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Sarcobatus vermiculatus / Distichlis spicata Wet Shrubland
Translated Name: Greasewood / Saltgrass Wet Shrubland
Unique Identifier: CEGL001363
Classification Approach: International Vegetation Classification (IVC)
Summary: This association is reported from western Montana to Washington, south to Nevada, Utah and Colorado. Elevation ranges from approximately 600-2300 m. It forms expansive shrublands on broad floodplains along large rivers and streams, on the margins of upland seeps, and forms an outer ring around playas above the Distichlis spicata-dominated center. Flooding is generally intermittent. Substrates are deep, alkaline, saline and generally fine-textured soils with a perennial high water table. However, in southern Colorado's San Luis Valley, stands grow between salt flat depressions (playas) on sandy hummocks approximately 1.2 m above the lakebed. The vegetation is characterized by a fairly open to moderate shrub canopy (18-60% cover) dominated by Sarcobatus vermiculatus with an herbaceous layer dominated by the rhizomatous graminoid Distichlis spicata (10-80% cover). Associated shrubs and dwarf-shrubs may include Ericameria nauseosa, Gutierrezia sarothrae, and Tetradymia canescens. Sporobolus airoides may codominate the graminoid layer, and Hordeum jubatum is common in disturbed stands. Juncus balticus and Leymus cinereus are also present in some stands. The forb layer is generally sparse and composed of species such as Iva axillaris and Ipomopsis spp. Introduced species may be present to abundant in disturbed stands.



Classification

Classification Confidence: Moderate
Classification Comments: This association is defined as a PNV vegetation type. Sporobolus airoides is often a codominant in the understory of this association, it is somewhat unclear how to distinguish it from Atriplex canescens / Sporobolus airoides Shrubland (CEGL001291).

Vegetation Hierarchy
Class 2 - Shrub & Herb Vegetation
Subclass 2.C - Shrub & Herb Wetland
Formation 2.C.5 - Salt Marsh
Division 2.C.5.Nd - North American Western Interior Brackish Marsh, Playa & Shrubland
Macrogroup Warm & Cool Desert Alkali-Saline Marsh, Playa & Shrubland
Group North American Desert Alkaline-Saline Wet Scrub
Alliance Intermountain Greasewood Wet Shrubland

This is the revised vegetation hierarchy. For more information see Classification Sources and usnvc.org.

Similar Associations
Unique Identifier Name
CEGL001357 Sarcobatus vermiculatus Disturbed Wet Shrubland
CEGL001362 Sarcobatus vermiculatus / Ericameria nauseosa Wet Shrubland
CEGL001366 Sarcobatus vermiculatus / Leymus cinereus Wet Shrubland
CEGL001368 Sarcobatus vermiculatus / Sporobolus airoides Wet Shrubland
CEGL001372 Sarcobatus vermiculatus / Elymus elymoides Wet Shrubland
CEGL002146 Sarcobatus vermiculatus / Distichlis spicata - (Puccinellia nuttalliana) Shrub Wet Meadow



Related Concepts from Other Classifications

Related Subnational Community Units
These data are subject to substantial ongoing revision and may be out of date for some states.
In the U.S., contact the state Heritage Program for the most complete and up-to-date information at: http://www.natureserve.org/natureserve-network.
Information from programs in other jurisdictions will be posted when they are made available.
Subnation Concept Name Relationship to Standard Confidence Reference
Colorado Sarcobatus vermiculatus / Distichlis spicata Shrubland Equivalent Certain CNHP 2015
Idaho Sarcobatus vermiculatus/Distichlis stricta Equivalent Certain IDCDC 2005
Montana Sarcobatus vermiculatus / Distichlis spicata Shrubland Equivalent Certain MTNHP 2002
Nevada Sarcobatus vermiculatus / Distichlis spicata Shrubland Equivalent Certain Peterson 2008
Oregon Sarcobatus vermiculatus / Distichlis spicata Equivalent Certain Kagan et al. 2004


Other Related Concepts
Related Concept Name: Sarcobatus vermiculatus - Distichlis spicata Community
Relationship: = - Equivalent
Reference: Crawford, R. C. 2001. Initial riparian and wetland classification and characterization of the Columbia Basin in Washington. Prepared for Environmental Protection Agency and Bureau of Land Management, Spokane District. Washington Natural Heritage Program, Washington Department of Natural Resources, Olympia. 83 pp.
Related Concept Name: Sarcobatus vermiculatus - Distichlis stricta Association
Relationship: = - Equivalent
Reference: Franklin, J. F., and C. T. Dyrness. 1973. Natural vegetation of Oregon and Washington. General Technical Report PNW-8. USDA Forest Service, Pacific Northwest Forest and Range Experiment Station, Portland, OR. 417 pp.
Related Concept Name: Sarcobatus vermiculatus - Distichlis stricta Habitat Type
Relationship: = - Equivalent
Reference: Mueggler, W. F., and W. L. Stewart. 1980. Grassland and shrubland habitat types of western Montana. General Technical Report INT-66. USDA Forest Service, Intermountain Forest and Range Experiment Station, Ogden, UT. 154 pp.
Related Concept Name: Sarcobatus vermiculatus / Distichlis spicata Shrubland
Relationship: = - Equivalent
Reference: Carsey, K., G. Kittel, K. Decker, D. J. Cooper, and D. Culver. 2003a. Field guide to the wetland and riparian plant associations of Colorado. Colorado Natural Heritage Program, Fort Collins, CO.
Related Concept Name: Sarcobatus vermiculatus / Distichlis spicata associaton
Relationship: = - Equivalent
Reference: Crawford, R. C. 2003. Riparian vegetation classification of the Columbia Basin, Washington. Natural Heritage Report 2003-03. Washington Natural Heritage Program, Washington Department of Natural Resources, Olympia. 98 pp. plus appendices.
Related Concept Name: Sarcobatus vermiculatus / Distichlis stricta Association
Relationship: = - Equivalent
Reference: Daubenmire, R. F. 1970. Steppe vegetation of Washington. Washington State University Agricultural Experiment Station Technical Bulletin No. 62. 131 pp.
Related Concept Name: Sarcobatus vermiculatus/Distichlis spicata
Relationship: = - Equivalent
Reference: Kittel, G., E. Van Wie, M. Damm, R. Rondeau, S. Kettler, A. McMullen, and J. Sanderson. 1999b. A classification of riparian and wetland plant associations of Colorado: A user's guide to the classification project. Colorado Natural Heritage Program, Colorado State University, Fort Collins CO. 70 pp. plus appendices.
Related Concept Name: Sarcobatus vermiculatus/Distichlis stricta
Relationship: = - Equivalent
Reference: Bourgeron, P. S., and L. D. Engelking, editors. 1994. A preliminary vegetation classification of the western United States. Unpublished report. The Nature Conservancy, Western Heritage Task Force, Boulder, CO. 175 pp. plus appendix.
Related Concept Name: Greasewood/salt grass (Sarcobatus vermiculatus/Distichlis spicata) Plant Association
Relationship: = - Equivalent
Reference: Kittel, G., E. Van Wie, M. Damm, R. Rondeau, S. Kettler, and J. Sanderson. 1999a. A classification of the riparian plant associations of the Rio Grande and Closed Basin watersheds, Colorado. Unpublished report prepared by the Colorado Natural Heritage Program, Colorado State University, Fort Collins.

Ecological Systems Placement

Ecological Systems Placement
Ecological System Unique ID Ecological System Name
CES304.780 Inter-Mountain Basins Greasewood Flat
CES304.781 Inter-Mountain Basins Wash
CES304.786 Inter-Mountain Basins Playa


NatureServe Conservation Status
Global Status: G4 (01Feb1996)
Rounded Global Status: G4 - Apparently Secure

Distribution
Color legend for Distribution Map
United States Distribution: CO, ID, MT, NM, NV, OR, UT, WA, WY
Global Distribution: United States
Global Range: This shrubland association occurs throughout much of the interior West from western Montana to Washington, south to Nevada, Utah and Colorado.

U.S. Forest Service Ecoregions
Domain Name: Dry Domain
Division Name: Tropical/Subtropical Desert Division
Province Name: Chihuahuan Semi-Desert Province
Province Code: 321 Occurrence Status: Confident or certain
Section Name: Basin and Range Section
Section Code: 321A Occurrence Status: Confident or certain
Division Name: Temperate Desert Division
Province Name: Intermountain Semi-Desert and Desert Province
Province Code: 341 Occurrence Status: Confident or certain
Section Name: Northern Canyon Lands Section
Section Code: 341B Occurrence Status: Confident or certain
Section Name: Uinta Basin Section
Section Code: 341C Occurrence Status: Confident or certain
Province Name: Intermountain Semi-Desert Province
Province Code: 342 Occurrence Status: Confident or certain
Section Name: Owyhee Uplands Section
Section Code: 342C Occurrence Status: Confident or certain
Division Name: Temperate Steppe Regime Mountains
Province Name: Southern Rocky Mountain Steppe - Open Woodland - Coniferous Forest - Alpine Meadow Province
Province Code: M331 Occurrence Status: Confident or certain
Section Name: Southern Parks and Ranges Section
Section Code: M331F Occurrence Status: Confident or certain


Vegetation

Vegetation Summary: The vegetation is characterized by a fairly open to moderate shrub canopy (18-60% cover) dominated by Sarcobatus vermiculatus with an herbaceous layer dominated by the rhizomatous graminoid Distichlis spicata (10-80% cover). Associated shrubs and dwarf-shrubs may include Ericameria nauseosa, Gutierrezia sarothrae, and Tetradymia canescens. Sporobolus airoides may codominate the graminoid layer, and Hordeum jubatum is common in disturbed stands. Juncus balticus and Leymus cinereus are also present in some stands. The forb layer is generally sparse and composed of species such as Iva axillaris and Ipomopsis spp. Introduced species, such as Bromus tectorum, Lepidium latifolium, Lepidium perfoliatum, and Bassia hyssopifolia, may be present to abundant in disturbed stands.

The stand described by Baker (1982b) for the Piceance Basin had patches of Sarcobatus vermiculatus alternating with wide expanses of Distichlis spicata (= var. stricta). A few species of annuals also were present but could not be identified. Cover of Sarcobatus in this stand was not high. Baker (1982b) reports that many Sarcobatus-dominated communities are in the literature for Colorado, with understories of exotic annual weeds. His stand was one of only a few stands from western Colorado that still contains a native perennial grass understory.

Data from Costello (1944b) for the San Juan Valley show dominance of Sarcobatus, with >60% cover, and Chrysothamnus spp. are associated. The understory consists primarily of Distichlis spicata and Sporobolus airoides, with Bouteloua gracilis, Iva axillaris, and Muhlenbergia richardsonis (= Muhlenbergia squarrosa) commonly present. Costello (1944b) also reported on Sarcobatus-dominated stands in western Colorado and Wyoming with several associated shrub species, including Artemisia tridentata, Atriplex gardneri, Atriplex confertifolia, and Kochia americana. Herbaceous species include Elymus lanceolatus (= Elytrigia dasystachya), Salsola spp., and Sporobolus airoides.

Hanson (1929) reports that the appearance of greasewood stands varies greatly with depth to water table and salt concentration in the soil. It can form almost pure, tall stands, or in places be much more open with shrubs and grasses associated.


Vegetation Composition (incomplete)
Species Name Rounded Global Status Growth Form Stratum Charact-
eristic
Dominant Constant
Cover Class %
Con-
stancy
%
Gutierrezia sarothrae G4 Dwarf-shrub Short shrub/sapling    
 
 
Ericameria nauseosa G4 Broad-leaved deciduous shrub Short shrub/sapling    
 
 
Sarcobatus vermiculatus G4 Broad-leaved deciduous shrub Short shrub/sapling  
 
 
Bassia hyssopifolia G4 Flowering forb Herb (field)      
 
 
Cleome multicaulis G4 Flowering forb Herb (field)      
 
 
Lepidium latifolium G4 Flowering forb Herb (field)      
 
 
Lepidium perfoliatum G4 Flowering forb Herb (field)      
 
 
Bromus tectorum G4 Graminoid Herb (field)      
 
 
Distichlis spicata G4 Graminoid Herb (field)  
 
 
Hordeum jubatum G4 Graminoid Herb (field)    
 
 
Sporobolus airoides G4 Graminoid Herb (field)    
 
 


At-Risk Species Reported for this Association
Scientific Name
  (Common Name)
NatureServe Global Status U.S. Endangered Species Act Status
Cleome multicaulis
  (Many-stemmed Spider-flower)
G2G3  

Vegetation Structure
Stratum Growth Form
Height of Stratum (m)
Cover
Class
%
Min
Cover %
Max
Cover %
Short shrub/sapling Shrub
1 - 2 m
 
15
60
Herb (field) Flowering forb
<0.5 m
 
1
15
Herb (field) Graminoid
<0.5 m
 
20
80
Nonvascular Other/unknown
 
 
0
25


Environmental Setting

Wetland Indicator: Y
Environmental Summary: This shrubland occupies alkaline flatlands and valley bottoms. These areas are usually closed basins or have poor drainage. Elevation ranges from approximately 600-2300 m. Stands form expansive shrublands on broad floodplains along large rivers and streams, fill low-gradient drainages below springs and seeps, or form an outer ring around playas above the Distichlis spicata-dominated center. Flooding is generally intermittent. Substrates are deep, alkaline, saline and generally fine-textured soils with a perennial high water table. However, in southern Colorado's San Luis Valley, stands grow between salt flat depressions (playas) on sandy hummocks approximately 1.2 m above the lakebed. Cryptogamic crusts are important on some sites.


Dynamic Processes

Dynamics: Sarcobatus vermiculatus and Distichlis spicata, like many facultative halophytes, are tolerant of alkaline and saline soil conditions that allow the species to occur in sites with less interspecific competition (Ungar et al. 1969, Branson et al. 1976). Sarcobatus vermiculatus is often found on sites with high water tables that are intermittently flooded. Hansen et al. (1995) reported that it can tolerate saturated soil conditions for up to 40 days. Sarcobatus vermiculatus-dominated vegetation can occur as a narrow band along a stream, a broad floodplain shrubland, or as a mosaic of communities where composition and density of the shrub and understory species vary with depth to water table, salinity and alkalinity, soil texture, and past land use or disturbance. This shrubland may occur as a band of abrupt concentric rings of vegetation around a salt flat or depression. This visible zonation is caused by the change in dominant species and their relative tolerances to soil salinity and depth to groundwater.

The warm-season grass Distichlis spicata is rhizomatous, tolerant of moderate grazing, and its roots resist trampling. Although relatively unpalatable, it can provide valuable winter forage for livestock, if needed. When grazed, Distichlis spicata generally increases because of reduced competition from other less grazing-tolerant species. If grazed heavily, Distichlis spicata will decline and may be replaced by less desirable warm-season grasses such as tumblegrass, Schedonnardus paniculatus, or Hordeum jubatum (Costello 1944b, Jones and Walford 1995). Weeds are generally not a problem because few grow well in saline soils. However, severely disturbed sites are susceptible to invasion by introduced species such as Bromus tectorum, Lepidium latifolium, Lepidium perfoliatum, and Bassia hyssopifolia (Franklin and Dyrness 1973).

Anything that raises the water table of a closed basin will result in an increase in this type, due to the resulting alkalinity of the soils. Grazing of domestic livestock decreases Distichlis and results in its replacement by annual weedy plants such as Bromus tectorum, Chorispora spp., and Lepidium spp. (Baker 1982b).


Plot Sampling & Classification Analysis

Plots stored in VegBank


Authors/Contributors
Concept Author(s): M.S. Reid, mod. K.A. Schulz
Element Description Edition Date: 10Nov2005
Element Description Author(s): M.S. Reid, K.A. Schulz and J. Coles
NatureServe Conservation Status Factors Edition Date: 01Feb1996

Ecological data developed by NatureServe and its network of natural heritage programs (see Local Programs) and other contributors and cooperators (see Sources).


References
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  • Bourgeron, P. S., and L. D. Engelking, editors. 1994. A preliminary vegetation classification of the western United States. Unpublished report. The Nature Conservancy, Western Heritage Task Force, Boulder, CO. 175 pp. plus appendix.

  • Branson, F. A., R. F. Miller, and I. S. McQueen. 1976. Moisture relationships in twelve northern desert shrub communities near Grand Junction, Colorado. Ecology 57:1104-1124.

  • CNHP [Colorado Natural Heritage Program]. 2003. Unpublished data. List of Elements and Elcodes converted and entered into Biotics Tracker 4.0. Colorado Natural Heritage Program, Colorado State University, Fort Collins, CO.

  • CNHP [Colorado Natural Heritage Program]. 2006-2015. Tracked natural plant communities. Colorado Natural Heritage Program, Colorado State University, Fort Collins. [http://www.cnhp.colostate.edu/tracking/communities.html].

  • Carsey, K., G. Kittel, K. Decker, D. J. Cooper, and D. Culver. 2003a. Field guide to the wetland and riparian plant associations of Colorado. Colorado Natural Heritage Program, Fort Collins, CO.

  • Clark, D., M. Dela Cruz, T. Clark, J. Coles, S. Topp, A. Evenden, A. Wight, G. Wakefield, and J. Von Loh. 2009. Vegetation classification and mapping project report, Capitol Reef National Park. Natural Resource Report NPS/NCPN/NRTR--2009/187. National Park Service, Fort Collins, CO. 882 pp.

  • Costello, D. F. 1944b. Important species of the major forage types in Colorado and Wyoming. Ecological Monographs 14:107-134.

  • Crawford, R. C. 2001. Initial riparian and wetland classification and characterization of the Columbia Basin in Washington. Prepared for Environmental Protection Agency and Bureau of Land Management, Spokane District. Washington Natural Heritage Program, Washington Department of Natural Resources, Olympia. 83 pp.

  • Crawford, R. C. 2003. Riparian vegetation classification of the Columbia Basin, Washington. Natural Heritage Report 2003-03. Washington Natural Heritage Program, Washington Department of Natural Resources, Olympia. 98 pp. plus appendices.

  • Daubenmire, R. F. 1970. Steppe vegetation of Washington. Washington State University Agricultural Experiment Station Technical Bulletin No. 62. 131 pp.

  • Donnelly, P., D. Lindsey, E. Muldavin, Y. Chauvin, and A. Browder. 2006. Vegetation communities of Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge. Prepared by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, National Wildlife Refuge Remote Sensing Lab, Albuquerque, NM, and Natural Heritage New Mexico, University of New Mexico, Albuquerque. Final report submitted to U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Southwest Region (R2), National Wildlife Refuge System (NWR), NWR Remote Sensing Lab, Division of Planning. 27 pp. [http://www.fws.gov/data/documents/BDA%20NVCS%20Veg%20Community%20Report%20Example.pdf]

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  • Franklin, J. F., and C. T. Dyrness. 1973. Natural vegetation of Oregon and Washington. General Technical Report PNW-8. USDA Forest Service, Pacific Northwest Forest and Range Experiment Station, Portland, OR. 417 pp.

  • Hansen, P. L., R. D. Pfister, K. Boggs, B. J. Cook, J. Joy, and D. K. Hinckley. 1995. Classification and management of Montana's riparian and wetland sites. Miscellaneous Publication No. 54. Montana Forest and Conservation Experiment Station, School of Forestry, University of Montana. 646 pp. plus posters.

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  • Kittel, G., E. Van Wie, M. Damm, R. Rondeau, S. Kettler, and J. Sanderson. 1999a. A classification of the riparian plant associations of the Rio Grande and Closed Basin watersheds, Colorado. Unpublished report prepared by the Colorado Natural Heritage Program, Colorado State University, Fort Collins.

  • MTNHP [Montana Natural Heritage Program]. 2002b. List of ecological communities for Montana. Montana Natural Heritage Program, Montana State Library, Helena, MT.

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  • Romme, W. H., K. D. Heil, J. M. Porter, and R. Fleming. 1993. Plant communities of Capitol Reef National Park, Utah. USDI National Park Service, Technical Report NPS/NAUCARE/NRTER-93/02. Cooperative Park Studies Unit, Northern Arizona University. 37 pp.

  • Salas, D. E., J. Stevens, K. Schulz, M. Artmann, B. Friesen, S. Blauer, E. W. Schweiger, and A. Valdez. 2010b. Vegetation classification and mapping project report: Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve. Natural Resource Report NPS/ROMN/NRR--2010/179. National Park Service, Fort Collins, CO.

  • Schulz, K. A., and M. E. Hall. 2011. Vegetation inventory project: Great Basin National Park. Unpublished report submitted to USDI National Park Service, Mojave Desert Inventory and Monitoring Network. NatureServe, Western Regional Office, Boulder, CO. 30 pp. plus Appendices A-H.

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  • WNHP [Washington Natural Heritage Program]. No date. Unpublished data files. Washington Natural Heritage Program, Department of Natural Resources, Olympia, WA.

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