The importance of Olneya tesota as a nurse plant in the Sonoran desert

Humberto Suzán, Gary P. Nabhan, Duncan T. Patten

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

91 Scopus citations


The function of Olneya tesota (ironwood) as a nurse plant and habitat modifier species in the Sonoran Desert was evaluated at five study sites (using 75 250-m2 sample plots) from Bahia Kino. Sonora to Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, Arizona. Beneath the canopy of O. tesota trees 75 perennial plant species were found. A principal component ordination of the plots created three groups: southern, perturbed and protected sites. A strong triple association of columnar cacti, big shrubs with berry type fruits and O. tesota was detected. The relationships of Lophocercus schottii and Peniocereus striatus with O. tesota were studies in more detail. Significant differences in soil surface temperatures and stem temperatures of P. striatus were detected beneath the shade of O. tesota trees compared with soils and plants in open spaces. Olneya tesota must be considered as a habitat modifier species with ecological and conservational importance to the plant communities in the Sonoran Desert.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)635-644
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of Vegetation Science
Issue number5
StatePublished - Oct 1996


  • Lophocercus schottii
  • Nurse phenomenon
  • Peniocereus striatus
  • Stem temperature

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology
  • Plant Science


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