|FEIS Home Page|
SPECIES: Purshia glandulosa
Zlatnik, Elena. 1999. Purshia glandulosa. In: Fire Effects Information System, [Online].
U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station,
Fire Sciences Laboratory (Producer). Available:
Mojave antelope brush
The fully documented scientific name of desert bitterbrush is Purshia glandulosa Curran (Rosaceae) [17,47]. Desert bitterbrush appears to be a hybridization of Stansbury cliffrose (P. mexicana var. stansburiana) and antelope bitterbrush (P. tridentata) [26,28,42,47].
Desert bitterbrush hybridizes with Stansbury cliffrose, antelope bitterbrush [19,22,26,28], and possibly Apache-plume (Fallugia paradoxa) .
No special status
FRES30 Desert shrub
FRES33 Southwestern shrubsteppe
FRES34 Chaparral-mountain shrub
AZ CA NV UT
3 Southern Pacific Border
4 Sierra Mountains
6 Upper Basin and Range
7 Lower Basin and Range
12 Colorado Plateau
K023 Juniper-pinyon woodland
K024 Juniper steppe woodlands
K037 Mountain-mahogany-oak scrub
K038 Great Basin sagebrush
209 Bristlecone pine
238 Western juniper
243 Sierra Nevada mixed conifer
211 Creosotebush scrub
401 Basin big sagebrush
402 Mountain big sagebrush
412 Juniper-pinyon woodland
413 Gambel oak
415 Curlleaf mountain-mahogany
416 True mountain-mahogany
417 Littleleaf mountain-mahogany
504 Juniper-pinyon pine woodland
509 Transition between oak-juniper woodland and mahogany-oak association
Desert bitterbrush is found in several semi-arid shrub types throughout its range, including blackbrush (Coleogyne ramosissima),
Joshua tree (Yucca brevifolia), chaparral, and singleleaf pinyon (Pinus monophylla)-California juniper (Juniperus californica) woodlands [8,15,47].
In California, desert bitterbrush is commonly found with basin big sagebrush Artemisia tridentata ssp. tridentata), blackbrush, singleleaf pinyon, and California juniper. It also occurs with Joshua tree, creosote bush (Larrea tridentata), honey mesquite (Prosopis glandulosa), Stansbury cliffrose, and Great Basin bristlecone pine (Pinus longaeva). Shrubs often form more than 90% of the cover in desert bitterbrush stands. Perennial grasses are a minor element, and forbs are even less important .
In Nevada, desert bitterbrush is a component of the mountain brush community with snowberry (Symphoricarpos spp.), antelope bitterbrush, Stansbury cliffrose, mountain-mahogany (Cercocarpus spp.), Gambel oak (Quercus gambelii), Juneberry (Amelanchier pallida), wild crab apple (Peraphyllum ramosissima), and chokecherry (P. virginiana).
In the San Gabriel Mountains of California, desert bitterbrush occurs in the sagebrush scrub community with basin big sagebrush, Joshua tree, single-leaf pinyon, rubber rabbitbrush (Chrysothamnus nauseosus), spiny horsebrush (Tetradymia spinosa), Nevada broomsage (Lepidospartum latisquamum), beavertail prickly-pear (Opuntia basilaris), shadscale (Atriplex confertifolia), and fourwing saltbush (A. canescens) .
In Utah, desert bitterbrush is generally of medium palatability to livestock and wildlife .
In California, palatability of desert bitterbrush is ranked excellent to good for domestic sheep, domestic goats, and deer, fair for cattle, and fair to useless for horses .
Desert bitterbrush is less palatable to deer than its close relative, antelope bitterbrush [12,30].
Crude protein content of desert bitterbrush is 9.0% . Because desert bitterbrush is an evergreen shrub, its winter protein levels are generally higher than those of antelope bitterbrush and other deciduous forage .
Due to its ability to layer from dormant buds along the stem, desert bitterbrush is an excellent soil stabilizer [16,22,28,30]. Desert bitterbrush is useful for stabilizing soils where annual precipitation averages 11 inches (279 mm) or more . With appropriate seed treatment, desert bitterbrush establishes well on disturbed sites either by seed or from transplants . However, seeding can be difficult due to the dormancy of desert bitterbrush seed . Desert bitterbrush can be propagated from stem cuttings. Cuttings should be collected in early spring or in August and September and treated with 0.8 to 2.0 IBA powder .
Desert bitterbrush is a native evergreen shrub [22,24,26,28,30] that grows from 1 to 15 feet tall (0.3-4.5 m), depending on environmental conditions [28,47].
Desert bitterbrush is a deeply rooted species, with a taproot sometimes exceeding 16 feet (4.8 m) [16,28,] and very few shallow, lateral roots . Because of its taproot, desert bitterbrush is drought tolerant [16,24,25].
Given sufficient moisture, desert bitterbrush is capable of producing nitrogen-fixing root nodules, although this response is not consistent [27,33,34].
Note: Desert bitterbrush has many botanical and ecological characteristics in common with antelope bitterbrush (Purshia tridentata), on which much more research has taken place. Please refer to that FEIS species summary for more general information about the genus.
Desert bitterbrush regenerates by sprouting from the root crown, by stem layering, and by seed [29,37].
Seed crops are inconsistent, and germination and seedling establishment is extremely low [24,28,36,48]. Flowers are insect-pollinated and self-incompatible . Seed production usually does not occur in plants younger than 10 years old . Due to the large, heavy seed, desert bitterbrush is dependent on rodents and other agents for seed dispersal [10,28]. Seeds are dormant due to a hard seedcoat [9,28,48,49]. Dormancy can be overcome by stratifying seed from 5 to 6 weeks at 41 °Fahrenheit (40.5 oC). In 1 California study, Nord  found that seed remaining in the ground for more than 1 season rarely germinated. But in another study in Bishop, California, 60% of desert bitterbrush seeds germinated after 25 years of uncontrolled storage. Germination percentage in that study reached a high of 86% after 3 years of storage [39,40].
Stem layering is common among desert bitterbrush plants, particularly when environmental conditions (particularly high elevation) or phenotype result in a prostate life form .
Desert bitterbrush may also regenerate from roots severed below the soil surface, even up to 10 feet deep .
Desert bitterbrush grows from 900 to 10,000 feet (700-3000 m) throughout its range [8,15,28,37,38,47].
Desert bitterbrush grows on a wide variety of soils, both alkaline and acidic [28,29]. Desert bitterbrush requires excellent drainage  and dominates on relatively young to very deep, coarse-textured, and well-drained soils. Desert bitterbrush grows particularly well on granitic alluvial fans, pumice or cinder deposits, or well-leached deposits of old lakebeds. The plant is able to survive on very harsh sites with little soil and high insolation. Desert bitterbrush performs most poorly on clay soils or on soils with a clay pan within 2 feet (61 cm) of the surface .
Desert bitterbrush grows in areas with around 10 inches (254 mm) annual precipitation , typically drier sites than those that support antelope bitterbrush. The plant is intolerant of frequent summer water .
Desert bitterbrush is a pioneer species on some extremely eroded and volcanic rock sites , and a mid-seral species on moderate sites. Following fire in blackbrush-dominated sites, desert bitterbrush precedes blackbrush for at least 28 years [2,5].
Desert bitterbrush is not shade tolerant .
Initial growth of desert bitterbrush in southern Arizona begins in late February, yet seed does not mature until early June. In Utah, desert bitterbrush flowers in May and fruit matures by mid-July at low elevations and mid-August at high elevations .
Phenological development of desert bitterbrush grown in an experimental plot in Boise, Idaho, was as follows :
|Leaf growth initiated||April 26|
|First leaf expanded||May 18|
|Floral buds visible||April 28|
|Fruit development initiated||May 28|
|Leader growth initiated||May 20|
|Fruit mature||July 18|
Desert bitterbrush recovers from fire by sprouting from undamaged root crowns below the soil surface and by establishing from seeds cached by rodents [6,7,8,28,45].
Fire regimes of the California singleleaf pinyon-California juniper woodlands in which desert bitterbrush appears are dominated by long-interval canopy fires and slow recovery . Fires in desert bitterbrush habitats probably were infrequent, since fuel in sagebrush-bitterbrush and juniper-bitterbrush communities tends to be light. In decadent stands, extremely dry and windy conditions can cause a severe fire .
To learn more about the fire regimes in communities in which desert bitterbrush appears, refer to the FEIS summary for associated species, such as big basin sagebrush, redberry juniper (Juniperus erythrocarpa), Gambel oak, Joshua tree, singleleaf pinyon, and California juniper, under "FIRE ECOLOGY OR ADAPTATIONS."
Tall shrub, adventitious-bud root crown
Small shrub, adventitious bud/root crown
Ground residual colonizer (on-site, initial community)
Initial-offsite colonizer (off-site, initial community)
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".
Desert bitterbrush often sprouts vigorously following fire [6,8,28], even in dry conditions . Even root crowns charred below the surface have sprouted . In some studies, however, desert bitterbrush has been killed by fire [10,18,45]. The fire literature does not specify whether the decumbent or erect form of desert bitterbrush is more susceptible to fire.
Stem layering is another response to fire if heat has not killed all aboveground tissue. Layering following fire is particularly evident on burned-over areas with finer-textured rather than coarse-textured soils .
Following spring prescribed burns near Ely, Nevada, mean rodent desert bitterbrush seed cache densities were significantly (p=0.05) higher within the burned areas than outside. Only 2 desert bitterbrush sprouted following these prescribed burns, and they lacked vigor and died the spring following the fires. The presence of large numbers of rodent caches may result in the continued presence of desert bitterbrush on the site .
1. Aro, Richard S. 1971. Evaluation of pinyon-juniper conversion to grassland. Journal of Range Management. 24(2): 188-197. 
2. Bates, Patricia A. 1983. Prescribed burning blackbrush for deer habitat improvement. Cal-Neva Wildlife Transactions. [Volume unknown]: 174-182. 
3. Bernard, Stephen R.; Brown, Kenneth F. 1977. Distribution of mammals, reptiles, and amphibians by BLM physiographic regions and A.W. Kuchler's associations for the eleven western states. Tech. Note 301. Denver, CO: U.S. Department of the Interior, Bureau of Land Management. 169 p. 
4. Blauer, A. Clyde; Plummer, A. Perry; McArthur, E. Durant; [and others]. 1975. Characteristics and hybridization of important Intermountain shrubs. I. Rose family. Res. Pap. INT-169. Ogden, UT: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Intermountain Forest and Range Experiment Station. 36 p. 
5. Bowns, James E.; West, Neil E. 1976. Blackbrush (Coleogyne ramosissima Torr.) on southwestern Utah rangelands. Research Report 27. Logan, UT: Utah State University, Utah Agricultural Experiment Station. 27 p. 
6. Boyer, Donald E.; Dell, John D. 1980. Fire effects on Pacific Northwest forest soils. Portland, OR: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Pacific Northwest Region, Watershed Management and Aviation and Fire Management. 59 p. 
7. Britton, Carlton M. 1979. Fire on the range. Western Wildlands. 5(4): 32-33. 
8. Conrad, C. Eugene. 1987. Common shrubs of chaparral and associated ecosystems of southern California. Gen. Tech. Rep. PSW-99. Berkeley, CA: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Pacific Southwest Forest and Range Experiment Station. 86 p. 
9. Deitschman, Glenn H.; Jorgensen, Kent R.; Plummer, A. Perry. 1974. Purshia DC. bitterbrush. In: Schopmeyer, C. S., ed. Seeds of woody plants in the United States. Agric. Handb. 450. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service: 686-688. 
10. Everett, Richard L. 1987. Plant response to fire in the pinyon-juniper zone. In: Everett, Richard L., compiler. Proceedings--pinyon-juniper conference; 1986 January 13-16; Reno, NV. Gen. Tech. Rep. INT-215. Ogden, UT: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Intermountain Research Station: 152-157. 
11. Eyre, F. H., ed. 1980. Forest cover types of the United States and Canada. Washington, DC: Society of American Foresters. 148 p. 
12. Ferguson, Robert B. 1983. Use of rosaceous shrubs for wildland plantings in the Intermountain West. In: Monsen, Stephen B.; Shaw, Nancy, compilers. Managing Intermountain rangelands--improvement of range and wildlife habitats; Proceedings of symposia; 1981 September 15-17; Twin Falls, ID; 1982 June 22-24; Elko, NV. Gen. Tech. Rep. INT-157. Ogden, UT: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Intermountain Forest and Range Experiment Station: 136-149. 
13. Garrison, George A.; Bjugstad, Ardell J.; Duncan, Don A.; [and others]. 1977. Vegetation and environmental features of forest and range ecosystems. Agric. Handb. 475. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service. 68 p. 
14. Hanes, Ted L. 1976. Vegetation types of the San Gabriel Mountians. In: Latting, June, ed. Symposium proceedings: plant communities of southern California; 1974 May 4; Fullerton, CA. Special Publication No. 2. Berkeley, CA: California Native Plant Society: 65-76. 
15. Hickman, James C., ed. 1993. The Jepson manual: Higher plants of California. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press. 1400 p. 
16. Institute for Land Rehabilitation. 1979. Selection, propagation, and field establishment of native plant species on disturbed arid lands. Bulletin 500. Logan, UT: Utah State University, Agricultural Experiment Station. 49 p. 
17. Kartesz, John T. 1994. A synonymized checklist of the vascular flora of the United States, Canada, and Greenland. Volume I--checklist. 2nd ed. Portland, OR: Timber Press. 622 p. 
18. Klebenow, Donald A.; Beall, Robert C. 1977. Fire impacts on birds and mammals on Great Basin rangelands. In: [Source unknown]. Reno, NV: University of Nevada, Division of Renewable Natural Resources: 59-62. On file with: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Intermountain Research Station, Fire Sciences Lab, Missoula, MT. 
19. Koehler, Donald L.; Smith, Dale M. 1981. Hybridization between Cowania mexicana var. Stansburiana and Purshia glandulosa (Rosaceae). Madrono. 28(1): 13-25. 
20. Kuchler, A. W. 1964. United States [Potential natural vegetation of the conterminous United States]. Special Publication No. 36. New York: American Geographical Society. 1:3,168,000; colored. 
21. Manning, Sara J.; Groeneveld, David P. 1990. Shrub rooting characteristics and water acquisition on xeric sites in the western Great Basin. In: McArthur, E. Durant; Romney, Evan M.; Smith, Stanley D.; Tueller, Paul T., compilers. Proceedings--symposium on cheatgrass invasion, shrub die-off, and other aspects of shrub biology and management; 1989 April 5-7; Las Vegas, NV. Gen. Tech. Rep. INT-276. Ogden, UT: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Intermountain Research Station: 238-244. 
22. McArthur, E. Durant; Giunta, Bruce C.; Plummer, A. Perry. 1977. Shrubs for restoration of depleted range and disturbed areas. Utah Science. 35: 28-33. 
23. McArthur, E. Durant; Stutz, Howard C.; Sanderson, Stewart C. 1983. Taxonomy, distribution, and cytogenetics of Purshia, Cowania, and Fallugia (Rosoideae, Rosaceae). In: Tiedemann, Arthur R.; Johnson, Kendall L., compilers. Proceedings--research and management of bitterbrush and cliffrose in western North America; 1982 April 13-15; Salt Lake City, UT. Gen. Tech. Rep. INT-152. Ogden, UT: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Intermountain Forest and Range Experiment Station: 2-24. 
24. Monsen, Stephen B. 1987. Shrub selections for pinyon-juniper plantings. In: Everett, Richard L., compiler. Proceedings--pinyon-juniper conference; 1986 January 13-16; Reno, NV. Gen. Tech. Rep. INT-215. Ogden, UT: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Intermountain Research Station: 316-329. 
25. Monsen, Stephen B.; Davis, James N. 1985. Progress in the improvement of selected western North American rosaceous shrubs. In: Carlson, Jack R.; McArthur, E. Durant, chairmen. Range plant improvement in western North America: Proceedings of a symposium at the annual meeting of the Society for Range Management; 1985 February 14; Salt Lake City, UT. Denver, CO: Society for Range Management: 93-101. 
26. Mozingo, Hugh N. 1987. Shrubs of the Great Basin: A natural history. Reno, NV: University of Nevada Press. 342 p. 
27. Nelson, David L. 1983. Occurrence and nature of actinorhizae on Cowania stansburiana and other Rosaceae. In: Tiedemann, Arthur R.; Johnson, Kendall L., compilers. Proceedings--research and management of bitterbrush and cliffrose in western North America; 1982 April 13-15; Salt Lake City, UT. Gen. Tech. Rep. INT-152. Ogden, UT: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Intermountain Forest and Range Experiment Station: 225-239. 
28. Nord, Eamor C. 1965. Autecology of bitterbrush in California. Ecological Monographs. 35(3): 307-334. 
29. Plummer, A. Perry. 1977. Revegetation of disturbed Intermountain area sites. In: Thames, J. C., ed. Reclamation and use of disturbed lands of the Southwest. Tucson, AZ: University of Arizona Press: 302-337. 
30. Plummer, A. Perry; Christensen, Donald R.; Monsen, Stephen B. 1968. Restoring big-game range in Utah. Publ. No. 68-3. Ephraim, UT: Utah Division of Fish and Game. 183 p. 
31. Raunkiaer, C. 1934. The life forms of plants and statistical plant geography. Oxford: Clarendon Press. 632 p. 
32. Rice, Carol L. 1983. A literature review of the fire relationships of antelope bitterbrush. In: Tiedemann, Arthur R.; Johnson, Kendall L., compilers. Proceedings--research and management of bitterbrush and cliffrose in western North America; 1982 April 13-15; Salt Lake City, UT. Gen. Tech. Rep. INT-152. Ogden, UT: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Intermountain Forest and Range Experiment Station: 256-265. 
33. Righetti, Timothy L.; Chard, Carolyn H.; Backhaus, Ralph A. 1986. Soil and environmental factors related to nodulation in Cowania and Purshia. Plant and Soil. 91: 147-160; 1986. 
34. Righetti, Timothy L.; Munns, Donald N. 1982. Nodulation and nitrogen fixation in Purshia: inoculation responses and species comparisons. Plant and Soil. 65: 383-396. 
35. Sampson, Arthur W.; Jespersen, Beryl S. 1963. California range brushlands and browse plants. Berkeley, CA: University of California, Division of Agricultural Sciences, California Agricultural Experiment Station, Extension Service. 162 p. 
36. Shaw, Nancy L.; Monsen, Stephen B. 1983. Phenology and growth habits of nine antelope bitterbrush, desert bitterbrush, Stansbury cliffrose, and Apache-plume accessions. In: Tiedemann, Arthur R.; Johnson, Kendall L., compilers. Proceedings--research and management of bitterbrush and cliffrose in western North America; 1982 April 13-15; Salt Lake City, UT. Gen. Tech. Rep. INT-152. Ogden, UT: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Intermountain Forest and Range Experiment Station: 55-69. 
37. Shiflet, Thomas N., ed. 1994. Rangeland cover types of the United States. Denver, CO: Society for Range Management. 152 p. 
38. St. Andre, G.; Mooney, H. A.; Wright, R. D. 1965. The pinyon woodland zone in the White Mountains of California. The American Midland Naturalist. 73(1): 225-239. 
39. Stevens, Richard; Jorgensen, Kent R. 1994. Rangeland species germination through 25 and up to 40 years of warehouse storage. In: Monsen, Stephen B.; Kitchen, Stanley G, compilers. Proceedings--ecology and management of annual rangelands; 1992 May 18-22; Boise, ID. Gen. Tech. Rep. INT-GTR-313. Ogden, UT: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Intermountain Research Station: 257-265. 
40. Stevens, Richard; Jorgensen, Kent R.; Davis, James N. 1981. Viability of seed from thirty-two shrub and forb species through fifteen years of warehouse storage. The Great Basin Naturalist. 41(3): 274-277. 
41. Stickney, Peter F. 1989. Seral origin of species originating in northern Rocky Mountain forests. Unpublished draft on file at: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Intermountain Research Station, Fire Sciences Laboratory, Missoula, MT; RWU 4403 files. 10 p. 
42. Stutz, Howard C.; Thomas, L. Kay. 1964. Hybridization and introgression in Cowania and Purshia. Evolution. 18: 183-195. 
43. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Soil Conservation Service. 1994. Plants of the U.S.--alphabetical listing. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Soil Conservation Service. 954 p. 
44. Wangler, Michael J.; Minnich, Richard A. 1996. Fire and succession in pinyon-juniper woodlands of the San Bernadino Mountains, California. Madrono. 43(4): 493-514. 
45. Ward, Kenneth V. 1977. Two-year vegetation response and successional trends for spring burns in the pinyon-juniper woodland. Reno, NV: University of Nevada. 62 p. Thesis. 
46. Welch, Bruce L.; Monsen, Stephen B. 1981. Winter crude protein among accessions of fourwing saltbush grown in a uniform garden. The Great Basin Naturalist. 41(3): 343-346; 1981. 
47. Welsh, Stanley L.; Atwood, N. Duane; Goodrich, Sherel; Higgins, Larry C., eds. 1987. A Utah flora. The Great Basin Naturalist Memoir No. 9. Provo, UT: Brigham Young University. 894 p. 
48. Young, James A.; Evans, Raymond A. 1981. Germination of seeds of antelope bitterbrush, desert bitterbrush, and cliff rose. ARR-W-17. Oakland, CA: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Science and Education Administration, Agricultural Research (Western Region). 39 p. 
49. Young, James A.; Evans, Raymond A. 1983. Seed physiology of antelope bitterbrush and related species. In: Tiedemann, Arthur R.; Johnson, Kendall L., compilers. Proceedings-- research and management of bitterbrush and cliffrose in western North America; 1982 April 13-15; Salt Lake City, UT. Gen. Tech. Rep. IIT-152. Ogden, UT: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Intermountain Forest and Range Experiment Station: 70-80.