubs had sprouted. Sprout length at the end of the first postfire growing season was 4.3 feet (1.3 m) [52]. Plumb [43] reported a similar response following a July wildfire on the San Dimas Experimental Forest of the San Gabriel Mountains. One hundred percent of top-killed laurel sumac sprouted by November, and 97 percent of sprouts were greater than 12 inches (30 cm) in length by December. Seventy-four percent of lignotubers supported 12 or more sprouts. Postfire stem elongation through December is common when fall rains are sufficient to support continued growth [57]. Chlorosis often occurs in the leaves of the rapidly growing sprouts [11]. Postfire seed germination is moderate [63]. Density of seedlings following a spring wildfire in the Santa Monica Mountains in mixed chaparral was 0.6 plants per square yard (0.7 plants/sq m) [14]. Postfire seedling mortality is high unless rainfall is steady. The year following this wildfire was a drought year, and only 0.6 percent of seedlings survived through summer [14]. Seedlings that germinated following the previously mentioned October fire in the Santa Monica Mountains exhibited the same response. Seedling survival at the end of the first postfire growing season was 51.5 percent with precipitation at 110 percent of normal. The next year, with precipitation at 53 percent of normal, survival dropped to 1.6 percent [52].
Laural sumac in flower 2 years following the 2003 Otay Mountain Wildfire. Photo courtesy San Diego Wildfires Education Project.
Elements to consider when developing a fire prescription for southern
California chaparral are available in the literature [16].


SPECIES: Malosma laurina
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