about the Saltcedar or Tamarisk Trees
at Rasor Road and Rasor Ranch
Saltcedar is the
common name for several introduced species of shrubs or
small trees including Tamarix chinensis, T.
parviflora, and T. ramosissima. Saltcedar
invades riparian habitats and displaces native flora and
fauna. Saltcedar was first introduced in the U.S. to
reclaim eroded areas and prevent further loss of stream
banks, primarily in the southwest. Saltcedar has been
sold in the
horticultural industry, primarily for its wide
adaptability and pink flowers.
How do I identify this
plant? Saltcedar, or tamarisk, is a shrubby bush or
tree that can range in size from 5 to 20 feet tall (and
taller). The bark is a reddish brown, especially on
younger branches. The leaves are small and flat and
resemble evergreen shrubs such as arborvitae (Figure 2).
Flowers are pink to white in color, five-petaled, and
appear from mid to late summer. The seeds are extremely
tiny and similar in size and color to pepper. Each seed
has a pappus which allows it to float long distances in
water or move in the wind. Seeds are short-lived and
usually germinate within a few months after dispersal.
What is saltcedar's growth
cycle? Once saltcedar seeds germinate it can grow
rapidly to a small flowering shrub in one to two years.
The plant is very hardy and horticultural varieties are
advertised to grow "in sun or shade, and in wet or dry
areas. The plant quickly establishes a long, woody
taproot to support a voracious thirst for water. The
root system is capable of producing many new shoots if
the top growth is removed by mechanical control methods
Why is this plant a
concern? Saltcedar can quickly become a monoculture
along lakes and waterways. A single plant has been
reported to transpire over 200
gallons of water per day. In the early
morning and evening moisture with high salt content is
exuded from the foliage, causing the soil to become
saline. Saltcedar can choke waterways and has even dried
up entire lakes. Native riparian species are quickly
displaced by saltcedar, which in turn causes
displacement of native birds and animals that generally
do not feed on the leaves or eat the saltcedar seeds.
Saltcedar, even in the seedling stage, will tolerate
short-term flooding and can establish away from
waterways when seeds
are washed in during flooding. Once established the
plants can become so thick cattle will not graze the
area. Almost nothing can grow under the Saltcedars and
they are very hard to kill. The tree is excellent for
shade. The trees will usually have a root system that is
about a 10:1 ratio of its height meaning that if a tree
is about 20 feet tall, the roots can go down into the
ground over 100 feet to find water.
occupies sites with intermediate moisture, high
water tables, and minimal erosion. Saltcedar mainly
occurs along floodplains, riverbanks, stream courses,
salt flats, marshes, and irrigation ditches in arid
regions of the Southwest. It often forms pure stands in
disturbed riparian areas of the Southwest. In the Great
Plains, saltcedar is common along streams, in low
undrained areas, and around lakeshores, especially in
the Arkansas and Cimarron river valleys and is
occasionally found on dry hillsides.
Its roots may penetrate
soil 30-100 feet but it generally grows where the depth
of the water table does not exceed 25 feet (7.6 m), and
normally where it is less than 15 feet (4.6 m). Dense
grow only where the water table is between 5 and 20 feet
(1.5-6 m) below the soil surface. If the water table is
less than 5 feet (1.5 m) from the surface, the plants
branch profusely and do not form a dense stand.
These three species of saltcedar had spread
extensively along the Gila, Salt, Pecos, Colorado, and
Rio Grande rivers. The construction of dams and flood
control structures along these rivers altered natural
flooding regimes and provided ideal conditions for the
establishment, reproduction, and growth of saltcedar.
1960s. By 1961, at
least 1,400 square miles of floodplain in the western
United States were infested by saltcedar. Since the
1960s, 70% of the original native vegetation in Afton
Canyon, California, has been replaced by saltcedar.
Reduced river flows, off-road vehicles, year-round
grazing, and native tree cutting may have permitted the
establishment and spread of saltcedar in such areas.
1970s and 1980s.
Saltcedar has moved into interior desert riparian
habitats that are relatively undisturbed by human
have successfully invaded nearly every drainage system
in arid and semi-arid areas in the southwestern United
States and occupy over 1 million acres. Saltcedars now
occupy most suitable habitat west of the Great Plains,
north into Montana, and south into northwestern Mexico.
Reason Why it has
Become Established: Saltcedar, like many other
invasive plant species, has a great reproductive
capability. A mature saltcedar plant can produce 600,000
seeds annually, and
has the ability to flower during its first year. Seeds
are easily dispersed by wind and water, and severed
stems and shoots of saltcedar readily root in moist
soil. The plant's ability to exploit suitable
germinating conditions over a long time period gives
saltcedar a considerable advantage over native riparian
A very rapid grower,
saltcedar can grow 9 to 12 feet in a single season under
good conditions. Rapid growth can allow the invading
plant to reproduce within the first year. In extreme
environmental conditions such as drought or flooding, it
is extremely resistant. Under drought, saltcedar
survives by dropping its leaves and halting growth.
Additionally, its seedlings are very resistant to
desiccation. Under flooding, it can survive immersion
for up to 70 days.
Mature plants can
resprout vegetatively after fire, flood, or treatment
with herbicides and can adapt to wide variations in soil
and mineral gradients.
Saltcedar also deposits
salt above and below the ground, forming a saline crust
inhibiting other plants from growing in its vicinity. In
addition to outcompeting native species, this also
enables the saltcedar to cope with high concentrations
of dissolved solids.
Burning of the Saltcedar Trees in Afton Canyon
The initial date for
the prescribed management burn in Afton Canyon was
November, 1991. This period was chosen because it
was assumed that the saltcedar would be dormant, fuel
moistures would be fairly low and temperatures/humidity
would be moderate. As with many well laid plans, the
saltcedar would not ignite. The winter rains began
shortly thereafter, and the burn was on indefinite hold.
On the last day of July, 1992 we tried again. The
jackpots were lit and soon the saltcedar was an inferno!
The high temperatures, light winds and low humidity
provided ideal conditions for the prescribed burn. The
flame lengths reached approximately 100 feet,
threatening the native trees located within the fire
The fire was very
effective. All that remained standing were larger
blackened saltcedar stems and trunks. The smaller
branches, duff, leaves and decadent limbs were all
consumed. The fire visibly opened the burn area allowing
the soil to be clearly seen between the blackened
standing material. The fire encompassed approximately 80
percent of the proposed burn area. The areas where the
fire didn't carry were usually in younger age stands
and/or near the perimeter of the wet "green strip" where
fewer combustible materials were available and moisture
levels were higher.
The intensity of the
fire was very high, killing the saltcedar outright
in some areas and scorching many of the native trees
that we had tried to protect. It was found that, to
protect existing native trees, firebreaks must exceed
100 feet. Some of the above ground portions of the
native trees survived and most that didn't resprouted
basally. The resprouted willows are currently between
ten and fifteen feet in height and growing. The results
demonstrate that the initial contribution gained from
the use of fire on saltcedar is that it opens the very
dense stands to allow access for the spraying of
The burned saltcedar
began to basally resprout within a month following the
burn. Different age classes and sizes of the burned
saltcedar had different degrees of accessibility. The
more tree like stands with larger, well spaced standing
material were easier to access for herbicide application
than the more closely spaced and younger age "thickets."
Application of herbicide to the resprouts began
approximately one month following the burn.
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