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SPECIES: Symphoricarpos longiflorus


1997 Larry Blakely

McWilliams, Jack D. 2005. Symphoricarpos longiflorus. In: Fire Effects Information System, [Online]. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station, Fire Sciences Laboratory (Producer). Available: [].




desert snowberry
longflower snowberry

The scientific name of desert snowberry is Symphoricarpos longiflorus Gray (Caprifoliaceae) [11,22,24,57,58]. There are no recognized infrataxa.

Because of the paucity of specific information on desert snowberry, some reference is made to the genus of snowberries (Symphoricarpos spp.) in this review.





SPECIES: Symphoricarpos longiflorus
Desert snowberry occurs from southeastern Oregon to Colorado, Utah, Texas, and southeastern California [22,60].

Plants database provides a distributional map of desert snowberry.

The following lists include North American ecosystems, habitat types, and forest and range cover types in which desert snowberry may occur. These lists are not necessarily exhaustive or completely inclusive. More information is needed regarding areas where desert snowberry may be part of the flora.

FRES21 Ponderosa pine
FRES29 Sagebrush
FRES30 Desert shrub
FRES34 Chaparral-mountain shrub
FRES35 Pinyon-juniper

STATES/PROVINCES: (key to state/province abbreviations)

5 Columbia Plateau
6 Upper Basin and Range
7 Lower Basin and Range
10 Wyoming Basin
12 Colorado Plateau
13 Rocky Mountain Piedmont

K010 Ponderosa shrub forest
K011 Western ponderosa forest
K018 Pine-Douglas-fir forest
K019 Arizona pine forest
K022 Great Basin pine forest
K023 Juniper-pinyon woodland
K024 Juniper steppe woodland
K031 Oak-juniper woodland
K032 Transition between K031 and K037
K037 Mountain-mahogany-oak scrub
K038 Great Basin sagebrush
K039 Blackbrush
K055 Sagebrush steppe

209 Bristlecone pine
220 Rocky Mountain juniper
235 Cottonwood-willow
237 Interior ponderosa pine
238 Western juniper
239 Pinyon-juniper
240 Arizona cypress
241 Western live oak
242 Mesquite
247 Jeffrey pine

101 Bluebunch wheatgrass
102 Idaho fescue
104 Antelope bitterbrush-bluebunch wheatgrass
105 Antelope bitterbrush-Idaho fescue
107 Western juniper/big sagebrush/bluebunch wheatgrass
109 Ponderosa pine shrubland
110 Ponderosa pine-grassland
210 Bitterbrush
212 Blackbush
302 Bluebunch wheatgrass-Sandberg bluegrass
304 Idaho fescue-bluebunch wheatgrass
314 Big sagebrush-bluebunch wheatgrass
315 Big sagebrush-Idaho fescue
316 Big sagebrush-rough fescue
317 Bitterbrush-bluebunch wheatgrass
318 Bitterbrush-Idaho fescue
319 Bitterbrush-rough fescue
320 Black sagebrush-bluebunch wheatgrass
321 Black sagebrush-Idaho fescue
322 Curlleaf mountain-mahogany-bluebunch wheatgrass
324 Threetip sagebrush-Idaho fescue
401 Basin big sagebrush
402 Mountain big sagebrush
403 Wyoming big sagebrush
404 Threetip sagebrush
405 Black sagebrush
406 Low sagebrush
407 Stiff sagebrush
408 Other sagebrush types
412 Juniper-pinyon woodland
413 Gambel oak
415 Curlleaf mountain-mahogany
416 True mountain-mahogany
417 Littleleaf mountain-mahogany
420 Snowbrush
421 Chokecherry-serviceberry-rose
503 Arizona chaparral
504 Juniper-pinyon pine woodland
509 Transition between oak-juniper woodland and mahogany-oak association

There is little in the current literature (2005) describing habitat types or plant communities where desert snowberry occurs. What information is available centers on sagebrush (Artemisia spp.) and pinyon-juniper (Pinus-Juniperus spp.) communities.

In a description of northern Nevada sagebrush plant associations, Zamora and Tueller [65] list plants occurring with desert snowberry. Shrubs occurring with desert snowberry in northern Nevada include low sagebrush (A. arbuscula), big sagebrush (A. tridentata), fringed sagebrush (A. frigida), black sagebrush (A. nova), green rabbitbrush (Chrysothamnus viscidiflorus), antelope bitterbrush (Purshia tridentata), and gray horsebrush (Tetradymia canescens). Grasses associated with desert snowberry in northern Nevada are bluebunch wheatgrass (Pseudoroegneria spicata), Sandberg bluegrass (Poa secunda), and Idaho fescue (Festuca idahoensis).

Issacson [21] lists Saskatoon serviceberry (Amelanchier alnifolia), curlleaf mountain-mahogany (Cercocarpus ledifolius), and Idaho fescue as plants associated with desert snowberry in the pinyon-juniper woodlands of central Nevada and Utah.

Classifications describing plant communities in which desert snowberry is a dominant species are:

Nevada [6,7,59,63]


SPECIES: Symphoricarpos longiflorus
This description provides characteristics that may be relevant to fire ecology, and is not meant for identification. Keys for identification are available (e.g. [11,22,24,57,58]).

Desert snowberry is a native, perennial shrub mostly 20 to 39 inches (50-100 cm) tall [58]. Low spreading branches 20 to 39 inches (50-100 cm) long [22] are commonly spread at right angles to the stem [58]. Older branches become fibrous and shreddy [57], and smaller twigs tend to persist so plants may be "somewhat thorny" [11]. The deciduous leaves are simple and opposite [57]. Perfect flowers [22] are solitary or paired in leaf axils, or in small, terminal, few-flowered racemes [58] and produce a berry-like drupe with 2 nutlets [57].


Information concerning regeneration of desert snowberry is scant. Vines [57] states desert snowberry can be propagated by seeds. Bradley and others [8] describe desert snowberry has having a root crown and rhizomes that sprout after fire. Presumably, sprouting would occur after other forms of disturbance.

McArthur and others [33] state all species of snowberry establish readily from seed and cuttings from wild plants and that plants spread rapidly by layering.

Breeding system: Snowberries produce perfect flowers [22] so are considered monoecious.

Pollination: No information is available on this topic.

Seed production: No information is available on this topic.

Seed dispersal: There are no direct references to seed dispersal of desert snowberry in the available literature as of this writing (2005). The seeds of desert snowberry are eaten by birds, especially the gallinaceous birds such as ring-necked pheasants, grouse, and quail [57]. In a study of western snowberry (S. occidentalis), Pelton [40] concluded that "at least some" of western snowberry nutlets would survive passing through the digestive system of birds, so birds could act as seed dispersal agents. Since the nutlets of desert snowberry are similar to those of western snowberry, birds likely play a part in seed dispersal of desert snowberry. McArthur and others [33] state mice and other small rodents cache seeds of snowberries, and plants are widely established from these caches [41].

Since snowberries produce drupes as a fruit, it is reasonable to assume wind plays little role in desert snowberry seed dispersal. Pelton [40], in a discussion of western snowberry, states, "Wind is probably of very minor importance in dispersal."

Seed banking: There is no information in the literature concerning desert snowberry and seed banking. Snowberries in general have a tough seed coat and a partially developed embryo, which sometimes delays germination [41]. This delay in germination may provide a small, temporary seed bank. Morgan and Neuenschwander [37] reported finding seeds of both common snowberry (S. albus) and creeping snowberry (S. mollis) in the seed bank after clearcutting and broadcast burning in northern Idaho. The authors comment that seeds of neither species had been reported in previous seed bank studies.

Germination: As of this writing (2005), there is no information available concerning germination of desert snowberry seeds. Stanton [51] discusses germination of mountain snowberry (S. oreophilus), a plant very similar to desert snowberry, and states mountain snowberry has a seed germination rate of 67% to 78%.

Seedling establishment/growth: No information is available on this topic.

Asexual regeneration: Bradley and others [8] state desert snowberry has a root crown and rhizomes that sprout after fire. Additionally, all species of snowberry spread rapidly by layering [33,41]

Desert snowberry has narrow ecological boundaries and is usually found on xeric sites [33]. Desert snowberry is common on dry, rocky soils in desert areas of southern Utah [60]. In the White Mountains of California, desert snowberry occurs on granitic substrate at an elevation from 9,500 to 10,000 feet (2,896-3,048 m) [62].

Reported elevational ranges for desert snowberry in some states where it occurs are:

State Elevation Reference
Arizona 4,000 to 8,000 feet (1,219-2,498 m) [25]
California 4,429 to 5,249 feet (1,350-1,600 m) [20]
4,500 to 10,000 feet (1,392-3,048 m) [38]
Colorado about 5,000 feet (1,524 m) [18]
Nevada 3,800 to 7,500 feet (1,158-2,286 m) [24]
New Mexico 6,000 to 8,000 feet (1,829-2,438 m) [32]
Texas 5,000 to 6,500 feet (1,524-1,981 m) [42]
Utah 3,002 to 9,514 feet (915-2,900 m) [58]

Stanton [51] describes the minimum mean annual precipitation for desert snowberry occurrence as 8 to 9 inches (203-229 mm).

Bradley and others [8] describe postfire successional patterns in late-successional juniper woodlands in western Utah, and desert snowberry is listed as an understory shrub in these woodlands. After fire the shrub stage of succession occurs in mid- to late-seral development but before the late-successional stage of a closed juniper woodland.

Flowering dates for desert snowberry are:

State Flowering dates
Arizona April to August [25]
Nevada May to June [24]
New Mexico May to August [32]
Texas May to August [42,57]


SPECIES: Symphoricarpos longiflorus
Fire adaptations: Bradley and others [8] state desert snowberry has a root crown and rhizomes that sprout after fire.

Fire regimes: Bradley and others [8] place desert snowberry within a fire group in Utah that consists of late-successional stands dominated by pinyon, juniper or both. In the presettlement era, fire was a relatively common event in pinyon-juniper stands. Fire increased productivity of understory species like desert snowberry. Specific fire history studies of pinyon-juniper are few, with none focusing on Utah, but the literature contains studies of fire history of pinyon-juniper stands in other areas.

Leopold [31] suggests fire occurred at intervals of 10 to 30 years for Colorado pinyon-alligator juniper (P. edulis-J. deppeana) in Arizona. On 4 study sites in the climax western juniper (J. occidentalis) stands of southwestern Idaho, fire-free intervals were 23, 18, 8, and 11 years between the years 1840 and 1910 [9]. Moir [35] believed that Mexican pinyon (P. cembroides) stands in the Chisos Mountains of Texas could be maintained in a "natural" condition by fire occurring every "50 years or so."

The following list provides fire return intervals for plant communities and ecosystems where desert snowberry is important. It may not be inclusive. Find further 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".

Community or Ecosystem Dominant Species Fire Return Interval Range (years)
silver sagebrush steppe Artemisia cana 5-45 [19,43,61]
sagebrush steppe Artemisia tridentata/Pseudoroegneria spicata 20-70 [39]
basin big sagebrush Artemisia tridentata var. tridentata 12-43 [45]
mountain big sagebrush Artemisia tridentata var. vaseyana 15-40 [2,9,34]
Wyoming big sagebrush Artemisia tridentata var. wyomingensis 10-70 (40**) [56,64]
California montane chaparral Ceanothus and/or Arctostaphylos spp. 50-100 [39]
curlleaf mountain-mahogany* Cercocarpus ledifolius 13-1,000 [3,47]
mountain-mahogany-Gambel oak scrub Cercocarpus ledifolius-Quercus gambelii < 35 to < 100
blackbrush Coleogyne ramosissima < 35 to < 100
western juniper Juniperus occidentalis 20-70
Rocky Mountain juniper Juniperus scopulorum < 35
pinyon-juniper Pinus-Juniperus spp. < 35 [39]
Mexican pinyon Pinus cembroides 20-70 [35,53]
Colorado pinyon Pinus edulis 10-400+ [15,17,26,39]
Jeffrey pine Pinus jeffreyi 5-30 [1]
interior ponderosa pine* Pinus ponderosa var. scopulorum 2-30  [1,4,30]
Arizona pine Pinus ponderosa var. arizonica 2-15 [4,10,48]
oak-juniper woodland (Southwest) Quercus-Juniperus spp. < 35 to < 200 [39]
interior live oak Quercus wislizenii < 35 [1]
*fire return interval varies widely; trends in variation are noted in the species review

Small shrub, adventitious bud/root crown
Rhizomatous shrub, rhizome in soil
Secondary colonizer (on-site or off-site seed sources)


SPECIES: Symphoricarpos longiflorus
Although no specific information about the immediate effect of fire on desert snowberry is available, it is most likely top-killed by fire.

No additional information is available on this topic.

Desert snowberry sprouts from on-site surviving root crown and rhizomes [8].

Bradley and others [8] describe the sprouting response of desert snowberry to fire as "poorly documented." In an earlier study, Klebenow and Beall [27] discuss a prescribed burn in an unnamed Nevada national forest. The burn occurred in 1973, and in 1976 all of the desert snowberry shrubs had resprouted. No information on number of desert snowberry plants or fire severity was provided.

No additional information is available on this topic.


SPECIES: Symphoricarpos longiflorus
Most authors report limited use of desert snowberry by livestock and wildlife. McArthur and others [33] state snowberry is usually less preferred by game and livestock in winter than other shrubs. However, since it leafs out early in the spring, they report it is utilized by all browsing animals at that time.

Desert snowberry is browsed by deer and livestock and the seeds are eaten by birds, especially the gallinaceous birds such as ring-necked pheasants, grouse and quail [57]. Sage-grouse in Nevada utilize desert snowberry as both juveniles and adults [46]. The American pika and various ground squirrels also eat the seeds [57].

Kufeld and others [29] provide a literature review of plants utilized by Rocky Mountain mule deer. Desert snowberry is used "lightly" in all seasons but winter, when it is not utilized. Limited summer use of desert snowberry by pronghorns in Utah has been observed [50].

Palatability/nutritional value: Desert snowberry is considered "largely unpalatable" to livestock in the desert regions of Nevada and Utah [54], and is rated as fair in both energy and protein content [12]. Plummer and others [41] give palatability of desert snowberry an overall rating of fair, a winter rating of poor, summer rating of fair, and a spring rating of very good in a discussion of shrubs used in restoring Utah big game range.

Cover value: Cover value of desert snowberry for big game is limited by its size (see General Botanical Characteristics). However, it provides fair cover for both upland game birds and small nongame birds and good cover for small mammals in Utah [12]. It is reasonable to assume that desert snowberry provides this same cover value for birds and small mammals in other areas where it occurs.

Desert snowberry has limited range (see General Distribution) with relatively narrow environmental constraints (see Site Characteristics). Within these limits desert snowberry is "vitally important" for rehabilitation of disturbed sites because no substitute with similar attributes has been found [36]. McArthur and others [33] describe longleaf snowberry as having the same adaptive attributes as mountain snowberry but in more xeric sites. These attributes include erosion control on roadcuts and fills as well as mine spoils, especially in pinyon-juniper sites in Utah and Nevada. Plummer and others [41] also describe desert snowberry as having the same adaptive properties as mountain snowberry.

Vines [57] states desert snowberry can be propagated by seeds and softwood or hardwood cuttings. McArthur and others [33] state all species of snowberry establish readily from seed, wildings, and nursery stock and that plants spread rapidly by layering.

There is little in the available literature concerning alternative uses of desert snowberry. McArthur and others [33] state snowberries are well suited as an ornamental on roadsides and recreational areas.

The fruit of desert snowberry contains saponin, but in such small quantities that poisoning rarely occurs [25].

Symphoricarpos longiflorus: References

1. Arno, Stephen F. 2000. Fire in western forest ecosystems. In: Brown, James K.; Smith, Jane Kapler, eds. Wildland fire in ecosystems: Effects of fire on flora. Gen. Tech. Rep. RMRS-GTR-42-vol. 2. Ogden, UT: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station: 97-120. [36984]

2. Arno, Stephen F.; Gruell, George E. 1983. Fire history at the forest-grassland ecotone in southwestern Montana. Journal of Range Management. 36(3): 332-336. [342]

3. Arno, Stephen F.; Wilson, Andrew E. 1986. Dating past fires in curlleaf mountain-mahogany communities. Journal of Range Management. 39(3): 241-243. [350]

4. Baisan, Christopher H.; Swetnam, Thomas W. 1990. Fire history on a desert mountain range: Rincon Mountain Wilderness, Arizona, U.S.A. Canadian Journal of Forest Research. 20: 1559-1569. [14986]

5. 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. [434]

6. Blackburn, Wilbert H.; Eckert, Richard E., Jr.; Tueller, Paul T. 1969. Vegetation and soils of the Coils Creek Watershed. R-48. Reno, NV: University of Nevada, Agricultural Experiment Station. 80 p. In cooperation with: U.S. Department of the Interior, Bureau of Land Management. [455]

7. Blackburn, Wilbert H.; Eckert, Richard E., Jr.; Tueller, Paul T. 1971. Vegetation and soils of the Rock Springs Watershed. R-83. Reno, NV: University of Nevada, Agricultural Experiment Station. 116 p. In cooperation with: U.S. Department of the Interior, Bureau of Land Management. [457]

8. Bradley, Anne F.; Noste, Nonan V.; Fischer, William C. 1992. Fire ecology of forests and woodlands of Utah. Gen. Tech. Rep. INT-287. Ogden, UT: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Intermountain Research Station. 128 p. [18212]

9. Burkhardt, Wayne J.; Tisdale, E. W. 1976. Causes of juniper invasion in southwestern Idaho. Ecology. 57: 472-484. [565]

10. Cooper, Charles F. 1961. Pattern in ponderosa pine forests. Ecology. 42(3): 493-499. [5780]

11. Cronquist, Arthur; Holmgren, Arthur H.; Holmgren, Noel H.; [and others]. 1984. Intermountain flora: Vascular plants of the Intermountain West, U.S.A. Vol. 4. Subclass Asteridae, (except Asteraceae). New York: The New York Botanical Garden. 573 p. [718]

12. Dittberner, Phillip L.; Olson, Michael R. 1983. The plant information network (PIN) data base: Colorado, Montana, North Dakota, Utah, and Wyoming. FWS/OBS-83/86. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of the Interior, Fish and Wildlife Service. 786 p. [806]

13. Eyre, F. H., ed. 1980. Forest cover types of the United States and Canada. Washington, DC: Society of American Foresters. 148 p. [905]

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17. Gottfried, Gerald J.; Swetnam, Thomas W.; Allen, Craig D.; [and others]. 1995. Pinyon-juniper woodlands. In: Finch, Deborah M.; Tainter, Joseph A., eds. Ecology, diversity, and sustainability of the Middle Rio Grande Basin. Gen. Tech. Rep. RM-GTR-268. Fort Collins, CO: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Forest and Range Experiment Station: 95-132. [26188]

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19. Heyerdahl, Emily K.; Berry, Dawn; Agee, James K. 1994. Fire history database of the western United States. Final report. Interagency agreement: U.S. Environmental Protection Agency DW12934530; U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service PNW-93-0300; University of Washington 61-2239. Seattle, WA: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Pacific Northwest Research Station; University of Washington, College of Forest Resources. 28 p. [+ Appendices]. Unpublished report on file with: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station, Fire Sciences Laboratory, Missoula, MT. [27979]

20. Hickman, James C., ed. 1993. The Jepson manual: Higher plants of California. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press. 1400 p. [21992]

21. Isaacson, H. E. 1966. Description of ecological provinces within the study area. In: Daniel, T. W.; Rivers, R. J.; Isaacson, H. E.; [and others]. Management alternatives for pinyon-juniper woodlands. A. Ecology Phase: the ecology of the pinyon-juniper type of the Colorado Plateau and Basin and Range Provinces. Logan, UT: Bureau of Land Management and Utah Agricultural Experiment Station: 27-54. [1238]

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27. Klebenow, Donald A.; Beall, Robert C. 1978. Fire impacts on birds and mammals on Great Basin rangelands. In: Johnson, Carl, general chairman. Proceedings, 1977 rangeland management and fire symposium; 1977 November 1-3; Casper, WY. Missoula, MT: University of Montana, School of Forestry, Montana Forest and Conservation Experiment Station: 59-62. [1348]

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30. Laven, R. D.; Omi, P. N.; Wyant, J. G.; Pinkerton, A. S. 1980. Interpretation of fire scar data from a ponderosa pine ecosystem in the central Rocky Mountains, Colorado. In: Stokes, Marvin A.; Dieterich, John H., technical coordinators. Proceedings of the fire history workshop; 1980 October 20-24; Tucson, AZ. Gen. Tech. Rep. RM-81. Fort Collins, CO: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Forest and Range Experiment Station: 46-49. [7183]

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40. Pelton, John. 1953. Studies on the life-history of Symphoricarpos occidentalis Hook, in Minnesota. Ecological Monographs. 23(1): 17-39. [11957]

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46. Savage, David E. 1969. Relation of sage grouse to upland meadows in Nevada. Job Completion Report: Federal Aid in Wildlife Project No. W-39-R-9. Reno, NV: University of Nevada, Nevada Cooperative Wildlife Research Unit. 101 p. [36877]

47. Schultz, Brad W. 1987. Ecology of curlleaf mountain mahogany (Cercocarpus ledifolius) in western and central Nevada: population structure and dynamics. Reno, NV: University of Nevada. 111 p. Thesis. [7064]

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51. Stanton, Frank. 1974. Wildlife guidelines for range fire rehabilitation. Tech. Note 6712. Denver, CO: U.S. Department of the Interior, Bureau of Land Management. 90 p. [2221]

52. Stickney, Peter F. 1989. FEIS postfire regeneration workshop--April 12: Seral origin of species comprising secondary plant succession in Northern Rocky Mountain forests. 10 p. Unpublished draft on file at: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Intermountain Research Station, Fire Sciences Laboratory, Missoula, MT. [20090]

53. Swetnam, Thomas W.; Baisan, Christopher H.; Caprio, Anthony C.; Brown, Peter M. 1992. Fire history in a Mexican oak-pine woodland and adjacent montane conifer gallery forest in southeastern Arizona. In: Ffolliott, Peter F.; Gottfried, Gerald J.; Bennett, Duane A.; [and others], technical coordinators. Ecology and management of oak and associated woodlands: perspectives in the southwestern United States and northern Mexico: Proceedings; 1992 April 27-30; Sierra Vista, AZ. Gen. Tech. Rep. RM-218. Fort Collins, CO: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Forest and Range Experiment Station: 165-173. [19759]

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