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Greasewood (Sarcobatus) is a succulent-leaved, halophytic shrub of North American origin. The genus comprises 2 species: Sarcobatus baileyi and Sarcobatus vermiculatus. Sarcobatus vermiculatus is common throughout much of western North America, but S. baileyi is much more limited in distribution and was previously thought to be endemic to Nevada. Here we document and describe a S. baileyi population in eastern California, comparing its morphology and ecology to an adjacent S. vermiculatus population. Morphologically, S. baileyi is smaller in stature but produces larger seeds; however, fewer S. baileyi seeds germinated and survived a 20-day laboratory incubation compared to seeds of S. vermiculatus. Sarcobatus baileyi has higher leaf Na concentrations and operates at much lower plant water potentials than S. vermiculatus under field conditions; however, no significant differences were observed between the 2 species in long-term water-use efficiency as measured by leaf delta(13)C. Leaf Na concentrations were very low in both species. Overall, these species differ greatly in a number of traits that are consistent with the upland, nonphreatophytic character of S. baileyi, which is in stark contrast to the phreatophytic character of S. vermiculatus. Both species, however, are very salt tolerant and have low leaf N concentrations, indicating the low nutrient availability and the potentially high salinity of their extreme habitats. Further investigation of comparable desert ridge environments should be conducted to determine the extent of S. baileyi in eastern California, and common garden comparisons of the 2 species should be conducted to compare their ecophysiological traits.


Drenovsky, R.E., Martin, A.M., Falasco, M.R., Richards, J.H. Comparative Ecology of Sarcobatus Baileyi and Sarcobatus Vermiculatus in Eastern California. Western North American Naturalist. 2011;71(2):234-239.