Overview

Distribution

National Distribution

United States

Origin: Native

Regularity: Regularly occurring

Currently: Present

Confidence: Confident

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Occurrence in North America

     AZ  CA  NV  NM  TX  UT  MEXICO

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Creosotebush occurs throughout the Mojave, Sonoran, and Chihuahuan
deserts [11].  Its distribution extends from southern California
northeast through southern Nevada to the southwest corner of Utah and
southeast through southern Arizona and New Mexico to western Texas and
north-central Mexico [67].
  • 11. Barbour, Michael G. 1969. Age and space distribution of the desert shrub Larrea divaricata. Ecology. 50(4): 679-685. [3989]
  • 67. MacMahon, James A. 1988. Warm deserts. In: Barbour, Michael G.; Billings, William Dwight, eds. North American terrestrial vegetation. Cambridge; New York: Cambridge University Press: 231-264. [19547]

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Regional Distribution in the Western United States

More info on this topic.

This species can be found in the following regions of the western United States (according to the Bureau of Land Management classification of Physiographic Regions of the western United States):

    3  Southern Pacific Border
    6  Upper Basin and Range
    7  Lower Basin and Range
   12  Colorado Plateau
   13  Rocky Mountain Piedmont

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Localities documented in Tropicos sources

Larrea tridentata (Sessé & Moc. ex DC.) Coville:
United States (North America)

Note: This information is based on publications available through Tropicos and may not represent the entire distribution. Tropicos does not categorize distributions as native or non-native.
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Global Range: Larrea tridentata occurs in the U.S. in Arizona, California, New Mexico, Nevada, Texas, and Utah. It also covers vast expanses along the northern boundary of Mexico from Baja California to Nuevo Leon, extending southward throughout Sonora, Chihuahua, Guanajuato, San Luis Potosi and Hidalgo (Mason and Mason 1987) and central America (Carter 1997, Stubbendieck et al. 1984).

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Physical Description

Morphology

Description

More info for the terms: indehiscent, shrub

Creosotebush is a native, drought-tolerant, evergreen shrub growing up
to 13.2 feet (4 m) tall [79].  Its numerous branches are brittle and
densely leafy at the tips [41,79].  Because of leaf and stem alignment,
creosotebush provides little shade during the full desert sunshine [70].

The leaves of creosotebush are thick, resinous, and strongly scented
[8,61] .  Flowers are solitary and axillary [61].  Fruits are globose,
consisting of five united, indehiscent, one-seeded carpels which may or
may not break apart after maturing [13,68,79].  Each carpel is densely
covered by long trichomes [68].

The root system of creosotebush consists of a shallow taproot and
several lateral secondary roots, each about 10 feet (3 m) in length and
8 to 14 inches (20-35 cm) deep.  The taproot extends to a depth of about
32 inches (80 cm); further penetration is usually inhibited by caliche
[41,114].  Barbour [10] found that root growth decreased as pH increased
above 8.0.  Optimum root growth occurred at acid pH; however, only one
of the topsoils from which seeds were gathered exhibited acid pH.  Root
growth was inhibited by high concentrations of salt (>10,000 ppm).
Creosotebush roots require relatively large amounts of oxygen for growth
[66].

Creosotebush is known to attain ages of several thousand years; some
creosotebush clones may be the earth's oldest living organisms.  The age
of the largest clone in Johnson Valley, California, is estimated at
9,400 years [101].  McAuliffe [71] estimated the average longevity of
creosotebush to be 1,250 years at a study site in Dateland, California,
and 625 years at a San Luis site.
  • 8. Bainbridge, David A.; Virginia, Ross A. 1990. Restoration in the Sonoran Desert of California. Restoration and Management Notes. 8(1): 3-14. [14975]
  • 10. Barbour, Michael G. 1968. Germination requirements of the desert shrub Larrea divaricata. Ecology. 49: 915-923. [4212]
  • 13. Beatley, Janice C. 1974. Effects of rainfall and temperature on the distribution and behavior of Larrea tridentata (creosote-bush) in the Mojave Desert of Nevada. Ecology. 55: 245-261. [197]
  • 41. Fonteyn, P. J.; Mahall, B. E. 1981. An experimental analysis of structure in a desert plant community. Journal of Ecology. 69: 883-896. [4249]
  • 61. Kearney, Thomas H.; Peebles, Robert H.; Howell, John Thomas; McClintock, Elizabeth. 1960. Arizona flora. 2d ed. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press. 1085 p. [6563]
  • 66. Lunt, O. R.; Letey, J.; Clark, S. B. 1973. Oxygen requirements for root growth in three species of desert shrubs. Ecology. 54(6): 1356-1362. [1489]
  • 68. Maddox, Jay C.; Carlquist, Sherwin. 1985. Wind dispersal in Californian desert plants: experimental studies and conceptual considerations. Aliso. 11(1): 77-96. [3256]
  • 71. McAuliffe, Joseph R. 1988. Markovian dynamics of simple and complex desert plant communities. The American Naturalist. 131(4): 459-490. [6744]
  • 79. Munz, Philip A.; Keck, David D. 1959. A California flora. Berkeley & Los Angeles: University of California Press. 1104 p. [4592]
  • 101. Vasek, Frank C. 1980. Creosote bush: long-lived clones in the Mojave Desert. American Journal of Botany. 67(2): 246-255. [2761]
  • 114. Singh, Surendra Pratap. 1964. Cover, biomass, and root-shoot habit of Larrea divaricata on a selected site in southern New Mexico. University Park, NM: New Mexico State University. 36 p. Thesis. [24013]
  • 70. Mares, M. A.; Enders, F. A.; Kingsolver, J. M.; [and others]. 1977. Prosopis as a niche component. In: Simpson, B. B., ed. Mesquite: Its biology in two desert ecosystems. US/IBP Synthesis 4. Stroudsburg, PA: Dowden, Hutchinson & Ross, Inc: 123-149. [5194]

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Ecology

Habitat

Sonoran Desert Habitat

This taxon is found in the Sonoran Desert, which comprises much of the state of Sonora, Mexico, most of the southern half of the USA states of Arizona, southeastern California, most of the Baja California peninsula, and the numerous islands of the Gulf of California. Its southern third straddles 30° north latitude and is a horse latitude desert; the rest is rainshadow desert. It is lush in comparison to most other deserts. There is a moderate diversity of faunal organisms present, with 550 distinct vertebrate species having been recorded here.

The visually dominant elements of the landscape are two lifeforms that distinguish the Sonoran Desert from the other North American deserts: legume trees and large columnar cacti. This desert also supports many other organisms, encompassing a rich spectrum of some 2000 species of plants, 550 species of vertebrates, and untolled thousands of invertebrate species.

The Sonoran Desert prominently differs from the other three deserts of North America in having mild winters. Most of the area rarely experiences frost, and the biota are partly tropical in origin. Many of the perennial plants and animals are derived from ancestors in the tropical thorn-scrub to the south, their life cycles attuned to the brief summer rainy season. The winter rains, when ample, support great populations of annuals (which make up nearly half of the plant species). Some of the plants and animals are opportunistic, growing or reproducing after significant rainfall in any season.

Creosote Bush (Larrea divaricata) and White Bursage (Ambrosia dumosa) vegetation characterize the lower Colorado River Valley section of the Sonoran. The Arizona upland section to the north and east is more mesic, resulting in greater species diversity and richness. Lower elevation areas are dominated by dense communities of Creosote Bush and White Bursage, but on slopes and higher portions of bajadas, subtrees such as palo verde (Cercidium floridum, C. microphyllum) and Ironwood (Olneya tesota), saguaros (Carnegiea gigantia), and other tall cacti are abundant. Cresosote Bush (Larrea tridentata) and White Bursage (Ambrosia dumosa) form the scrub that dominates the northwest part of the Sonoran Desert. This association thrives on deep, sandy soils in the flatlands. Where the dunes allow for slight inclination of the slope, species of Mesquite (Prosopis), Cercidium, Ironwood (Olneya tesota), Candalia, Lycium, Prickly-pear (Opuntia), Fouquieria, Burrobush (Hymenoclea) and Acacia are favored. The coastal plains of Sonora are composed of an almost pure Larrea scrub. Away from the Gulf influence in the area surrounding the Pinacate, Encelia farinosa, Larrea tridentataOlneya, Cercidium, Prosopis, Fouquieria and various cacti species dominate the desert.

Many wildlife species, such as Sonoran Pronghorn Antelope (Antilocapra sonoriensis EN), Desert Bighorn Sheep (Ovis canadensis nelsoni) and the endemic Bailey's Pocket Mouse (Chaetodipus baileyi) use ironwood, cacti species and other vegetation as both shelter from the harsh climate as well as a water supply. Other mammals include predators such as Puma (Felis concolor), Coyote (Canis latrans) and prey such as Black-tailed Jackrabbit (Lepus californicus), and the Round-tailed Ground Squirrel (Spermophilus tereticaudus). Other mammals able to withstand the extreme desert climate of this ecoregion include California Leaf-nosed Bat (Macrotus californicus) and Ring-tailed Cat (Bassariscus astutus).

Three endemic lizards to the Sonoran Desert are: the Coachella Fringe-toed Lizard (Uma inornata EN); the Flat-tail Horned Lizard (Phrynosoma mcallii NT); and the Colorado Desert Fringe-toed Lizard (Uma notata NT); an endemic whiptail is the San Esteban Island Whiptail (Cnemidophorus estebanensis). Non-endemic special status reptiles in the ecoregion include the Desert Tortoise (Gopherus agassizii VU) and the Gila Monster (Heloderma suspectum NT).

There are twenty-four  anuran species occurring in the Sonoran Desert, one of which is endemic, the Sonoran Green Toad (Anaxyrus retiformis). Other anurans in the ecoregion are: California Treefrog (Pseudacris cadaverina); Canyon Treefrog (Hyla arenicolor); Lowland Burrowing Frog (Smilisca fodiens); Mexican Treefrog (Smilisca baudinii); Madrean Treefrog (Hyla eximia); Sabinal Frog (Leptodactylus melanonotus); Northwest Mexico Leopard Frog (Lithobates magnaocularis); Brown's Leopard Frog (Lithobates brownorum); Yavapai Leopard Frog (Lithobates yavapaiensis); Mexican Cascade Frog (Lithobates pustulosus); Mexican Leaf Frog (Pachymedusa dacnicolor); Red Spotted Toad (Anaxyrus punctatus); Sinaloa Toad (Incilius mazatlanensis); Sonoran Desert Toad (Incilius alvarius); Eastern Green Toad  (Anaxyrus debilis); New Mexico Spadefoot (Spea multiplicata); Great Plains Toad (Anaxyrus cognatus); Couch's Spadefoot Toad (Scaphiopus couchii); Cane Toad (Rhinella marina); Elegant Narrowmouth Toad (Gastrophryne elegans);  Little Mexican Toad (Anaxyrus kelloggi); Great Plains Narrowmouth Toad (Gastrophryne olivacea); and Woodhouse's Toad (Anaxyrus woodhousii).

The Sonoran Desert is recognized as an exceptional birding area. Forty-one percent (261 of 622) of all terrestrial bird species found in the USA can be seen here during some season of the year. The Sonoran Desert, together with its eastern neighbor the Chihuahuan Desert, is the richest area in in the USA for birds, particularly hummingbirds. Among the bird species found in the Sonoran Desert are the saguaro-inhabiting Costa's Hummingbird (Calypte costae), Black-tailed Gnatcatcher (Polioptila melanura), Phainopepla (Phainopepla nitens) and Gila Woodpecker (Melanerpes uropygualis). Perhaps the most well-known Sonoran bird is the Greater Roadrunner (Geococcyx californianus), distinguished by its preference for running rather than flying, as it hunts scorpions, tarantulas, rattlesnakes, lizards, and other prey. The Sonoran Desert exhibits two endemic bird species, the highest level of bird endemism in the USA. The Rufous-winged Sparrow (Aimophila carpalis) is rather common in most parts of the Sonoran, but only along the central portion of the Arizona-Mexico border, seen in desert grasses admixed with brush. Rare in extreme southern Arizona along the Mexican border, the endemic Five-striped Sparrow (Aimophila quinquestriata) is predominantly found in canyons on hillsides and slopes among tall, dense scrub.

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Chihuahuan Desert Habitat

This taxon is found in the Chihuahuan Desert, which is one of the most biologically diverse arid regions on Earth. This ecoregion extends from within the United States south into Mexico. This desert is sheltered from the influence of other arid regions such as the Sonoran Desert by the large mountain ranges of the Sierra Madres. This isolation has allowed the evolution of many endemic species; most notable is the high number of endemic plants; in fact, there are a total of 653 vertebrate taxa recorded in the Chihuahuan Desert.  Moreover, this ecoregion also sustains some of the last extant populations of Mexican Prairie Dog, wild American Bison and Pronghorn Antelope.

The dominant plant species throughout the Chihuahuan Desert is Creosote Bush (Larrea tridentata). Depending on diverse factors such as type of soil, altitude, and degree of slope, L. tridentata can occur in association with other species. More generally, an association between L. tridentata, American Tarbush (Flourensia cernua) and Viscid Acacia (Acacia neovernicosa) dominates the northernmost portion of the Chihuahuan Desert. The meridional portion is abundant in Yucca and Opuntia, and the southernmost portion is inhabited by Mexican Fire-barrel Cactus (Ferocactus pilosus) and Mojave Mound Cactus (Echinocereus polyacanthus). Herbaceous elements such as Gypsum Grama (Chondrosum ramosa), Blue Grama (Bouteloua gracilis) and Hairy Grama (Chondrosum hirsuta), among others, become dominant near the Sierra Madre Occidental. In western Coahuila State, Lecheguilla Agave (Agave lechuguilla), Honey Mesquite (Prosopis glandulosa), Purple Prickly-pear (Opuntia macrocentra) and Rainbow Cactus (Echinocereus pectinatus) are the dominant vascular plants.

Because of its recent origin, few warm-blooded vertebrates are restricted to the Chihuahuan Desert scrub. However, the Chihuahuan Desert supports a large number of wide-ranging mammals, such as the Pronghorn Antelope (Antilocapra americana), Robust Cottontail (Sylvilagus robustus EN); Mule Deer (Odocoileus hemionus), Grey Fox (Unocyon cineroargentinus), Jaguar (Panthera onca), Collared Peccary or Javelina (Pecari tajacu), Desert Cottontail (Sylvilagus auduboni), Black-tailed Jackrabbit (Lepus californicus), Kangaroo Rats (Dipodomys sp.), pocket mice (Perognathus spp.), Woodrats (Neotoma spp.) and Deer Mice (Peromyscus spp). With only 24 individuals recorded in the state of Chihuahua Antilocapra americana is one of the most highly endangered taxa that inhabits this desert. The ecoregion also contains a small wild population of the highly endangered American Bison (Bison bison) and scattered populations of the highly endangered Mexican Prairie Dog (Cynomys mexicanus), as well as the Black-tailed Prairie Dog (Cynomys ludovicianus).

The Chihuahuan Desert herpetofauna typifies this ecoregion.Several lizard species are centered in the Chihuahuan Desert, and include the Texas Horned Lizard (Phrynosoma cornutum); Texas Banded Gecko (Coleonyx brevis), often found under rocks in limestone foothills; Reticulate Gecko (C. reticulatus); Greater Earless Lizard (Cophosaurus texanus); several species of spiny lizards (Scelopoprus spp.); and the Western Marbled Whiptail (Cnemidophorus tigris marmoratus). Two other whiptails, the New Mexico Whiptail (C. neomexicanus) and the Common Checkered Whiptail (C. tesselatus) occur as all-female parthenogenic clone populations in select disturbed habitats.

Representative snakes include the Trans-Pecos Rat Snake (Bogertophis subocularis), Texas Blackhead Snake (Tantilla atriceps), and Sr (Masticophis taeniatus) and Neotropical Whipsnake (M. flagellum lineatus). Endemic turtles include the Bolsón Tortoise (Gopherus flavomarginatus), Coahuilan Box Turtle (Terrapene coahuila) and several species of softshell turtles. Some reptiles and amphibians restricted to the Madrean sky island habitats include the Ridgenose Rattlesnake (Crotalus willardi), Twin-spotted Rattlesnake (C. pricei), Northern Cat-eyed Snake (Leptodeira septentrionalis), Yarrow’s Spiny Lizard (Sceloporus jarrovii), and Canyon Spotted Whiptail (Cnemidophorus burti).

There are thirty anuran species occurring in the Chihuahuan Desert: Chiricahua Leopard Frog (Rana chircahuaensis); Red Spotted Toad (Anaxyrus punctatus); American Bullfrog (Lithobates catesbeianus); Canyon Treefrog (Hyla arenicolor); Northern Cricket Frog (Acris crepitans); Rio Grande Chirping Frog (Eleutherodactylus cystignathoides); Cliff Chirping Frog (Eleutherodactylus marnockii); Spotted Chirping Frog (Eleutherodactylus guttilatus); Tarahumara Barking Frog (Craugastor tarahumaraensis); Mexican Treefrog (Smilisca baudinii); Madrean Treefrog (Hyla eximia); Montezuma Leopard Frog (Lithobates montezumae); Brown's Leopard Frog (Lithobates brownorum); Yavapai Leopard Frog (Lithobates yavapaiensis); Western Barking Frog (Craugastor augusti); Mexican Cascade Frog (Lithobates pustulosus); Lowland Burrowing Frog (Smilisca fodiens); New Mexico Spadefoot (Spea multiplicata); Plains Spadefoot (Spea bombifrons); Pine Toad (Incilius occidentalis); Woodhouse's Toad (Anaxyrus woodhousii); Couch's Spadefoot Toad (Scaphiopus couchii); Plateau Toad (Anaxyrus compactilis); Texas Toad (Anaxyrus speciosus); Dwarf Toad (Incilius canaliferus); Great Plains Narrowmouth Toad (Gastrophryne olivacea); Great Plains Toad (Anaxyrus cognatus); Eastern Green Toad (Anaxyrus debilis); Gulf Coast Toad (Incilius valliceps); and Longfoot Chirping Toad (Eleutherodactylus longipes VU). The sole salamander occurring in the Chihuahuan Desert is the Tiger Salamander (Ambystoma tigrinum).

Common bird species include the Greater Roadrunner (Geococcyx californianus), Burrowing Owl (Athene cunicularia), Merlin (Falco columbarius), Red-tailed Hawk (Buteo jamaicensis), and the rare Zone-tailed Hawk (Buteo albonotatus). Geococcyx californianus), Curve-billed Thrasher (Toxostoma curvirostra), Scaled Quail (Callipepla squamata), Scott’s Oriole (Icterus parisorum), Black-throated Sparrow (Amphispiza bilineata), Phainopepla (Phainopepla nitens), Worthen’s Sparrow (Spizella wortheni), and Cactus Wren (Campylorhynchus brunneicapillus). In addition, numerous raptors inhabit the Chihuahuan Desert and include the Great Horned Owl (Bubo virginianus) and the Elf Owl (Micrathene whitneyi).

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Gulf of California Xeric Scrub

This taxon occurs in the Gulf of California xeric scrub ecoregion, situated along the eastern coastal zone and Gulf of California versant of the Baja Peninsula in Mexico, and is delineated by the spine of the La Giganta Sierra Mountains. This ecoregion, located entirely within the nation of Mexico, is classified within the Deserts and Xeric Scrublands biome.  Species richness of plants is high in the ecoregion, but modest for fauna; however, endemism is high in this arid habitat, which receives some of the lowest precipitation in all of Mexico.

Dominant flora species are Creosote Bush (Larrea tridentata) and White Bursage (Ambrosia dumosa); moreover, other plant taxa occurring here include: Arizona Nettle-spurge (Jatropha cinerea), Desert Ironwood (Olneya tesota), Acacia brandegeana, Blue Palo Verde (Cercidium floridum), and Chloroleucon mangense var. leucospermum. Species of more mesic habitats occur on the many oases that are present on the Baja Peninsula: Mexican Fan Palm (Washingtonia robusta), Southern Cattail (Typha domingensis), Common Reed (Phragmites australis) and Date Palm (Phoenix dactylifera). The oases are remnants of more extensive mesic environments that existed in the peninsula in prehistoric times; these earlier habitats consisted of larger bodies of surface water distributed throughout the peninsula, surrounded by vegetation that belongs to wetlands interspersed with common elements of the xeric scrub.

The Isla Santa Catalina Leaf-toed Gecko (Phyllodactylus bugastrolepis) is an endemic reptile to the Gulf of California xeric scrub, occurring only on Isla Santa Catalina, and often found in dead cacti. Other reptile species found here include: the endemic Santa Catalina Island Whiptail (Cnemidophorus catalinensis), seen only on Santa Catalina Island in the Gulf of California; the endemic Santa Catalina Island Spiny Lizard (Sceloporus lineatulus); the endemic San Lorenzo Islands Lizard (Uta antiqua); the endemic Salsipuedes Island Whiptail (Cnemidophorus canus), restricted in occurrence to endemic to the islands of Salsipuedes, San Lorenzo Norte and San Lorenzo Sur ; the endemic Raza Island Leaf-toed Gecko (Phyllodactylus tinklei),  found on Raza Island; the endemic Santa Cruz Leaf-toed Gecko (Phyllodactylus santacruzensis); the endemic Isla Partida Del Norte Leaf-toed Gecko (Phyllodactylus partidus), found solely on Isla Partida Norte and Cardonosa Este, in the Gulf of California; the endemic Angel Island Leaf-toed Gecko (Phyllodactylus angelensis), found only on several Gulf of California islands in the county of Islas Angel de la Guarda; the endemic Las Animas Island Gecko (Phyllodactylus apricus); and the near-endemic Marbled Whiptail (Cnemidophorus marmoratus), the latter of which occupies burrows in sandy soils.

There are a number of mammalian taxa present in the Gulf of California xeric scrub, including: Angel Island Mouse (Peromyscus guardia CR), an ecoregion endemic known only from Ángel de la Guarda Island in the northern Gulf of California, México; the ecoregion endemic Burt's Deermouse (Peromyscus caniceps CR), known only from Montserrat Island, Baja California Sur, Mexico; Baja California Rock Squirrel (Spermophilus atricapillus EN), a Baja California endemic; and the Fish-eating Bat (Myotis vivesi VU), which is found along in the coastal zone of Baja California and Sonora. Bunker's Woodrat (Neotoma bunkeri EX) was previously endemic to the ecoregion and is now extinct.

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Baja California Desert Habitat

This taxon is found in the Baja California Desert ecoregion, located on most of the western side of the Baja Peninsula, containing varied habitats such as mountains, plains and coastal dunes. This desert is one of the largest and best preserved in Mexico, and due to its isolation, contains a high level of species richness and endemism. A series of ophiolytes  (formations of gabrum, ultramafic rocks, and volcanic lava) surround the most prominent orographic feature: The San Andres mountain range. Overall, the climate is arid with variable temperature. The isolated nature of the peninsula, and its proximity to the sea, maintains a measure of humidity, and creates a stable diurnal temperature.

The predominant vegetation associations are composed of xeric scrub, which have been subdivided in diverse categories according to dominant species and the ecological conditions in which they occur. Thick-stemmed trees and shrubs, growing on rocky volcanic soils, cover the highest parts of the mountain ranges. Dominant plant species are Ambrosia camphorata, Common Stork's-bill (Erodium cicutarium), and Astragalus prorifer.  The Boojumtree (Fouquieria columnaris) can be also found at elevations up to 1200m. Many species of cacti are present. Dominant species within the Baja California Desert vary with elevation. Epiphytes such as Small Ballmoss (Tillandsia recurvata) and Cudbear (Rocella tinctoria) grow in low elevation, humid areas, and account for a majority of the perennial vegetation. Areas previously submerged under the sea (in the Miocene era) are now covered by highly saline and alkaline-tolerant species, such as Ambrosia magdalenae, El Vizcaino Agave (Agave vizcainoensis), Datilillo (Yucca valida), Pitaya Agria (Stenocereus gummosus), and Porter's Muhly (Muhlenbergia porteri). Dune vegetation includes Creosote Bush (Larrea tridentata), Barclay's Saltbush (Atriplex barclayana), Rush Milkweed (Asclepias subulata) and Nicolletia trifida.

There are a number of reptilian taxa found in the Baja California Desert including the endemic Baja California Brush Lizard (Urosaurus lahtelai). The Baja California Legless Lizard (Anniella geronimensis EN) is also endemic to the ecoregion, and is restricted to a narrow strip around 87 kilometres (km) long, ranging from about six km north of Colonia Guerrero, southerly to a point south of Punta Baja at the northern edge of Bahia El Rosario. This legless lizard extends to at most four km inland in the Arroyo Socorro, but otherwise found only in the coastal zone; A. geronimensis also occurs on Isla San Gerónimo. Also found here is the San Lucan Leaf-toed Gecko (Phyllodactylus unctus NT), a species not endemic to the ecoregion, but restricted to the southern Baja Peninsula and the Gulf of California islands of Partida Sur, Gallo, Espiritu Santo, Ballena, Gallina and Cerralvo.

There are only a few amphibians found in the ecoregion. Anuran taxa occurring here include: California Chorus Frog (Pseudacris cadaverina); Pacific Chorus Frog (Pseudacris regilla); and Canyon Treefrog (Hyla arenicolor). Also found here is the Plateau Toad (Anaxyrus compactilis), an endemic to the lower central Mexican Plateau and Baja California Desert; another toad occurring in the ecoregion is the Western Toad (Anaxyrus boreas NT). The Channel Islands Slender Salamander (Batrachoseps pacificus) was earlier thought to occur in this ecoregion, but genetic data shows that this taxon is strictly endemic to the Channel Islands of California.

Endemic mammals include San Quintín Kangaroo Rat (Dipodomys gravipes CR), and Baja California Rock Squirrel (Spermophilus atricapillus EN). Other mammals that are classified as special status are the Lesser Long-nosed Bat (Leptonycteris yerbabuenae VU). Some shallow coastal saltwater lagoons protruding into the Baja California Desert along the Pacific Ocean provide key breeding habitat for the Grey Whale (Eschrichtius robustus CR). One of the largest such breeding waters is the remote San Ignacio Lagoon, extending many kilometres inland and rarely exceeding fifteen metres in depth.

Important sites for avian conservation include the Ojo de Liebre lagoon, along the Pacific coast, which is home to millions of overwintering ducks and geese. Bird species in the Baja California Desert include such notable raptor taxa as Golden Eagle (Aquila chrysaetos), Peregrine Falcon (Falco peregrinus), Southern Crested Caracara (Caracara plancus), Osprey (Pandion haliaeutus), and Burrowing Owl (Athene cunicularia).

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Mojave Desert Habitat

This taxon is found in the Mojave Desert, the smallest of the four North American deserts. While the Mojave lies between the Great Basin Shrub Steppe and the Sonoran Desert, its fauna is more closely allied with the lower Colorado division of the Sonoran Desert. Dominant plants of the Mojave include Creosote Bush (Larrea tridentata), Many-fruit Saltbush (Atriplex polycarpa), Brittlebush (Encelia farinosa), Desert Holly (Atriplex hymenelytra), White Burrobush (Hymenoclea salsola), and Joshua Tree (Yucca brevifolia), the most notable endemic species in the region.

The Mojave’s warm temperate climate defines it as a distinct ecoregion. Mojave indicator species include Spiny Menodora (Menodora spinescens), Desert Senna (Cassia armata), Mojave Indigobush (Psorothamnus arborescens), and Shockley's Goldenhead (Acamptopappus shockleyi). The Mojave supports numerous species of cacti, including several endemics, such as Silver Cholla (Opuntia echinocarpa), Mojave Prickly Pear (O. erinacea), Beavertail Cactus (O. basilaris), and Cotton-top Cactus (Echinocactus polycephalus).

While the Mojave Desert is not so biologically distinct as the other desert ecoregions, distinctive endemic communities occur throughout. For example, the Kelso Dunes in the Mojave National Preserve harbor seven species of endemic insects, including the Kelso Dunes Jerusalem Cricket (Ammopelmatus kelsoensis) and the Kelso Dunes Shieldback Katydid (Eremopedes kelsoensis). The Mojave Fringe-toed Lizard (Uma Scoparia), while not endemic to the dunes, is rare elsewhere. Flowering plants also attract butterflies such as the Mojave Sooty-wing (Pholisora libya), and the widely distributed Painted Lady (Vanessa cardui).

There are a total of eight amphibian species present in the Mojave Desert all of which are anuran species: the endemic Relict Leopard Frog (Lithobates onca); the endemic Amargosa Toad (Anaxyrus nelsoni); Lowland Leopard Frog (Lithobates yavapaiensis); Red-spotted Toad (Anaxyrus punctatus); Southwestern Toad (Anaxyrus microscaphus); Great Basin Spadefoot (Spea intermontana); Great Plains Toad (Anaxyrus cognatus); and the Pacific Treefrog (Pseudacris regilla).

The native range of California’s threatened Desert Tortoise (Gopherus agassizii) includes the Mojave and Colorado Deserts. The Desert Tortoise has adapted for arid habitats by storing up to a liter of water in its urinary bladder. The following reptilian fauna are characteristic of the Mojave region in particular: Gila Monster (Heloderma suspectum NT); Western Banded Gecko (Coleonyx variegatus), Northern Desert Iguana (Dipsosaurus dorsalis), Western Chuckwalla (Sauromalus obesus), and regal horned lizard (Phrynosoma solare). Snake species include the Desert Rosy Boa (Charina trivirgata gracia), Mojave Patchnose Snake (Salvadora hexalepis mojavensis), and Mojave Rattlesnake (Crotalus scutulatus).

Endemic mammals of the ecoregion include the Mojave Ground Squirrel (Spermophilus mohavensis) and Amargosa Vole (Microtus californicus scirpensis); and the California Leaf-nosed Bat (Macrotus californicus).

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Comments: Larrea tridentata (creosotebush) grows on dry hills and slopes in well-drained soils and full sun. It attains its maximum development on alluvial fans where its deep-seated roots obtain adequate moisture. Although frequently associated with other desert shrubs, it is the dominant, or only, shrub in many communities. Associated species include white bursage (Ambrosia dumosa), tarbush (Flourensia cernua), acacia (Acacia spp.), leucophyllum (Leucophyllum spp.), mesquite, palma (Yucca filifera), ocotillo (Fouquieria splendens), small-leaf geigertree (Cordia parviflora), and anisacanthus (Anisacanthus spp.). Creosotebush also occurs in the sand dune scrub phase of the Chihuahuan Desert (Marshall 1995).

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Habitat characteristics

More info for the term: caliche

Creosotebush commonly grows on bajadas, gentle slopes, valley floors,
sand dunes, and in arroyos [23,34,107] at elevations up to 5,000 feet
(1,515 m) [61,79] throughout the Sonoran, Mojave, and Chihuahuan
deserts.  It occurs on calcareous, sandy, and alluvial soils that are
often underlain by a caliche hardpan [21,43,45,48,67].

Temperatures in the southwestern deserts are variable and extreme.  Near
the southern boundary of creosotebush distribution, at Puerto Libertad,
Sonora, the mean annual temperature is 68.37 degrees Fahrenheit (20.2
degrees C).  Daytime temperatures in the summer often reach 117 degrees
Fahrenheit (47 deg C) [26].  In Rock Valley, Nevada, near the northern
boundary of creosotebush distribution, temperatures range from 5 degrees
Fahrenheit (-15 deg C) in winter to 117 degrees Fahrenheit (47 deg C) in
summer [3].

Phenological events in the southwestern deserts are triggered by rain.
In the Sonoran Desert, annual rainfall averages 4 to 12 inches (100-300
mm) and is distributed bimodally [67].  The Mojave Desert gets more
winter than summer rain [67]; in Rock Valley, Nevada, rainfall averages
5.524 inches (138.1 mm), with 60 percent falling between September and
February [18].  The Chihuahuan Desert is slightly less dry; in the Rio
Grande Valley, New Mexico, rainfall averages from 8.5 inches at San
Marcial to slightly more than 10 inches at Socorro.  Two-thirds to
three-fourths of the precipitation falls between April 1 and September
30 [43].

Low soil oxygen may be a controlling factor in the distribution of
desert species.  Creosotebush is less tolerant of low soil oxygen than
white bursage [46].  Lunt [66] attributes the exclusion of creosotebush
from fine-textured and poorly drained soils to its high oxygen
requirement.
  • 3. Ackerman, Thomas L.; Bamberg, Sam A. 1974. Phenological studies in the Mojave Desert at Rock Valley (Nevada Test Site). In: Lieth, Helmut, ed. Phenology and seasonality modeling. New York: Springer-Verlag: 215-226. (Ecological studies; Analysis and synthesis, volume 8). [21506]
  • 18. Bowers, Michael A. 1987. Precipitation and the relative abundances of desert winter annuals: a 6-year study in the northern Mohave Desert. Journal of Arid Environments. 12: 141-149. [4850]
  • 21. Brown, David E. 1982. Chihuahuan desertscrub. In: Brown, David E., ed. Biotic communities of the American Southwest--United States and Mexico. Desert Plants. 4(1-4): 169-179. [3607]
  • 23. Burgess, Tony L.; Northington, David K. 1974. Desert vegetation in the Guadalupe Mountains region. In: Wauer, Roland H.; Riskind, David H., eds. Transactions of the symposium on the biological resources of the Chihuahuan Desert region, United States and Mexico; 1974 October 17-18; Alpine, TX. Transactions and Proceedings Series No. 3. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of the Interior, National Park Service: 229-242. [16061]
  • 26. Castellanos, A. E.; Molina, F. E. 1990. Differential survivorship and establishment in Simmondsia chinensis (jojoba). Journal of Arid Environments. 19: 65-76. [14982]
  • 34. Darrow, Robert A. 1944. Arizona range resources and their utilization: 1. Cochise County. Tech. Bull. 103. Tucson, AZ: University of Arizona, Agricultural Experiment Station: 311-364. [4521]
  • 43. Gardner, J. L. 1951. Vegetation of the creosotebush area of the Rio Grande Valley in New Mexico. Ecological Monographs. 21: 379-403. [4243]
  • 45. Gehlbach, Frederick R. 1967. Vegetation of the Guadalupe Escarpment, New Mexico-Texas. Ecology. 48(3): 404-419. [5149]
  • 46. Goldberg, Deborah E.; Turner, Raymond M. 1986. Vegetation change and plant demography in permanent plots in the Sonoran Desert. Ecology. 67(3): 695-712. [4410]
  • 48. Haase, Edward F. 1972. Survey of floodplain vegetation along the lower Gila River in southwestern Arizona. Journal of the Arizona Academy of Science. 7: 75-81. [10860]
  • 61. Kearney, Thomas H.; Peebles, Robert H.; Howell, John Thomas; McClintock, Elizabeth. 1960. Arizona flora. 2d ed. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press. 1085 p. [6563]
  • 66. Lunt, O. R.; Letey, J.; Clark, S. B. 1973. Oxygen requirements for root growth in three species of desert shrubs. Ecology. 54(6): 1356-1362. [1489]
  • 67. MacMahon, James A. 1988. Warm deserts. In: Barbour, Michael G.; Billings, William Dwight, eds. North American terrestrial vegetation. Cambridge; New York: Cambridge University Press: 231-264. [19547]
  • 79. Munz, Philip A.; Keck, David D. 1959. A California flora. Berkeley & Los Angeles: University of California Press. 1104 p. [4592]
  • 107. Went, F. W.; Westergaard, M. 1949. Ecology of desert plants. III. Development of plants in the Death Valley National Monument, California. Ecology. 30(1): 26-38. [11102]

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Key Plant Community Associations

More info for the terms: association, codominant, cover, density, natural, phase, tree

Creosotebush is a dominant or codominant member of most plant
communities in the Mojave, Sonoran, and Chihuahuan deserts.
Creosotebush occurs on 35 to 46 million acres (14-18.4 million ha) in
the Southwest [25].  Creosotebush usually occurs in open, species-poor
communities, sometimes in pure stands.  It also occurs as a transitional
species in desert grasslands [59], viscid acacia (Acacia
neovernicosa)-mariola (Parthenium incanum) chaparillo [60], mesquite
(Prosopis spp.)  woodlands [90], Joshua tree (Yucca brevifolia)/big
galleta (Hilaria rigida) communities [57], and xeroriparian areas [14].

The creosotebush-white bursage (Ambrosia dumosa) association covers
approximately 70 percent of the Mojave Desert [42,67,91].  Ackerman [3]
estimated the density of creosotebush at 959 plants per hectare on
Mojave Desert sites in Rock Valley, Nevada.  Relative abundance was 10.8
percent and relative plant cover was 19.6 percent.  Species associated
with creosotebush-white bursage communities in the Mojave Desert include
Shockley's goldenhead (Acamptopappus shockleyi), Anderson's wolfberry
(Lycium andersonii), range ratany (Krameria parvifolia), Mojave yucca
(Yucca schidigera), California jointfir (Ephedra funerea), spiny hopsage
(Grayia spinosa), and winterfat (Krascheninnikovia lanata) [88].
Creosotebush also occurs in the Mojave Desert scrub association with
desertholly (Atriplex hymenelytra), shadscale (A. confertifolia), white
burrobrush (Hymenoclea salsola), blackbrush (Coleogyne ramosissima),
Joshua tree, desertsenna (Cassia armata), and Nevada ephedra (Ephedra
nevadensis) [54,97].

In the Sonoran Desert, creosotebush commonly occurs in the
creosotebush-triangle bursage (Ambrosia deltoidea) [7],
creosotebush-white bursage [91], and Sonoran Desert scrub [54]
associations.  Other species associated with creosotebush in the Sonoran
Desert include yellow paloverde (Cercidium microphyllum), tesota (Olneya
tesota), big galleta, prickly pear (Opuntia spp.), acacia (Acacia
paucipina), fourwing saltbush (Atriplex canescens), ocotillo (Fouquieria
splendens), western honey mesquite (Prosopis glandulosa var.
torreyana), brittle bush (Encelia farinosa), and pachycereus
(Pachycereus schottii) [7, 26, 91].  The densities of creosotebush in
the subdivisions of the Sonoran Desert are 448 plants per hectare in the
Lower Colorado River Valley, 437.7 plants per hectare in the Arizona
Upland Subdivision, and 1.1 plants per hectare on the Central Gulf Coast
[67].

The creosotebush scrub phase covers 40 percent of the Chihuahuan Desert
[67].  Associated species include tarbush (Flourensia cernua), acacia
(Acacia spp.), leucophyllum (Leucophyllum spp.), mesquite, palma (Yucca
filifera), ocotillo, small-leaf geigertree (Cordia parviflora), and
anisacanthus (Anisacanthus spp.)  [49, 73].  Creosotebush also occurs in
the sand dune scrub phase in the Chihuahuan Desert [49].

Publications listing creosotebush as a dominant or codominant species
include:

  The structure and distribution of Larrea communities [9]
  Sonoran Desert [24]
  Vegetation and community types of the Chihuahuan Desert [49]
  Preliminary descriptions of the terrestrial natural communities of
    California [54]
  The natural vegetation of Arizona [81]
  Vegetation of the Santa Catalina Mountains: community types and
    dynamics [82]
  Plant communities of Texas (Series level) [94]
  Vegetation and flora of Fort Bowie National Historic Site, Arizona
    [103]
  • 3. Ackerman, Thomas L.; Bamberg, Sam A. 1974. Phenological studies in the Mojave Desert at Rock Valley (Nevada Test Site). In: Lieth, Helmut, ed. Phenology and seasonality modeling. New York: Springer-Verlag: 215-226. (Ecological studies; Analysis and synthesis, volume 8). [21506]
  • 7. Albert, Steven K.; Krausman, Paul R. 1993. Desert mule deer and forage resources in southwest Arizona. The Southwestern Naturalist. 38(3): 198-205. [22140]
  • 9. Barbour, M. G.; MacMahon, J. A.; Bamberg, S. A.; Ludwig, J. A. 1977. The structure and distribution of Larrea communities. In: Mabry, T. J.; Hunziker, J. H.; DiFeo, D. R., Jr., eds. Creosote bush: Biology and chemistry of Larrea in New World deserts. U.S./IBP Synthesis Series 6. Stroudsburg, PA: Dowden, Hutchinson & Ross, Inc.: 227-251. [7172]
  • 14. Bennett, Peter S.; Kunzmann, Michael R.; Johnson, R. Roy. 1989. Relative nature of wetlands: riparian and vegetational considerations. In: Abell, Dana L., technical coordinator. Protection, management, and restoration for the 1990's: Proceedings of the California riparian systems conference; 1988 September 22-24; Davis, CA. Gen. Tech. Rep. PSW-110. Berkeley, CA: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Pacific Southwest Forest and Range Experiment Station: 140-142. [13516]
  • 24. Burk, Jack H. 1977. Sonoran Desert. In: Barbour, M. G.; Major, J., eds. Terrestrial vegetation of California. New York: John Wiley and Sons: 869-899. [3731]
  • 25. Cable, Dwight R. 1973. Fire effects in southwestern semidesert grass-shrub communities. In: Proceedings, annual Tall Timbers fire ecology conference; 1972 June 8-9; Lubbock, TX. Number 12. Tallahassee, FL: Tall Timbers Research Station: 109-127. [4338]
  • 42. Fonteyn, Paul J.; Mahall, Bruce E. 1978. Competition among desert perennials. Nature. 275: 544-545. [3618]
  • 54. Holland, Robert F. 1986. Preliminary descriptions of the terrestrial natural communities of California. Sacramento, CA: California Department of Fish and Game. 156 p. [12756]
  • 57. Humphrey, Robert R. 1953. Forage production on Arizona ranges. III. Mohave County: A study in range condition. Bulletin 244. Tucson, AZ: University of Arizona, Agricultural Experiment Station. 79 p. [4440]
  • 59. Humphrey, Robert R. 1974. Fire in the deserts and desert grassland of North America. In: Kozlowski, T. T.; Ahlgren, C. E., eds. Fire and ecosystems. New York: Academic Press: 365-400. [14064]
  • 60. Johnston, Marshall C. 1974. Brief resume of botanical, including vegetational, features of the Chihuahuan Desert region with special emphasis on their uniqueness. In: Wauer, Roland H.; Riskind, David H., eds. Transactions of the symposium on the biological resources of the Chihuahuan Desert region, United States and Mexico; 1974 October 17-18; Alpine, TX. Transactions and Proceedings Series No. 3. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of the Interior, National Park Service: 335-359. [16064]
  • 67. MacMahon, James A. 1988. Warm deserts. In: Barbour, Michael G.; Billings, William Dwight, eds. North American terrestrial vegetation. Cambridge; New York: Cambridge University Press: 231-264. [19547]
  • 82. Niering, William A.; Lowe, Charles H. 1984. Vegetation of the Santa Catalina Mountains: community types and dynamics. Vegetatio. 58: 3-28. [12037]
  • 88. Romney, E. M.; Wallace, A. 1980. Ecotonal distribution of salt-tolerant shrubs in the northern Mojave Desert. The Great Basin Naturalist Memoirs. 0(4): 134-139. [4247]
  • 90. Sharifi, M. Rasoul; Nilsen, Erik T.; Rundel, Philip W. 1982. Biomass and net primary production of Prosopis glandulosa (Fabaceae) in the Sonoran Desert of California. American Journal of Botany. 69(5): 760-767. [5469]
  • 91. Shreve, Forrest. 1942. The desert vegetation of North America. Botanical Review. 8(4): 195-246. [5051]
  • 94. Texas Parks and Wildlife Department. 1992. Plant communities of Texas (Series level): February 1992. Austin, TX: Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, Texas Natural Heritage Program. 38 p. [20509]
  • 97. Turner, Raymond M. 1982. Mohave desertscrub. In: Brown, David E., ed. Biotic communities of the American Southwest--United States and Mexico. Desert Plants. 4(1-4): 157-168. [2374]
  • 103. Warren, Peter L.; Hoy, Marina S.; Hoy, Wilton E. 1992. Vegetation and flora of Fort Bowie National Historic Site, Arizona. Tech. Rep. NPS/WRUA/NRTR-92/43. Tucson, AZ: The University of Arizona, School of Renewable Natural Resources, Cooperative National Park Resources Studies Unit. 78 p. [19871]
  • 49. Henrickson, James; Johnston, Marshall C. 1986. Vegetation and community types of the Chihuahuan Desert. In: Barlow, J. C.; [and others], eds. Chihuahuan Desert--U.S. and Mexico, II. Alpine, TX: Sul Ross State University: 20-39. [12979]
  • 81. Nichol, A. A. [revisions by Phillips, W. S.]. 1952. The natural vegetation of Arizona. Tech. Bull. 68 [revision]. Tucson, AZ: University of Arizona, Agricultural Experiment Station: 189-230. [3928]

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Habitat: Plant Associations

More info on this topic.

This species is known to occur in association with the following plant community types (as classified by Küchler 1964):

More info for the terms: cactus, shrub

   K041  Creosotebush
   K042  Creosotebush - bursage
   K043  Paloverde - cactus shrub
   K044  Creosotebush - tarbush
   K045  Ceniza shrub
   K058  Grama - tobosa shrubsteppe
   K059  Trans-Pecos shrub savanna

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Habitat: Ecosystem

More info on this topic.

This species is known to occur in the following ecosystem types (as named by the U.S. Forest Service in their Forest and Range Ecosystem [FRES] Type classification):

   FRES30  Desert shrub
   FRES32  Texas savanna
   FRES33  Southwestern shrubsteppe
   FRES40  Desert grasslands

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Habitat: Cover Types

More info on this topic.

This species is known to occur in association with the following cover types (as classified by the Society of American Foresters):

    68  Mesquite
   242  Mesquite

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Population Biology

Number of Occurrences

Note: For many non-migratory species, occurrences are roughly equivalent to populations.

Estimated Number of Occurrences: 81 to >300

Comments: Over 100. New Mexico: >20; Utah: >20; Arizona: >20; California: >20; Nevada: >20; Texas: >20.

Larrea tridentata is a dominant or co-dominant member of most plant communities in the Mojave, Sonoran, and Chihuahuan deserts. For instance, the creosotebush scrub phase covers 40 percent of the Chihuahuan Desert (Marshall 1995). It is estimated to occur on 35 to 46 million acres (14-18.4 million ha) in the southwest U.S. (Marshall 1995) Healthy populations can be seen at intervals while traveling along Interstate 10, Interstate 8, Interstate 25 south of Socorro, New Mexico, and Mexico Highway 2.

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General Ecology

Fire Management Considerations

More info for the term: litter

Fire can be used to control creosotebush and promote the growth of
grasses in desert grasslands and shrublands.  Prescribed burning should
be conducted in spring or early fall following 2 years of above average
plant growth.  Britton and Wright [20] describe specific procedures for
burning shrub-invaded grasslands.

Soils under some creosotebush are water repellant because of associated
soil microorganisms.  The hydrophobic characteristic of such soils
precludes the establishment of annuals normally occurring under
creosotebush.  The degree to which the soils are hydrophobic may be
intensified by fire [5].

Standing biomass, deadwood, and leaf litter from creosotebush can fuel
desert fires.  Dead fuels are increased by drought, and live fuels are
increased after rainy seasons.  The shoot volume, dry weight, and
biomass production of creosotebush all increase in sigmoid fashion with
age.  The period of most rapid increase is from 20 to 50 years of age.
From 20 years onward, leaves average 53 percent of total shoot
cumulative production, stems with leaves average 13 percent, and the
stem trunk averages 4 percent [28].  Woody remains of creosotebush take
about 60 years to decay beyond the point of recognition [71].
  • 20. Britton, Carlton M.; Wright, Henry A. 1983. Brush management with fire. In: McDaniel, Kirk C., ed. Proceedings--brush management symposium; 1983 February 16; Albuquerque, NM. Denver, CO: Society for Range Management: 61-68. [521]
  • 5. Adams, Susan; Strain, B. R.; Adams, M. S. 1970. Water-repellent soils, fire, and annual plant cover in a desert scrub community of southeastern California. Ecology. 51(4): 696-700. [5407]
  • 28. Chew, Robert M.; Chew, Alice Eastlake. 1965. The primary productivity of a desert-shrub (Larrea tridentata) community. Ecological Monographs. 35: 355-375. [4254]
  • 71. McAuliffe, Joseph R. 1988. Markovian dynamics of simple and complex desert plant communities. The American Naturalist. 131(4): 459-490. [6744]

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Broad-scale Impacts of Plant Response to Fire

More info for the terms: fuel, prescribed fire

Season of burning, fuel quantity, fire temperature, and age of existing
creosotebush may affect the ability of creosotebush to sprout.  White
[108] noted that burning creosotebush during different seasons at the
Sant Rita Experimental Range near Tucson, Arizona, resulted in
significant differences in sprout production.  The most sprouts were
produced following February and August fires.  The least sprouts were
produced following June and July fires.  The seasonal pattern of sprout
production closely followed trends in growth of terminal shoots.
Sprouting in creosotebush decreased with increasing fuel quantity and
decreased as soil temperature and duration of heating increased
[108,109].  Young plants produced fewer sprouts after burning than
mature plants [108].

The Research Project Summary Nonnative annual grass fuels and fire in
California's Mojave Desert
provides information on prescribed fire and
postfire response of plant community species, including creosotebush,
that was not available when this species review was written.
  • 108. White, Larry D. 1968. Factors affecting susceptibility of creosotebush (Larrea tridentata (D.C.) Cov.) to burning. Tucson, AZ: University of Arizona. 96 p. Ph.D. dissertation. [1785]
  • 109. White, Larry D. 1980. Principles, requirements, and techniques for prescribed range burning. In: Hanselka, C. Wayne, ed. Prescribed range burning in the coastal prairie and eastern Rio Grande Plains of Texas: Proceedings of a symposium; 1980 October 16; Kingsville, TX. College Station, TX: The Texas A&M University System, Texas Agricultural Extension Service: 30-64. [11450]

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Plant Response to Fire

More info for the terms: competition, cover, density, low-severity fire, root crown, shrubs

Creosotebush may sprout if its root crown is not killed by fire [64].
In a southern California brushfire, creosotebush successfully sprouted
and regained its estimated former cover within 5 years [83].  In a
low-severity Arizona fire, 37 percent of top-killed creosotebush
sprouted [72].  However, Brown and Minnich [115] reported that
creosotebush rarely sprouted even though most shrubs were incompletely
burned in a low-severity fire near Palm Springs, California.

Dalton [33] reported good creosotebush seedling establishment on a
burned site in Arizona, possibly due to reduced competition for soil
moisture.  No seedling establishment occurred on unburned sites.
Seedling establishment also occured after a low-severity fire in
Arizona.  Prefire density of creosotebush was 45 plants per hectare, and
creosotebush cover was 1.3 percent [72].  In postfire year 1, the
density of creosotebush was 125 plants per hectare and creosotebush
cover was 0.3 percent.  In postfire year 2, the density of creosotebush
was 95 plants per hectare and creosotebush cover was 0.6 percent.
  • 64. Loftin, Samuel Robert. 1987. Postfire dynamics of a Sonoran Desert ecosystem. Tempe, AZ: Arizona State University. 97 p. Thesis. [12296]
  • 72. McLaughlin, Steven P.; Bowers, Janice E. 1982. Effects of wildfire on a Sonoran Desert plant community. Ecology. 63(1): 246-248. [1619]
  • 83. O'Leary, John F.; Minnich, Richard A. 1981. Postfire recovery of creosote bush scrub vegetation in the western Colorado Desert. Madrono. 28(2): 61-66. [3973]
  • 115. Brown, David E.; Minnich, Richard A. 1986. Fire and changes in creosote bush scrub of the western Sonoran Desert, California. The American Midland Naturalist. 116(2): 411-422. [537]
  • 33. Dalton, Patrick Daly, Jr. 1962. Ecology of the creosotebush Larrea tridentata (DC.) Cov.. Tucson, AZ: University of Arizona. 170 p. In: Dissertation Abstracts International: 2556. [Abstract]. [5061]

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Immediate Effect of Fire

More info for the term: low-severity fire

Fire kills many creosotebush.  During a low-severity California fire,
many creosotebush were scorched and few burned, but overall mortality
was still 97 percent [115].  Dalton [33] reported mortality rates of 69
and 63 percent for moderately and lightly burned plants, respectively.
A low-severity fire near Florence, Arizona, top-killed 97 percent of all
creosotebush; however, 37 percent of those sprouted.  Overall
creosotebush mortality was 61 percent [72].
  • 72. McLaughlin, Steven P.; Bowers, Janice E. 1982. Effects of wildfire on a Sonoran Desert plant community. Ecology. 63(1): 246-248. [1619]
  • 115. Brown, David E.; Minnich, Richard A. 1986. Fire and changes in creosote bush scrub of the western Sonoran Desert, California. The American Midland Naturalist. 116(2): 411-422. [537]
  • 33. Dalton, Patrick Daly, Jr. 1962. Ecology of the creosotebush Larrea tridentata (DC.) Cov.. Tucson, AZ: University of Arizona. 170 p. In: Dissertation Abstracts International: 2556. [Abstract]. [5061]

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Post-fire Regeneration

More info for the terms: secondary colonizer, shrub

   Secondary colonizer - off-site seed
   Tall shrub, adventitious-bud root crown

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Fire Ecology

More info for the terms: fuel, severity, shrubs

Creosotebush is poorly adapted to fire because of its limited sprouting
ability [59,115].  Creosotebush survives some fires that burn patchily
or are of low severity [87,115].  Historically, infrequent fires may
have limited the invasion of desert grasslands by creosotebush [59].

Most fires in the desert are infrequent and of low severity because
production of annual and perennial herbs seldom provides a fuel load
capable of sustaining fire.  Humphrey [59] stated that the
creosotebush-white bursage community is "essentially nonflammable"
because the shrubs are too sparse to carry fire.  The resinous foliage
of creosotebush, however, is very flammable.
  • 59. Humphrey, Robert R. 1974. Fire in the deserts and desert grassland of North America. In: Kozlowski, T. T.; Ahlgren, C. E., eds. Fire and ecosystems. New York: Academic Press: 365-400. [14064]
  • 87. Rogers, Garry F.; Steele, Jeff. 1980. Sonoran Desert fire ecology. 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: 15-19. [16036]
  • 115. Brown, David E.; Minnich, Richard A. 1986. Fire and changes in creosote bush scrub of the western Sonoran Desert, California. The American Midland Naturalist. 116(2): 411-422. [537]

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Successional Status

More info on this topic.

More info for the terms: allelopathy, cover, density, relict, succession

Creosotebush density and cover are generally decreased by disturbance.
In a comparison between vegetation on disturbed and undisturbed Mojave
Desert sites, creosotebush was dominant on all control sites and
subdominant to white bursage on disturbed sites [84].  Webb [104] noted
that desert succession can be described using life-history strategies:
Species with high recruitment and mortality rates, such as white
bursage, are dominant in the colonizing stage and species with low
recruitment and mortality, such as creosotebush, eventually dominate the
landscape, although colonizing species usually remain present.

Creosotebush uses white bursage as a nurse plant.  McAuliffe [71] found
that 85.5 percent of all young creosotebush were rooted beneath the
canopies of live white bursage or positioned next to dead ones.  The
smallest creosotebush plants in McAuliffe's [71] study were all
associated with live white bursage.  Most creosotebush establishment
apparently occurs near live white bursage.

Recruitment of creosotebush is infrequent.  Despite the abundance of
potentially suitable areas beneath white bursage, McAuliffe [71] found
young creosotebush beneath only 1 percent of all white bursage.  Total
densities of young creosotebush were between 12 and 15 plants per
hectare.  The density of white bursage plants was ten times that of
creosotebush.  Although large-scale creosotebush seedling establishment
does not occur after disturbance, relict creosotebush usually increases
in size by cloning [100,101,104].  Creosotebush canopies may grow to
exceed the coverage of white bursage by more than six times [71].

Creosotebush exhibits root-mediated allelopathy.  In a laboratory study,
creosotebush test roots grew freely through soil occupied by white
bursage roots, but white bursage test roots grew at reduced rates into
soil occupied by creosotebush [69].  Mature creosotebush may be
allelopathic to their own seedlings, encouraging an open community
structure [71].
  • 69. Mahall, Bruce E.; Callaway, Ragan M. 1991. Root communication among desert shrubs. Proceedings, National Academy of Sciences, USA. 88: 874-876. [22248]
  • 71. McAuliffe, Joseph R. 1988. Markovian dynamics of simple and complex desert plant communities. The American Naturalist. 131(4): 459-490. [6744]
  • 84. Prose, D. V.; Metzger, Susan K.; Wilshire, H. G. 1987. Effects of substrate disturbance on secondary plant succession; Mojave Desert, California. Journal of Applied Ecology. 24: 305-313. [4590]
  • 100. Vasek, Frank C. 1979. Early successional stages in Mojave Desert scrub vegetation. Israel Journal of Botany. 28: 133-148. [4579]
  • 101. Vasek, Frank C. 1980. Creosote bush: long-lived clones in the Mojave Desert. American Journal of Botany. 67(2): 246-255. [2761]
  • 104. Webb, Robert H.; Steiger, John W.; Newman, Evelyn B. 1988. The response of vegetation to disturbance in Death Valley National Monument, California. U.S. Geological Survey Bulletin 1793. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of the Interior, U.S. Geological Survey. 69 p. [8915]

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Regeneration Processes

More info for the terms: natural, presence, root crown

Creosotebush reproduces both vegetatively and sexually.

Vegetative reproduction:  Creosotebush achieves its status as one of the
most stable members of desert communities by cloning.  When drought is
extreme, old branches and roots of creosotebush die back.  When rains
return, branches are replaced by sprouts originating near the outside of
the root crown.  Creosotebush clones gradually expand to form rings many
meters in diameter [32,63].  Creosotebush may occasionally sprout from
its root crown after disturbance.  New sprouts were produced by
creosotebush on a Mojave Desert site that had been denuded by grading
[89].

Sexual reproduction:  Age distribution in many stands of creosotebush
indicates that germination and survival under natural conditions are
rare [11,66].  Sexual reproduction may be especially rare at the upper
elevational limits of creosotebush [104].

Creosotebush requires summer rains for successful sexual reproduction.
The flowering success of creosotebush is greatest with moderate
rainfall.  In years of high rainfall, a high proportion of flowers is
diseased [13].

Creosotebush seeds are primarily adapted for tumbling rather than for
animal dispersal or lofting [68].  The stiff trichomes radiate equally
in all directions so that little wind is required to send the seeds
tumbling.  The trichomes are not stiff enough to penetrate animal skin,
and the seeds are too heavy for lofting.  However, Chew and Chew [29]
suggested that the shucking and burial of creosotebush seeds by rodents
may facilitate the germination and survival of creosotebush.  Shreve
[91] noted poor creosotebush reproduction on level plains.  More
seedlings established if the soil surface was broken or scarred.
Leitner [116] found creosotebush more abundant on southern or northern
slopes of a pediment in Sonora, Mexico, than in washes.  Rock crevices
and irregularities of the pediment may provide protection and footholds
for wind-tumbled seeds.

Germination of creosotebush is related to rainfall.  A minimum of about
1 inch of rainfall seems necessary to induce germination.  A 1971 rain
of 1 to 1.96 inches (25-49 mm) in the Mojave Desert was sufficient, but
neither an August 1972 rain of 0.68 inch (17 mm) nor a July rain of 0.84
inch (21 mm) promoted germination of creosotebush seeds [2].  If less
than 2 to 3 inches (50-80 mm) or more than 6 inches (150 mm) of rain
fall during the summer, germinability of seeds is usually less than 20
percent.  If 3 to 6 inches (80-150 mm) fall, germination is 20 to 60
percent.

Germination experiments have been conducted on creosotebush seeds from
all three southwestern deserts.  Barbour [10] found that the average
creosotebush mericarp contained one seed, and viability ranged from 15
to 76 percent.  The presence or absence of mericarp about the seed had
no effect on germination.  Germination was two times higher in darkness
than under light, and optimal germination temperature was 73.4 degrees
Fahrenheit (23 deg C).  Optimum salinity was 500 parts per million of
sodium chloride.  Germination was not affected by pH.  Creosotebush
seeds may lose viability if they remain in topsoils during the summer;
seeds from the Sonoran and Chihuahuan deserts showed decreased
germination as storage temperature increased.
  • 2. Ackerman, Thomas L. 1979. Germination and survival of perennial plant species in the Mojave Desert. The Southwestern Naturalist. 24(3): 399-408. [12219]
  • 10. Barbour, Michael G. 1968. Germination requirements of the desert shrub Larrea divaricata. Ecology. 49: 915-923. [4212]
  • 11. Barbour, Michael G. 1969. Age and space distribution of the desert shrub Larrea divaricata. Ecology. 50(4): 679-685. [3989]
  • 13. Beatley, Janice C. 1974. Effects of rainfall and temperature on the distribution and behavior of Larrea tridentata (creosote-bush) in the Mojave Desert of Nevada. Ecology. 55: 245-261. [197]
  • 29. Chew, Robert M.; Chew, Alice Eastlake. 1970. Energy relationships of the mammals of a desert shrub (Larrea tridentata) community. Ecological Monographs. 40(1): 1-21. [5055]
  • 32. Cody, M. L. 1986. Spacing patterns in Mojave Desert plant communities: near-neighbor analyses. Journal of Arid Environments. 11: 199-217. [4411]
  • 63. Levin, Geoffrey A. 1988. How plants survive in the desert. Environment Southwest. Summer: 20-25. [9239]
  • 66. Lunt, O. R.; Letey, J.; Clark, S. B. 1973. Oxygen requirements for root growth in three species of desert shrubs. Ecology. 54(6): 1356-1362. [1489]
  • 68. Maddox, Jay C.; Carlquist, Sherwin. 1985. Wind dispersal in Californian desert plants: experimental studies and conceptual considerations. Aliso. 11(1): 77-96. [3256]
  • 89. Romney, E. M.; Wallace, A.; Hunter, B. 1989. Pulse establishment of woody shrubs of denuded Mojave Desert land. In: Wallace, Arthur; McArthur, E. Durant; Haferkamp, Marshall R., compilers. Proceedings--symposium on shrub ecophysiology and biotechnology; 1987 June 30 - July 2; Logan, UT. Gen. Tech. Rep. INT-256. Ogden, UT: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Intermountain Research Station: 54-57. [5923]
  • 91. Shreve, Forrest. 1942. The desert vegetation of North America. Botanical Review. 8(4): 195-246. [5051]
  • 104. Webb, Robert H.; Steiger, John W.; Newman, Evelyn B. 1988. The response of vegetation to disturbance in Death Valley National Monument, California. U.S. Geological Survey Bulletin 1793. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of the Interior, U.S. Geological Survey. 69 p. [8915]
  • 116. Leitner, Lawrence A. 1987. Plant communities of a large arroyo at Punta Cirio, Sonora. The Southwestern Naturalist. 32(1): 21-28. [1439]

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Growth Form (according to Raunkiær Life-form classification)

More info on this topic.

More info for the term: phanerophyte

  
   Phanerophyte

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Life Form

More info for the term: shrub

Shrub

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Larrea tridentata is a common and very important shrub and community type. It is important for many desert mammals and birds. Desert tortoises dig their shelters under Larrea where its roots stabilize the soil-71% of desert tortoise burrows studied near San Bernadino, California were associated with it. Larrea may be used to rehabilitate disturbed environments in southwestern deserts. Once established, creosotebush may improve sites for annuals that grow under its canopy by trapping fine soil, organic matter, and symbiont propagules. It may also increase water infiltration and storage (Marshall 1995).

Some clones in the Mojave desert are estimated to be older than 11,000 years old (Vasek 1980).

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Life History and Behavior

Cyclicity

Phenology

More info on this topic.

Creosotebush leafs out in response to spring, summer, or fall rains [1].
Creosotebush usually flowers in May [1] in the Mojave Desert, but it can
flower anytime during the summer if it receives enough rain [1,3,9].  In
the Sonoran Desert, most creosotebush seeds are shed in the summer, but
creosotebush in the Chihuahuan Desert does not shed its seeds until fall
[10].  Creosotebush seeds germinate after rains from mid-June to
mid-September in the Mojave Desert [2].
  • 1. Ackerman, T. L.; Romney, E. M.; Wallace, A.; Kinnear, J. E. 1980. Phenology of desert shrubs in southern Nye County, Nevada. In: The Great Basin Naturalist Memoirs No. 4. Nevada desert ecology. Provo, UT: Brigham Young University: 4-23. [3197]
  • 2. Ackerman, Thomas L. 1979. Germination and survival of perennial plant species in the Mojave Desert. The Southwestern Naturalist. 24(3): 399-408. [12219]
  • 3. Ackerman, Thomas L.; Bamberg, Sam A. 1974. Phenological studies in the Mojave Desert at Rock Valley (Nevada Test Site). In: Lieth, Helmut, ed. Phenology and seasonality modeling. New York: Springer-Verlag: 215-226. (Ecological studies; Analysis and synthesis, volume 8). [21506]
  • 9. Barbour, M. G.; MacMahon, J. A.; Bamberg, S. A.; Ludwig, J. A. 1977. The structure and distribution of Larrea communities. In: Mabry, T. J.; Hunziker, J. H.; DiFeo, D. R., Jr., eds. Creosote bush: Biology and chemistry of Larrea in New World deserts. U.S./IBP Synthesis Series 6. Stroudsburg, PA: Dowden, Hutchinson & Ross, Inc.: 227-251. [7172]
  • 10. Barbour, Michael G. 1968. Germination requirements of the desert shrub Larrea divaricata. Ecology. 49: 915-923. [4212]

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Life Cycle

Persistence: EVERGREEN

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Reproduction

Requires summer rains for successful sexual reproduction. Ambrosia dumosa is the primary nurse plant for Larrea tridentata (Marshall 1995).

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Molecular Biology and Genetics

Molecular Biology

Barcode data: Larrea tridentata

The following is a representative barcode sequence, the centroid of all available sequences for this species.


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Statistics of barcoding coverage: Larrea tridentata

Barcode of Life Data Systems (BOLDS) Stats
Public Records: 5
Specimens with Barcodes: 5
Species With Barcodes: 1
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Conservation

Conservation Status

National NatureServe Conservation Status

United States

Rounded National Status Rank: N5 - Secure

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NatureServe Conservation Status

Rounded Global Status Rank: G5 - Secure

Reasons: Larrea tridentata is a common woody shrub in the southwest U.S. and Mexico. Its populations have increased in response to past land uses and management techniques. Many of these land uses, e.g. overgrazing by livestock, remain unchanged. Despite threats that include wild-collection for the medicinal trade, wildfire, drought, and development activities, it is unlikely that there will be a severe reduction in either abundance or range of this species.

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Global Short Term Trend: Relatively stable (=10% change)

Comments: Larrea tridentata is one of the woody shrubs that have increased in the last century, possibly in reaction to overgrazing and fire exclusion (McClaran and Van Devender 1995). There are attempts to reduce the populations on rangeland and fire appears to be an effective tool for this use (Brown and Minnich 1986).

The current trend is not known. Local populations may be reduced through urban development, especially in southern California and Arizona, but the species still appears secure throughout its range.

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Threats

Comments: There is direct evidence of plant collecting from wild populations for the plant trade in the southwest United States and Mexico. Wildcrafted material is available in both local herb stores in New Mexico, Arizona, Utah, and California and from stores on the internet that are physically located from as far apart as Oregon to Massachusetts. Larrea is not cultivated for its commercial use as a medicinal plant, but the current demand for this plant by the commercial trade appears to be sustainable.

Wildfire is a threat to Larrea populations (Brown and Minnich 1986).

Larrea tridentata is also susceptible to severe drought during El Nino events. In dry years, Larrea tridentata undergoes severe moisture stress and subsequent defoliation. Older branches do not produce new foliage, but sprouting may occur. The cumulative result of an El Nino event can be a 60-80 percent stem dieback (Marshall 1995).

Urban and agricultural development and activities related to mineral, oil, and gas extraction have likely negatively impacted some populations. However, they are not seen as a significant threat in the near future due to the resilience of this species.

Desert tortoises dig their shelters under Larrea where its roots stabilize the soil-71% of desert tortoise burrows studied near San Bernadino, California were associated with it.

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Management

Management considerations

More info for the terms: competition, shrub, shrubs

Creosotebush invades desert grasslands [6,17,22,56,58].  In 1904,
creosotebush was confined to about 950 acres (380 ha) at the Santa Rita
Experimental Range in Arizona [56].  By 1934, the number of acres
occupied by creosotebush had increased more than 12-fold to 11,900 acres
(4760 ha).  By 1954, creosotebush occupied an area 73 times as great as
it had 50 years before.  Humphrey and Mehrhoff [56] attribute
creosotebush expansion to a reduction in range fires.  Buffington and
Herbel [22] cite heavy grazing and periodic droughts as the major causes
of the rapid increase of creosotebush and other shrubs in desert
grasslands.

Controlling creosotebush can be difficult because it can sprout from the
root crown following disturbance [16].  A variety of herbicides may be
used to kill creosotebush [37,51,77,50], but Flores and others [40]
suggested that revegetation of former creosotebush sites with more
desirable species is very difficult.

Bush muhly (Muhlenbergia porteri) often grows under creosotebush
canopies where their ranges overlap.  Where creosotebush is 3.3 feet (1
m) or less tall, bush muhly shades the lower branches of creosotebush,
causing its leaves to fall.  In some instances, this competition may
kill creosotebush [106].

Creosotebush is susceptible to severe drought during short-term climate
changes like El Nino [102].  During dry years, creosotebush undergoes
severe moisture stress and subsequent defoliation.  Older branches do
not produce new foliage, but sprouting may occur.  The cumulative result
of El Nino can be a 60-80 percent stem dieback.  Dead stemwood remains
standing within the shrub biomass for several years.

Pollution from electric power generating facilities may adversely affect
creosotebush.  Creosotebush showed sensitivity to sulphur dioxide and
nitrogen dioxide fumigation [112].
  • 6. Ahlstrand, Gary M. 1979. Preliminary report on the ecology of fire study, Guadalupe Mountains and Carlsbad Caverns National Parks. In: Genoways, Hugh H.; Baker, Robert J., eds. Biological investigations in the Guadalupe Mountains National Park: Proceedings of a symposium; 1975 April 4-5; Lubbock, TX. Proceedings and Transactions Series No. 4. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of the Interior, National Park Service: 31-44. [16015]
  • 16. Blackburn, W. H. 1983. Influence of brush control on hydrologic characteristics. In: McDaniel, Kirk C., ed. Proceedings--brush management symposium; 1983 February 16; Albuquerque, NM. Denver, CO: Society for Range Management; 1983: 73-88. [452]
  • 17. Blydenstein, John; Hungerford, C. Roger; Day, Gerald I.; Humphrey, R. 1957. Effect of domestic livestock exclusion on vegetation in the Sonoran Desert. Ecology. 38(3): 522-526. [4570]
  • 22. Buffington, Lee C.; Herbel, Carlton H. 1965. Vegetational changes on a semidesert grassland range from 1858 to 1963. Ecological Monographs. 35: 139-164. [3383]
  • 37. Emmerich, W. E.; Helmer, J. D.; Renard, K. G.; Lane, L. J. 1984. Fate and effectiveness of tebuthiuron applied to a rangeland watershed. Journal of Environmental Quality. 13(3): 382-386. [3969]
  • 40. Flores, Ernesto; Conoly, Marty; Sosebee, Ronald E.; Hartmann, Steve. 1990. Reclamation of creosotebush-infested rangeland. In: Webster, David B.; Schramm, Harold L., Jr., eds. Research highlights: Noxious brush and weed control; range and wildlife management. Vol. 21. Lubbock, TX: Texas Tech University, College of Agricultural Sciences: 10. [14565]
  • 51. Herbel, Carlton H.; Morton, Howard L.; Gibbens, Robert P. 1985. Controlling shrubs in the arid Southwest with tebuthiuron. Journal of Range Management. 38(5): 391-394. [10080]
  • 56. Humphrey, R. R.; Mehrhoff, L. A. 1958. Vegetation changes on a southern Arizona grassland range. Ecology. 39(4): 720-726. [4215]
  • 58. Humphrey, Robert R. 1960. Forage production on Arizona ranges. V. Pima, Pinal and Santa Cruz Counties. Bulletin 502. Tucson, AZ: University of Arizona, Agricultural Experiment Station. 137 p. [4520]
  • 77. Morton, Howard L.; Ibarra-F., Fernando A.; Martin-R., Martha H.; Cox, Jerry R. 1990. Creosotebush control and forage production in the Chihuahuan and Sonoran Deserts. Journal of Range Management. 43(1): 43-48. [12228]
  • 102. Wallace, Arthur; Nelson, David L. 1990. Wildland shrub dieoffs following excessively wet periods: a synthesis. 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: 81-83. [12839]
  • 106. Welsh, Richard G.; Beck, Reldon F. 1976. Some ecological relationships between creosotebush and bush muhly. Journal of Range Management. 29(6): 472-475. [3970]
  • 112. Thompson, C. Ray; Kats, Gerrit; Lennox; R. W. 1980. Effects of SO2 and/or NO2 on native plants of the Mojave Desert and eastern Mojave-Colorado Desert. Journal of the Air Pollution Control Association. 30(12): 1304-1309. [4191]
  • 50. Herbel, Carlton H.; Gould, Walter L. 1970. Control of mesquite, creosote bush, and tarbush on arid rangelands of the southwestern United States. In: Proceedings, 11th international grasslands congress; [Date of conference unknown]; Queensland, Australia. [Place of publication unknown]. [Publisher unknown]: 38-41. On file with: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station, Fire Sciences Lab, Missoula, MT. [4246]

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Biological Research Needs: At the present time Larrea tridentata is a secure species and is a low research priority.

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Relevance to Humans and Ecosystems

Benefits

Economic Uses

Uses: MEDICINE/DRUG, INDUSTRIAL/CHEMICAL USE/PRODUCT, LANDSCAPING

Production Methods: Cultivated, Wild-harvested

Comments: The portion of the plant harvested for medicinal purposes is the leaf and stem ends. Usage in the early 1990's was estimated at 40,000 pounds of dry material per year. This may be an overestimate due to overlapping counts from various suppliers. Since that time, increasing concern about possible toxicity has resulted in at least one major supplier dropping this plant (Michael McGuffin, pers. communication to Eric Nielsen, The Nature Conservancy).

The waxy covering of creosotebush leaves contain a relatively high percentage of nordihydroguariaretic acid (NDGA) that has valuable industrial uses and is currently being tested as a potential cancer treatment (Powell 1998). There is potential for a large scale industrial harvest.

Larrea tridentata is known as "chapparal" in the herbal trade (Michael McGuffin, pers. communication to Eric Nielsen, The Nature Conservancy).

Ingesting Larrea tridentata may cause liver damage (Tilford 1997).

Prices for this species were found as follows:

San Diego, California: $19.32/lb, $1.61/oz

Albuquerque, New Mexico: $1.41/oz

Massachusetts: $1.00/oz, $10/lb for 1-4, $9.50/lb for 5-24, $8.50/lb for >25 (www.blessedherbs.com)

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Cover Value

More info for the term: cover

Creosotebush in Utah provides good cover for small mammals and nongame
birds, fair cover for pronghorn and upland game birds, and poor cover
for bighorn sheep, mountain goats, and waterfowl [113].
  • 113. 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]

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Nutritional Value

Catlin [27] evaluated the nutritional content of creosotebush browse in
Arizona:

Water 4.79%
Ash 8.06%
Crude protein        13.37%
Crude fiber        11.21%
Fat 9.13%
Nitrogen-free extract  43.38%

Reichman [86] estimated that creosotebush seeds contain 4,966 calories
per gram or 11.37 calories per seed.
  • 27. Catlin, C. N. 1925. Composition of Arizona forages, with comparative data. Bull. 113. Tucson, AZ: University of Arizona, Agricultural Experiment Station: 155-171. [4525]
  • 86. Reichman, O. J. 1976. Relationships between dimensions, weights, volumes, and calories of some Sonoran Desert seeds. The Southwestern Naturalist. 20(4): 573-574. [12326]

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Importance to Livestock and Wildlife

More info for the term: cover

Many animals bed in or under creosotebush.  Domestic sheep dig shallow
beds under creosotebush because it provides the only shade in the desert
scrub community [105].  Desert reptiles and amphibians use creosotebush
as a food source and perch site and hibernate or estivate in burrows
under creosotebush, avoiding predators and excessive daytime
temperatures.  Desert tortoises dig their shelters under creosotebush
where its roots stabilize the soil [12,30].  Seventy-one percent of
desert tortoise burrows studied near San Bernardino, California, were
associated with creosotebush [12].  Banner-tailed kangaroo rats
frequently use creosotebush for cover [76].  Merriam's kangaroo rats
often make their dens under creosotebush [76].  Some special status
subspecies of kit fox rest and den in creosotebush flats in the Sonoran
Desert [111].

Many small mammals browse creosotebush or consume its seeds.
Creosotebush comprised 14.6 percent of black-tailed jackrabbit diets on
Isla Carmen in the Gulf of California.  Terminal twigs of creosotebush
were consumed in proportion to their availability in black-tailed
jackrabbit habitat.  Ninety percent of creosotebush were browsed, and
52.5 percent of twigs on those plants were browsed [53].  Creosotebush
dominated the diet of desert woodrats in the Mojave Desert of
California; the desert woodrats strongly preferred creosotebush foliage
of relatively low resin content [74].  Boyd and Brum [19] found that
27.5 percent of creosotebush seed mericarps on a Mojave Desert site
showed signs of postdispersal rodent predation.
  • 12. Baxter, Ronald J. 1988. Spatial distribution of desert tortoises (Gopherus agassizii) at Twentynine Palms, California: implications for relocations. In: Szaro, Robert C.; Severson, Kieth E.; Patton, David R., technical coordinators. Management of amphibians, reptiles, and small mammals in North America: Proceedings of the symposium; 1988 July 19-21; Flagstaff, AZ. Gen. Tech. Rep. RM-166. Fort Collins, CO: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Forest and Range Experiment Station: 180-189. [7112]
  • 19. Boyd, Robert S.; Brum, Gilbert D. 1983. Predispersal reproductive attrition in a Mojave Desert population of Larrea tridentata (Zygophyllaceae). The American Midland Naturalist. 110(1): 4-24. [3968]
  • 30. Christensen, Jon. 1992. Sin City's luck tortoise. Nature Conservancy. 42(4): 8-13. [19291]
  • 53. Hoagland, Donald B. 1992. Feeding ecology of an insular population of the black-tailed jackrabbit (Lepus californicus) in the Gulf of California. The Southwestern Naturalist. 37(3): 280-286. [19693]
  • 74. Meyer, Edward R. 1974. A reconnaissance survey of pollen rain in Big Bend National Park, Texas: modern control for a paleoenvironmental study. In: Wauer, Roland H.; Riskind, David H., eds. Transactions of the symposium on the biological resources of the Chihuahuan Desert region, United States and Mexico; 1974 October 17-18; Alpine, TX. Transactions and Proceedings Series No. 3. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of the Interior, National Park Service: 115-123. [16058]
  • 76. Monson, Gale; Kessler, Wayne. 1940. Life history notes on the banner-tailed kangaroo rat, Merriam's kangaroo rat, and white-throated wood rat in Arizona and New Mexico. Journal of Wildlife Management. 4(1): 37-43. [12166]
  • 105. Webb, Robert H.; Stielstra, Steven S. 1979. Sheep grazing effects on Mojave Desert vegetation and soils. Environmental Management. 3(6): 517-529. [4164]
  • 111. Zoellick, Bruce W.; Smith, Norman S.; Henry, Robert S. 1989. Habitat use and movements of desert kit foxes in western Arizona. Journal of Wildlife Management. 53(4): 955-961. [24012]

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Other uses and values

Creosotebush has been highly valued for its medicinal properties by
desert peoples.  It has been used to treat at least 14 illnesses [80].
Twigs and leaves may be boiled as tea, steamed, pounded into a powder,
pressed into a poultice, or heated into an infusion.

Creosotebush is host to an insect, Tachardiella larreae, which produces
lac and deposits it on the stems of creosotebush [39].  Lac is plastic
when heated but hardens again on cooling, forming a strong bond like
commercial sealing wax.  Lac has been used by desert peoples to seal
lids on food jars [39,80].

Creosotebush contains phototoxins in its leaves that inhibit the growth
of Escherichia coli and Saccharomyces cerevisiae cultures [35].

Creosotebush is used as an ornamental throughout its range [42].
  • 35. Downum, Kelsey R.; Villegas, Sergio; Rodriguez, Eloy; Keil, David J. 1989. Plant photosensitizers: a survey of their occurrence in arid and semiarid plants from North America. Journal of Chemical Ecology. 15(1): 345-355. [7658]
  • 39. Felger, R. S. 1977. Mesquite in Indian cultures of southwestern North America. In: Simpson, B. B., ed. Mesquite: Its biology in two desert ecosystems. US/IBP Synthesis 4. Stroudsburg, PA: Dowden, Hutchinson & Ross, Inc: 150-176. [5195]
  • 42. Fonteyn, Paul J.; Mahall, Bruce E. 1978. Competition among desert perennials. Nature. 275: 544-545. [3618]
  • 80. Nabhan, Gary Paul. 1985. Gathering the desert. Tucson, AZ: The University of Arizona Press. 209 p. [2848]

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Value for rehabilitation of disturbed sites

Creosotebush may be used to rehabilitate disturbed environments in
southwestern deserts.  Once established, creosotebush may improve sites
for annuals that grow under its canopy by trapping fine soil, organic
matter, and symbiont propagules.  It may also increase water
infiltration and storage [8].

Creosotebush should be transplanted rather than spot-seeded [47].
Miller and Holden [75] increased germination success by leaching seeds
in running water for 12 hours.  At Organ Pipe National Monument, the
survival rate for creosotebush was 78 percent when seeds were germinated
in grow tubes filled with nursery soil mix and allowed to harden-off
before being transplanted outside.  Creosotebush should be planted in
the spring or fall [31,96].  Bainbridge and Virginia [8] recommend
pruning seedlings heavily 1 month before transplanting.  Rodent
protectors are necessary [31].
  • 8. Bainbridge, David A.; Virginia, Ross A. 1990. Restoration in the Sonoran Desert of California. Restoration and Management Notes. 8(1): 3-14. [14975]
  • 31. Clary, Raimond F., Jr.; Slayback, Robert D. 1985. Revegetation in the Mojave Desert using native woody plants. In: Rieger, John P.; Steele, Bobbie A., eds. Proceedings of the native plant revegetation symposium; 1984 November 15; San Diego, CA. San Diego, CA: California Native Plant Society: 42-47. [3343]
  • 47. Graves, Walter L.; Kay, Burgess L.; Williams, William A. 1975. Seed treatment of Mojave Desert shrubs. Agronomy Journal. 67(6): 773-777. [4192]
  • 75. Miller, Carol; Holden, Mark. 1993. Propagating desert plants. In: Landis, Thomas D., ed. Proceedings, Western Forest Nursery Association; 1992 September 14-18; Fallen Leaf Lake, CA. Gen. Tech. Rep. RM-221. Fort Collins, CO: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Forest and Range Experiment Station: 68-71. [22075]
  • 96. Tipton, J. L.; Taylor, R. M. 1984. Transplanting success with creosotebush (Larrea tridentata (D.C.) Cav.) from native stands. Journal of Environmental Horticulture. 2(3): 83-85. [5627]

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Palatability

Creosotebush is unpalatable to livestock and most browsing wildlife
[8,55,70,95].  Consumption of creosotebush may be fatal to sheep [35].
A few researchers have treated creosotebush chemically to make it
palatable [95,36,4].  Such treatments can produce a feed that is
relatively palatable and nutritious.
  • 4. Adams, David W. 1970. A study of the possibilities of treating creosotebush with NaOH to make a good livestock feed. Alpine, TX: Sul Ross State University. 51 p. Thesis. [5066]
  • 8. Bainbridge, David A.; Virginia, Ross A. 1990. Restoration in the Sonoran Desert of California. Restoration and Management Notes. 8(1): 3-14. [14975]
  • 35. Downum, Kelsey R.; Villegas, Sergio; Rodriguez, Eloy; Keil, David J. 1989. Plant photosensitizers: a survey of their occurrence in arid and semiarid plants from North America. Journal of Chemical Ecology. 15(1): 345-355. [7658]
  • 36. Duisberg, Peter C. 1952. Development of a feed from the creosote bush and the determination of its nutritive value. Journal of Animal Science. 11: 174-180. [4573]
  • 55. Humphrey, R. R. 1950. Arizona range resources. II. Yavapai County. Bull. 229. Tucson, AZ: University of Arizona, Agricultural Experiment Station. 55 p. [5088]
  • 95. Timmermann, B. N. 1977. Practical uses of Larrea. In: Mabry, T. J.; Hunziker, J. H.; DiFeo, D. R., Jr., eds. Creosote bush: Biology and chemistry of Larrea in New World deserts. U.S./IBP Synthesis Series 6. Stroudsburg, PA: Dowden, Hutchinson & Ross, Inc: 252-256. [7173]
  • 70. Mares, M. A.; Enders, F. A.; Kingsolver, J. M.; [and others]. 1977. Prosopis as a niche component. In: Simpson, B. B., ed. Mesquite: Its biology in two desert ecosystems. US/IBP Synthesis 4. Stroudsburg, PA: Dowden, Hutchinson & Ross, Inc: 123-149. [5194]

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Wikipedia

Larrea tridentata

Larrea tridentata is known as creosote bush and greasewood[2] as a plant, chaparral as a medicinal herb,[3] and as "gobernadora" in Mexico, Spanish for "governess," due to its ability to secure more water by inhibiting the growth of nearby plants. In Sonora, it is more commonly called "hediondilla." [4]

It is a flowering plant in the family Zygophyllaceae. The species is named after Juan Antonio Hernandez de Larrea, a Spanish clergyman.[5]

Distribution[edit]

Larrea tridentata is a prominent species in the Mojave, Sonoran, and Chihuahuan Deserts of western North America, and its range includes those and other regions in portions of southeastern California, Arizona, Nevada, southern Utah, New Mexico and Texas in the United States, and northern Chihuahua and Sonora in Mexico. The species grows as far east as Zapata County, Texas, along the Rio Grande southeast of Laredo near the 99th meridian west.[6]

Description[edit]

Larrea tridentata in Anza-Borrego Desert State Park

Larrea tridentata is an evergreen shrub growing to 1 to 3 metres (3.3 to 9.8 ft) tall, rarely 4 metres (13 ft). The stems of the plant bear resinous, dark green leaves with two opposite lanceolate leaflets joined at the base, with a deciduous awn between them, each leaflet 7 to 18 millimetres (0.28 to 0.71 in) long and 4 to 8.5 millimetres (0.16 to 0.33 in) broad. The flowers are up to 25 millimetres (0.98 in) in diameter, with five yellow petals. Galls may form by the activity of the creosote gall midge. The whole plant exhibits a characteristic odor of creosote, from which the common name derives.[5]

Oldest plants[edit]

King Clone, the 11,700-year-old creosote bush ring in the Mojave Desert. California.

As the creosote bush grows older, its oldest branches eventually die and its crown splits into separate crowns. This normally happens when the plant is 30 to 90 years old. Eventually the old crown dies and the new one becomes a clonal colony from the previous plant, composed of many separate stem crowns all from the same seed.[7]

King Clone[edit]

The "King Clone" creosote ring is one of the oldest living organisms on Earth. It has been alive 11,700 years, in the central Mojave Desert near present day Lucerne Valley, California. This single clonal colony plant of Larrea tridentata reaches up to 67 feet (20 m) in diameter, with an average diameter of 45 feet (14 m).[8][9][10] King Clone was identified and its age determined by radiocarbon dating by Frank Vasek, a professor at the University of California, Riverside.[10][11] It is within the Creosote Rings Preserve of the Lucerne Valley and Johnson Valley.[10]

Habitat[edit]

Creosote bush is most common on the well-drained soils of alluvial fans and flats. In parts of its range, it may cover large areas in practically pure stands, though it usually occurs in association with Ambrosia dumosa (burro bush or bur-sage).[citation needed] Co-evolution in this common habitat is likely responsible for chemicals found in creosote bush roots that inhibit the growth of burro bush roots,[citation needed] but as of 2013 much of their relationship remains unexplained.

Creosote bush stands tend to resemble man-made orchards in the even placement of plants. Originally,[citation needed] it was assumed that the plant produced a water-soluble inhibitor that prevented the growth of other bushes near mature, healthy bushes. Now, however, it has been shown[citation needed] that the root systems of mature creosote plants are simply so efficient at absorbing water that fallen seeds nearby cannot accumulate enough water to germinate, effectively creating dead zones around every plant.[citation needed] It also seems that all plants within a stand grow at approximately the same rate, and that the creosote bush is a very long-living plant.[citation needed]

Desert adaptation[edit]

A young Larrea tridentata plant

Contributing to the harshness of the germination environment above mature root systems, young creosote bushes are much more susceptible to drought stress than established plants. Germination is actually quite active during wet periods, but most of the young plants die very quickly unless there are optimal water conditions. Ground heat compounds the young plants' susceptibility to water stress, and ground temperatures can reach upwards of 70°C (160°F). To become established, it seems the young plant must experience a pattern of three to five years of abnormally cool and moist weather during and after germination. From this, it can be inferred that all the plants inside a stand are of equal age.

Mature plants, however, can tolerate extreme drought stress. In terms of negative water potential, creosote bushes can operate fully at -50 bars of water potential and have been found living down to -120 bars, although the practical average floor is around -70 bars, where the plant's need for cellular respiration generally exceeds the level that the water-requiring process of photosynthesis can provide. Cell division can occur during these times of water stress, and it is common for new cells to quickly absorb water after rainfall. This rapid uptake causes branches to grow several centimeters at the end of a dry season.

Water loss is reduced by the resinous, waxy coating of the leaves, and by their small size which prevents them from heating up above air temperature (which would increase the vapor pressure deficit between the leaf and the air, and thus would increase water loss). Plants do drop some leaves heading into summer, but if all leaves are lost, the plant will not recover. Accumulation of fallen leaves, as well as other detritus caught from the passing wind, creates an ecological community specific to the creosote bush canopy, including beetles, millipedes, pocket mice, and kangaroo rats.

Uses[edit]

A Larrea tridentata flower

Native American medicinals[edit]

Larrea tridentata was used by Native Americans in the Southwest as a treatment for many maladies, including sexually transmitted diseases, tuberculosis, chicken pox, dysmenorrhea, and snakebite.[12] The shrub is still widely used as a medicine in Mexico. It contains nordihydroguaiaretic acid.[13]

Herbal supplements and toxicity[edit]

Larrea tridentata is often referred to as chaparral when used as a herbal remedy and supplement; however, it does not grow in the synonymous plant community chaparral.[14] The United States Food and Drug Administration has issued warnings about the health hazards of ingesting chaparral or using it as an internal medicine, and discourages its use.[15] In 2005, Health Canada issued a warning to consumers to avoid using the leaves of Larrea species because of the risk of damage to the liver and kidneys.[16]

Cancer Research UK state that: "We don’t recommend that you take chaparral to treat or prevent any type of cancer."[17]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ "Taxon: Larrea tridentata (DC.) Coville". Taxonomy for Plants. USDA, ARS, National Genetic Resources Program. Germplasm Resources Information Network - (GRIN). 
  2. ^ Peter Bigfoot (2011). "Chaparral". Peter Bigfoot's Useful Wild Western Plants. Retrieved 17 February 2013. 
  3. ^ Moore, M. (1989). Medicinal Plants of the Desert and Canyon West. Santa Fe, NM: Museum of New Mexico Press. pp. 27–32. ISBN 978-0-8901-3181-7. 
  4. ^ Felger, R. S.; Moser, M. B. (1985). People of the Desert and Sea - Ethnobotany of the Seri Indians. Tucson, AZ: University of Arizona Press. ISBN 978-0-8165-1267-6. 
  5. ^ a b "Larrea tridentata". The Jepson Manual. Berkeley, CA: University of California. Retrieved 2011-12-30. 
  6. ^ "Brush". The Vegetation Types of Texas. Texas Parks and Wildlife Service. 
  7. ^ "Creosote Bush". US National Park Service. Retrieved 2011-12-30. 
  8. ^ Vasek, F. C. (Feb 1980). "Creosote Bush: Long-Lived Clones in the Mojave Desert". American Journal of Botany 67 (2): 246–255. JSTOR 2442649. 
  9. ^ Weiser, M. "The oldest living thing is a quiet survivor". High Country News. 
  10. ^ a b c Rodrigue, F. "Creosote Rings Preserve - Larrea tridentata - Creosote bush". Lucerne Valley Community Website. Retrieved 2011-12-30. 
  11. ^ Schoenherr, A. A. (1995). A Natural History of California. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press. p. 14. ISBN 978-0-520-06922-0. 
  12. ^ "Larrea tridentata (Sesse' and Moc. ex DC.) Coville - Creosote Bush". US Forest Service. 
  13. ^ Arteaga, S.; Andrade-Cetto, A.; Cardenas, R. (2005). "Larrea tridentata (Creosote Bush), an abundant plant of Mexican and US-American deserts and its metabolite nordihydroguaiaretic acid". Journal of Ethnopharmacology 98 (3): 231–239. doi:10.1016/j.jep.2005.02.002. PMID 15814253. 
  14. ^ Nabhan, G. P. (1993). Gathering the Desert. University of Arizona Press. p. 16. ISBN 978-0-8165-1014-6. "...health food stores have been marketing Larrea as a cure-all that they whimsically called "chaparral tea" – the plant never grows above the desert in true chaparral vegetation." 
  15. ^ Tilford, G. L. Edible and Medicinal Plants of the West. Missoula, MT: Mountain Press Publishing. ISBN 0-87842-359-1. 
  16. ^ "Health Canada warns consumers not to take products containing chaparral". Health Canada. 21 December 2005. 
  17. ^ "Chaparral". Cancer Research UK. Retrieved August 2013. 
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Names and Taxonomy

Taxonomy

Common Names

creosotebush
greasewood

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The currently accepted scientific name for creosotebush is Larrea
tridentata (D.C.) Cov. It is a member of the caltrop family
(Zygophyllaceae). There are no recognized infrataxa [52].
  • 52. Hickman, James C., ed. 1993. The Jepson manual: Higher plants of California. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press. 1400 p. [21992]

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Synonyms

Larrea divaricata Cav. [110]
  • 110. Hunziker, J. H.; Palacios, R. A.; Poggio, L.; [and others]. 1977. Geographic distribution, morphology, hybridization, cytogenetics, and evolution. In: Mabry, T. J.; Hunziker, J. H.; DiFeo, D. R., Jr., eds. Creosote bush: Biology and chemistry of Larrea in New World deserts. U.S./IBP Synthesis Series 6. Stroudsburg, PA: Dowden, Hutchinson & Ross, Inc: 10-47. [7154]

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Comments: Larrea tridentata occurs in Mexico and the southern United States. It is unclear if a species of Larrea south of Mexico is Larrea tridentata (Carter 1997, Gentry 1993, Munz 1974, Powell 1998). If the two species are conspecific then the name L. divaricata has priority (Powell 1998).

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