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SPECIES: Symphoricarpos oreophilus
Aleksoff, Keith C. 1999. Symphoricarpos oreophilus. In: Fire Effects Information System, [Online].
U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station,
Fire Sciences Laboratory (Producer). Available:
The scientific name of mountain snowberry is Symphoricarpos oreophilus A. Gray (Caprifoliaceae) [11,25,28,29,64].
Varieties are :
S. oreophilus var. oreophilus, mountain snowberry
S. oreophilus var. utahensis (Rydb) A. Nels. , Utah snowberry
No special status
Mountain snowberry is a widespread cordilleran species. It occurs from the foothills to high elevations throughout the western mountains ranges from British Columbia to Alberta and south to California, New Mexico, and northern Mexico [11,25].
FRES21 Ponderosa pine
FRES26 Lodgepole pine
FRES28 Western hardwoods
FRES34 Chaparral-mountain shrub
FRES36 Mountain grasslands
FRES40 Desert grasslands
AZ CA CO ID MT NV NM OR TX UT WA WY BC MEXICO
1 Northern Pacific Border
2 Cascade Mountains
3 Southern Pacific Border
4 Sierra Mountains
5 Columbia Plateau
6 Upper Basin and Range
7 Lower Basin and Range
8 Northern Rocky Mountains
9 Middle Rocky Mountains
10 Wyoming Basin
11 Southern Rocky Mountains
13 Rocky Mountain Piedmont
16 Upper Missouri Basin and Broken Lands
K011 Western ponderosa forest
K012 Douglas-fir forest
K015 Western spruce-fir forest
K016 Eastern ponderosa forest
K017 Black Hills pine forest
K018 Pine-Douglas-fir forest
K019 Arizona pine forest
K020 Spruce-fir-Douglas-fir forest
K021 Southwestern spruce-fir forest
K023 Juniper-pinyon woodland
K037 Mountain-mahogany-oak scrub
K038 Great Basin sagebrush
K052 Alpine meadows and barren
K055 Sagebrush steppe
K057 Galleta-threeawn shrubsteppe
K063 Foothills prairie
K098 Northern floodplain forest
206 Engelmann spruce-subalpine fir
210 Interior Douglas-fir
211 White fir
216 Blue spruce
219 Limber pine
220 Rocky Mountain juniper
237 Interior ponderosa pine
238 Western juniper
241 Western live oak
101 Bluebunch wheatgrass
107 Western juniper/big sagebrush/bluebunch wheatgrass
108 Alpine Idaho fescue
109 Ponderosa pine shrubland
209 Montane shrubland
402 Mountain big sagebrush
409 Tall forb
411 Aspen woodland
412 Juniper-pinyon woodland
413 Gambel oak
415 Curlleaf mountain-mahogany
Mountain snowberry is a dominant shrub species in numerous nonforested
and forested communities in the western United States. Habitat types using
mountain snowberry as an indicator species have been identified within
the Douglas-fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii), white fir (Abies concolor),
ponderosa pine (Pinus ponderosa), subalpine fir (A. lasiocarpa), Gambel
oak (Quercus gambelii), and quaking aspen (Populus tremuloides) series.
Mountain snowberry also occurs within the pinyon-juniper (Pinus-Juniperus spp.) zone and is
a dominant understory species within the quaking aspen type throughout the
western mountains. It is a major component on open slopes in the mountain-brush zone, where it
may form pure stands. The upper limits of mountain snowberry's
elevational range extend into the subalpine zone .
Common associates of mountain snowberry in quaking aspen communities are western yarrow (Achillea millefolium), Wood's rose (Rosa woodsii), black chokecherry (Prunus virginiana var. melanocarpa), fireweed (Epilobium angustifolium), Saskatoon serviceberry (Amelanchier alnifolia), blue elderberry (Sambucus nigra ssp. cerulea), lupine (Lupinus spp.) and sticky geranium (Geranium viscosissimum) .
Common associates in Douglas-fir communities include Rocky mountain maple (Acer glabrum), heartleaf arnica (Arnica cordifolia), bristly black currant (Ribes lacustre), Saskatoon serviceberry, snowbrush ceanothus (Ceanothus velutinus), elk sedge (Carex geyeri), fireweed, and butterweed (Senecio spp.) .
In Gambel oak communities of Utah, mountain snowberry often occurs with smooth sumac (Rhus glabra), skunkbush sumac (Rhus trilobata), hackberry (Celtis occidentalis), and mountain big sagebrush (Artemisia tridentata var. vaseyana) . Mountain snowberry is common within the big sagebrush (Artemisia tridentata)/grass region and may become a codominant with big sagebrush, occurring most conspicuously on the more mesic sites with mountain big sagebrush .
Publications listing mountain snowberry as an indicator or dominant species in plant communities are listed below.
Grassland, shrubland, and forested habitat types of the White River-Arapaho National Forest 
Sagebrush-grass habitat types of southern Idaho 
Forest vegetation of the White River National Forest in western Colorado: a habitat type classification 
Aspen community types on the Caribou and Targhee National Forests in southeastern Idaho 
Aspen community types of Utah 
Forest habitat types of Montana 
A preliminary description of plant communities found on the Sawtooth, White Cloud, Boulder, and Pioneer Mountains 
Forest habitat types of eastern Idaho-western Wyoming 
Forest habitat types of central Idaho 
Grassland and shrubland habitat types of the Shoshone National Forest 
Because of its abundance and wide distribution, mountain snowberry is important forage on many mountain ranges. Although not highly nutritious or palatable, mountain snowberry is frequently one of the first species to leaf out, making it a highly sought after food in the early spring . Use by livestock and game is moderate throughout the summer and declines in fall. Mountain snowberry's low growth form makes its foliage easily available. Plants withstand browsing well and produce numerous basal sprouts following browsing . Results of clipping experiments carried out in the mountain-brush zone of Utah indicate that mountain snowberry can withstand early season browsing if given sufficient time to recover .
Mountain snowberry is readily eaten by all classes of livestock, particularly domestic sheep. Palatability varies in different localities and different plant communities. In general mountain snowberry has greater palatability in the Intermountain region than on more southern or western ranges . Mountain snowberry is a highly valued elk and domestic sheep forage within quaking aspen types in Colorado and Wyoming . Mountain snowberry is of no value for horses .
Mountain snowberry is an important forage species for deer and elk on high elevation summer ranges. On quaking aspen forest summer range in Utah, mountain snowberry comprised 24% of the diet for elk and 20% for mule deer . Ruffed grouse, ring-necked pheasants, and yellow-billed magpies utilize the fruits .
The degree of use shown by livestock and wildlife species for mountain snowberry is rated as follows :
CO MT OR UT WY Cattle Fair Fair ---- Fair Fair Domestic Sheep Fair ---- ---- Good Fair Horses Poor ---- ---- Poor Fair Pronghorn ---- ---- ---- ---- Fair Elk Poor ---- ---- Good Good Mule deer Poor ---- Good Good Good Small mammals ---- ---- ---- Good Good Small nongame birds ---- ---- ---- Fair Good Upland game birds ---- ---- ---- Good Good Waterfowl ---- ---- ---- Poor Poor
Mountain snowberry has been rated fair in energy and protein value. Nutritional value of mature browse for snowberry species is as follows :
Ash 8.3% Crude fiber 15.8% Ether extract 5.9% N-free extract 62.6% Protein 7.4% Calcium 1.88% Phosphorus .28%
Due to its relatively low growth form, mountain snowberry provides moderate to low cover for most ungulates. In Oregon mule deer utilize mountain snowberry-dominated communities for cover where these communities provide the only diversity in large expanses of big sagebrush . Mountain snowberry provides important hiding cover for a variety of small mammals and birds. Cover ratings by state have been summarized as follows :
OR UT WY Pronghorn ---- ---- Poor Elk ---- Poor Poor Mule deer Good Fair Fair White-tailed deer ---- ---- Fair Small mammals ---- Good Good Small nongame birds ---- Good Good Upland game birds ---- Good Good Waterfowl ---- Poor Poor
Mountain snowberry is useful for establishing cover on bare sites and has done well when planted onto roadbanks . Once established it persists well and spreads vegetatively through layering . Revegetation has been particularly successful using transplanted wildings. Transplants are easily obtained by pulling up small rooted portions of plants in the early spring before leaf growth has begun. Plants can also be propagated via stem cuttings  and seed . Mountain snowberry is recommended for riparian plantings in wet meadow and forested communities . Direct seeding is generally recommended in the fall or winter on well-drained sites in the following types: big sagebrush, mountain brush, pinyon-juniper, quaking aspen openings, and subalpine herblands. Commercial seed may be dried fruits or cleaned seed. Seeds have a pronounced dormancy; acid treatments break down the seedcoat. Stratification should be employed for spring planting. Maximum storage period for mountain snowberry seeds is 10 years . Cultivated seedlings can reach 30 inches (76 cm) within 5 years .
Mountain snowberries are highly regarded for the beauty of their foliage and fruits and are widely grown as ornamentals .
Mountain snowberry's tendency to sprout enables plants to persist
and even increase following browsing. However, plant densities decrease
substantially in response to prolonged browsing .
On high summer ranges in Oregon, domestic sheep have browsed mountain snowberry to the ground in areas also heavily utilized by cattle .
Mountain snowberry is a native, deciduous, montane shrub. It is low growing, erect and sometimes trailing, with spreading to arching branches [11,25]. Although averaging 2 to 4 feet (0.6-1.2 m) in height, plants on good sites can grow up to 5 feet (1.5 m), while those on poor sites are barely a foot (0.3 m) tall. Fruits are white, berrylike drupes containing 2 nutlets, each of which contains a seed . The genus Symphoricarpos is widely described as rhizomatous [4,58,66,67], but rhizomatous growth generally is less well developed in mountain snowberry than in most snowberry species [33,57,63].
Mountain snowberry reproduces vegetatively and by seed. Individual plants produce basal sprouts from a root crown; perennating buds are usually located approximately 0.8 to 1.2 inches (2-3 cm) below the ground surface [55,65]. Layering has also been observed in mountain snowberry [11,65]. Herbarium specimens from a ponderosa pine woodland in Musselshell County, Montana, have short, distinct rhizomes .
Since no abscission layer is formed on the pedicle, fruits may persist on shrubs for up to 2 seasons before falling to the ground. Seed dormancy is broken by stratification in the soil; ripening and development of the embryo occur during 1 or 2 winters. Seeds do not remain viable and are not stored in the soil for extended periods. Birds and mammals are probably the main dispersal agents. Germination begins in the early spring as soon as the soil thaws. Mountain snowberry germinates best on bare soil in partial shade .
Mountain snowberry is found on all aspects on sites ranging from moist to fairly dry and in both acidic and basic soils. It usually occurs in sandy loam to clay loam.
Elevational ranges for some western states have been reported as follows
5,500 to 10,500 feet (1677-3200 m) in Colorado
5,700 to 7,000 feet (1738-2134 m) in Montana
4,000 to 10,500 feet (1220-3200 m) in Utah
8,000 to 8,000 feet (2440-2440 m) in Wyoming
Mountain snowberry generally establishes in early seral stages and coexists with later arriving species [27,52]. Within pinyon-juniper communities, mountain snowberry remains a major component throughout all successional stages . Mountain snowberry is rarely found in dense shade . Within forested communities mountain snowberry grows under open canopies and along the edges of parks, dry meadows, and other openings.
Mountain snowberry initiates growth early in the spring. Basal shoots
have been observed growing in the soil before total snowmelt . The
carbohydrate reserve cycle for mountain snowberry has been studied in
the mountain-brush zone in Utah [15,23,65]. In general, reserves are at
a maximum at full flower, and this maximum is maintained as plants enter
dormancy in the fall. Reserves are approximately 25% depleted
before the end of dormancy (stem bud swelling) due to the sprouting of
basal crown buds below the snow and litter layers. The seasonal low is
reached when leaves are 1/2 to 3/4ths mature and leaf buds
still remain at the apex of the stems. At this time reserves are
approximately 40% lower than the summer high in all perennial
plant parts. From June until mid-August carbon reserves are replenished
in all plant parts. Stem growth and limited flower production and set
are all accomplished during this time.
There is a seasonal change in the aboveground and belowground distribution of carbon reserves. Generally carbohydrate reserve quantities are greater in the aboveground biomass than in the belowground biomass. This balance shifts at the point of maximum reserve depletion (late May or early June) .
Average dates of the initiation of phenological events at different elevations on the Wasatch Plateau, Utah, from 1925 to 1934, are presented below .
Phenological event Elevation 7,655 ft 8,450 ft 8,850 ft (2234 m) (2576 m) (2698 m) Date Flower buds bursting June 17 June 22 July 2 Leaf buds bursting May 3 May 8 May 19 In full leaf June 1 June 5 June 15 In full bloom June 26 June 30 July 8 Fruit all ripe Aug. 20 Aug. 17 Aug. 21 Fruit dropped Sept. 18 Sept. 12 Sept. 26 Leaves all dropped Oct. 6 Oct. 14 Oct. 11Phenological data for mountain snowberry plants located on a mountain-brush zone site at 6,822 feet (2080 m) in Utah are as follows :
Mountain snowberry is a sprouter that is usually undamaged by low-severity fire but is top-killed by most fires of medium or high severity [19,58,62,66]. Sprouts are initiated from root crowns. Perennating buds on the root crown are located 1 inch (2.5 cm) below the mineral soil surface .
Mountain snowberry occurs in plant communities with a variety of fire regimes. The range of fire intervals reported for some species that dominate communities where mountain snowberry occurs are listed below. To learn more about the fire regimes in these communities, refer to the FEIS summary for that species, under "FIRE ECOLOGY OR ADAPTATIONS."
Community dominant Range of fire intervals (yrs) interior ponderosa pine 20-42 (Pinus ponderosa var. scopulorum) Rocky Mt. Douglas-fir 10-30 (Pseudotsuga menziesii var. glauca ) subalpine fir >100 (Abies lasiocarpa) Engelmann spruce >150 (Picea engelmannii) quaking aspen 5-10 (Populus tremuloides) mountain big sagebrush 10-50 (Artemisia tridentata ssp. vaseyana) Gambel oak ---- (Quercus gambelii)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".
Small shrub, adventitious-bud root crown
Initial-offsite colonizer (off-site, initial community)
Mountain snowberry crowns that are intertwined with surrounding big sagebrush will burn even when their moisture content is relatively high .
Mountain snowberry sprouts from basal buds at the root crown following fire [10,32,58,66,67]. This species is a weak sprouter [10,42,67], especially after severe fire. Although the majority of plants survive burning and sprouting is reliable, sprout production can be limited initially and may remain so for several years. Recovery rates are variable. Mountain snowberry is usually top-killed but otherwise undamaged by low-severity fire, but may show decreases the first few years after severe fire [32,44]. Even after severe fire, prefire numbers and coverages are usually regained by 15 years [4,36,42,44,68].
It is unclear from the literature what part burning season plays in mountain snowberry's highly variable response to fire. On most sites plants survive low severity fires and sprout within the first year [30,32,68].
Fifteen years after a September prescribed burn in big sagebrush/grass habitat in Idaho, mountain snowberry production was nearly equal on light-severity and severely burned sites. Production was greatest on moderate-severity and unburned sites. Postfire production (lbs/acre, air-dry) was :
|Unburned||Light burn||Moderate burn||Severe burn|
Koniak  found that in singleleaf pinyon-Utah juniper (Pinus monophylla-Juniperus osteosperma) woodlands of California and Nevada, occurrence of mountain snowberry was significantly higher on 1-year-old August burns than on adjacent unburned woodlands.
In Nevada mountain big sagebrush, mountain snowberry plants regained 75% of prefire plant height within 4 years of late summer fires .
Mountain snowberry was severely damaged in Wyoming, however, following a late August prescribed burn in a quaking aspen forest. Twelve years after the burn, mountain snowberry was only producing about half the biomass of that being produced prior to the burn. Snowberry biomass production (air-dry, kg/ha) was as follows 3 and 12 years after different burn severities [1,2]:
Postfire low moderate high severity severity severity 3 years 9 36 7 12 years 48 25 18Lyon's Research Paper and the Research Project Summary Vegetation recovery following a mixed-severity fire in aspen groves of western Wyoming provide information on prescribed fire and postfire response of plant community species, including mountain snowberry.
Snowberry species are capable of producing firebrand material. When
large mountain snowberry plants are located near fire control lines, they may cause
spot fires .
Elk browsed mountain snowberry more on burned than unburned quaking aspen forests. Postfire browsing may slow the shrub's recovery time [5,10].
Annual or very frequent fires may be detrimental to mountain snowberry .
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