Ineffectiveness of Two Annual Legumes as Nurse Plants for Establishment of Artemisia californica in Coastal Sage Scrub


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    Current address: Marquez and Associates Biological Consultants, 314 Second Street, Chula Vista, CA, U.S.A.


Annual legumes are often used as nurse plants for restoration projects, but two commonly used legume species were competitors at all densities with Artemisia californica (California sagebrush), a dominant shrub of southern California coastal sage scrub. Survival of Artemisia was not reduced by the lowest densities of the native Lupinus succulentus (arroyo lupine) at ratios of Artemisia to Lupinus of 1:1 or 1:3 or by the exotic Trifolium hirtum (rose clover) at the 1:1 density, but its survival was as low as 4% at the highest densities of Trifolium (1:16) and 1:32). Overall, Trifolium was more detrimental to survival of Artemisia, but the biomass of Artemisia was reduced by 90% or more in mixtures with both legumes even at the lowest densities of 1:1. The total soil nitrogen either did not change or decreased in two of the mixtures between planting and harvest dates, indicating that the legumes not only did not add nitrogen to the soil within one growing season but even depleted it in these two cases. Whereas Lupinus had greater aboveground bio-mass than Trifolium, it had a lower root density than Trifolium. The Artemisia root system was more shallow than either Trifolium or Lupinus, possibly explaining the poor growth of Artemisia in mixtures, The legumes were one to two orders of magnitude greater in aboveground biomass than Artemisia at the 1:1 ratio and therefore may be inappropriate choices as nurse plants. There is no evidence from this study that either of these legumes can act as nurse plants, even at the lowest ratio of one nurse plant to on shrub. Nurse plants are probably more important in harsher environments than in coastal sage scrub.