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SPECIES: Schoenocrambe linifolia


Howard, Janet L. 2003. Schoenocrambe linifolia. In: Fire Effects Information System, [Online]. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station, Fire Sciences Laboratory (Producer). Available: [].


Sisymbrium linifolium Nutt. [38,47]


flaxleaf plainsmustard
skeleton mustard

The scientific name of flaxleaf plainsmustard is Schoenocrambe linifolia (Nutt.) Greene (Brassicaceae) [19,34,37,44,66,67]. Flaxleaf plainsmustard is highly polymorphic, and its taxonomy has been confused [33,36]. It is segregated from Sisymbrium, a genus of annuals and biennials from Eurasia, based upon its perennial life form, rhizomatous habit, and North American origin [34,67].


No special status

No entry


SPECIES: Schoenocrambe linifolia
Flaxleaf plainsmustard occurs east of the Cascade Range from British Columbia [34] and Saskatchewan east to central Wyoming [19] and western Colorado [66]; and south to Oregon, northern Nevada [36], Arizona [38], and New Mexico [37]. It is most common in the Columbia, Great, and Colorado basins, especially the Colorado Basin [67]. Flaxleaf plainsmustard is rare in Montana [44]. Plants database provides a distributional map of flaxleaf plainsmustard.

FRES20 Douglas-fir
FRES21 Ponderosa pine
FRES29 Sagebrush
FRES30 Desert shrub
FRES34 Chaparral-mountain shrub
FRES35 Pinyon-juniper
FRES36 Mountain grasslands
FRES38 Plains grasslands

STATES/PROVINCES: (key to state/province abbreviations)



5 Columbia Plateau
6 Upper Basin and Range
8 Northern Rocky Mountains
9 Middle Rocky Mountains
10 Wyoming Basin
11 Southern Rocky Mountains
12 Colorado Plateau
16 Upper Missouri Basin and Broken Lands

K011 Western ponderosa forest
K012 Douglas-fir forest
K016 Eastern ponderosa forest
K023 Juniper-pinyon woodland
K024 Juniper steppe woodland
K037 Mountain-mahogany-oak scrub
K038 Great Basin sagebrush
K039 Blackbrush
K040 Saltbush-greasewood
K041 Creosote bush
K042 Creosote bush-bur sage
K055 Sagebrush steppe
K056 Wheatgrass-needlegrass shrubsteppe

217 Aspen
220 Rocky Mountain juniper
235 Cottonwood-willow
237 Interior ponderosa pine
238 Western juniper
239 Pinyon-juniper

107 Western juniper/big sagebrush/bluebunch wheatgrass
211 Creosote bush scrub
212 Blackbush
314 Big sagebrush-bluebunch wheatgrass
315 Big sagebrush-Idaho fescue
316 Big sagebrush-rough fescue
320 Black sagebrush-bluebunch wheatgrass
321 Black sagebrush-Idaho fescue
322 Curlleaf mountain-mahogany-bluebunch wheatgrass
401 Basin big sagebrush
402 Mountain big sagebrush
403 Wyoming big sagebrush
404 Threetip sagebrush
405 Black sagebrush
406 Low sagebrush
408 Other sagebrush types
411 Aspen woodland
412 Juniper-pinyon woodland
413 Gambel oak
414 Salt desert shrub
415 Curlleaf mountain-mahogany
416 True mountain-mahogany
417 Littleleaf mountain-mahogany
418 Bigtooth maple
422 Riparian
501 Saltbush-greasewood
504 Juniper-pinyon pine woodland
506 Creosotebush-bursage
612 Sagebrush-grass
614 Crested wheatgrass

Flaxleaf plainsmustard occurs in salt-desert shrub, sagebrush (Artemisia spp.), pinyon-juniper (Pinus-Juniperus spp.), mountain shrub, ponderosa pine (P. ponderosa), and trembling aspen (Populus tremuloides) communities [23,36,51,67].

In northeastern Utah the most common associates of flaxleaf plainsmustard in a Utah juniper-Colorado pinyon/low sagebrush (J. osteosperma-P. edulis/A. arbuscula) community were broom snakeweed (Gutierrezia sarothrae), big sagebrush (A. tridentata), bottlebrush squirreltail (Elymus elymoides), prickly-pear (Opuntia spp.), and grassy rockgoldenrod (Petradoria pumila). Flaxleaf plainsmustard was 1 of the most common forbs in the community [9]. Associates in a true mountain-mahogany (Cercocarpus montanus) community in the Uintah Basin, Utah, were nodding buckwheat (Eriogonum cernuum), Salina wildrye (Elymus salinus), and Fremont goosefoot (Chenopodium fremontii) [27].

On the Snake River Plain of southern Idaho, flaxleaf plainsmustard was the most important forb in cheatgrass (Bromus tectorum)-bottlebrush squirreltail-thickspike wheatgrass in (E. lanceolatus) mountain grassland. Other important forbs included bastard toadflax (Comandra umbellata) and nodding buckwheat [46].


SPECIES: Schoenocrambe linifolia
The following description of flaxleaf plainsmustard provides characteristics that may be relevant to fire ecology, and is not meant for identification. Keys for identification are available (e.g. [19,34,37,38,66,67]).

Flaxleaf plainsmustard is a native forb. Stems are 7.9 to 20 inches (20-50 cm) tall, arising from a simple or branched caudex. Leaves are linear, pinnate at the stem base and becoming entire up the stem. The inflorescence is a raceme of perfect flowers. Fruits are siliques measuring 0.04 inch wide and 0.4 to 2.4 inches long (1 mm × 3-6 cm) [38,47,67]. The unwinged seeds are about 1.5 mm in diameter [34]. Flaxleaf plainsmustard has deep, long, highly branched rhizomes [44,67] and highly branched roots [44]. As of this writing (2003), average and maximum life spans of this perennial have not been documented in the literature.


Flaxleaf plainsmustard reproduces from seed and by sprouting from the root crown and rhizomes [34,51,72].

Breeding system: Mustards (Brassicaceae) are cross-pollinated. Selfing also occurs [32].

Pollination is insect-mediated [32].

Seed production: No information

Seed dispersal: Flaxleaf plainsmustard seed may disperse only short distances unless moved by machinery or other anthropogenic disturbance. The seed lacks appendages for dispersal and unlike some mustards, the seed coat is nonmucilagious [34]; thus, seeds do not disperse by sticking to fur or feathers.

Seed banking: Many mustard species build a long-term seed bank [3,5,20], and it is likely that flaxleaf plainsmustard does as well. Further research is needed on regeneration strategies of this native mustard. A thorough description of flaxleaf plainsmustard's life history is incomplete without knowledge of seed bank dynamics including spatial variability of the seed bank and temporal variability in the number of seeds in the soil. Knowledge of flaxleaf plainsmustard seed bank dynamics can then be related to disturbances such as fire [53].

Germination: Little is known of germination requirements for flaxleaf plainsmustard, and research is needed in this area. Since flaxleaf plainsmustard lacks a mucilaginous seedcoat [34], its germinating seed is probably more susceptible to desiccation than seed of mustard species with sticky, protective coatings on their seedcoats [74].

Seedling establishment/growth: No information

Asexual regeneration: Flaxleaf plainsmustard sprouts from the caudex and underground rhizomes after top-kill by fire or other disturbance [51,72]. The relative importance of seed vs. sprouting regeneration after fire or other disturbance is unknown, and further research is needed in this area.

Flaxleaf plainsmustard occurs on open plains, hills, and basins [19,30,47]. In Colorado it is reported on valley floors with moisture regimes varying from wet to dry [66]. It is common on clay and gravel soils [30,36], and is reported on cinder soils near Sunset Crater National Monument, Arizona [23].

A few elevational ranges have been reported for flaxleaf plainsmustard:

Arizona 2,500-9,500 ft (760-2,900 m) [18]
Colorado 4,500-8,500 ft (1,400-2,600 m) [30]
Nevada 6,000-9,500 ft (1,800-2,900 m) [36]
New Mexico 5,000-8,000 ft (1,500-2,400 m) [47]
Utah 3,660-8,825 ft (1,115-2,690 m) [26,67]

Flaxleaf plainsmustard is favored on open-canopy sites, such as burns [23,25], that are in early succession [25,51,72]. It is nonmycorrhizal; therefore, flaxleaf plainsmustard can colonize sterile sites or sites undergoing primary succession. It colonized a sterile coal mine site near Kemmerer, Wyoming [2].

As of this writing (2003), germination, seedling establishment, and seed dispersal phenology are not documented for this species. A few flowering periods are reported:

New Mexico probably May-July [47]
Nevada May-June [36]
Pacific Northwest May-June [33]

Flaxleaf plainsmustard leaves are generally dead or drying when flowering begins [44].


SPECIES: Schoenocrambe linifolia
Fire adaptations: Flaxleaf plainsmustard has adapted to fire by sprouting from the caudex and rhizomes after fire [51,72]. Postfire establishment from the seed bank is likely, but has not been documented in the literature.

Fire regimes: Having evolved in both fire-adapted ecosystems and in ecosystems where fire was historically infrequent, flaxleaf plainsmustard is able to persist under many fire regimes, varying from frequent surface fire (i.e., ponderosa pine) to mixed-severity fire (pinyon-juniper) and infrequent, stand-replacement fire (creosotebush (Larrea tridentata)).

Sagebrush steppe: Historic fire regimes are variable in big sagebrush/bunchgrass ecosystems, with fire return intervals ranging between 10 and 70 years [8,16,49,50,65,76]. Historic fire seasons in the sagebrush steppe occurred between July and September [1,4,40,75], with the middle to end of August being the period of the most extreme fire conditions [15]. The introduction and increasing dominance of cheatgrass has changed the seasonal occurrence and increased the frequency and size of wildfires in these ecosystems, thus altering successional patterns [12,52,56,68]. 

Salt-desert shrubland: Fires were historically infrequent in salt-desert shrublands. Desert shrublands usually lack sufficient fine fuels to carry fire, with widely spaced shrubs and bunchgrasses and relatively bare interspaces [13,14,69,77]. Historic fire return intervals in these ecosystems (dominated by saltbush (Atriplex spp.), black greasewood (Sarcobatus vermiculatus), creosotebush, and blackbrush (Coleogyne ramosissima)) are thought to average between 35 and 100 years or more [50].

Pinyon-juniper woodlands are characterized by a large number of diverse habitat types that vary in tree and herbaceous species composition and density, and fire regime characteristics. Fire severity and frequency vary, depending largely on site productivity. On less productive sites with discontinuous grass cover, fires were probably infrequent, small, and patchy [50]. Fire intervals were probably greater than 100 years in these areas, but did fire occur more frequently under extreme conditions [26]. On more productive sites where grass cover was more continuous, fire intervals may have been 10 years or less, maintaining more open stands. Historical fire regimes in dense stands were a mixture of surface and crown fires, with surface fires at intervals of 10-50 years and crown fires at intervals of 200-300 years or longer. Fire susceptibility in pinyon-juniper communities also depends on the stage of stand development. In young open stands, shrubs and herbaceous cover may be sufficient to carry fire, but as the stand approaches crown closure, herbaceous cover declines and eventually becomes too sparse to carry fire [50].

The following table provides fire return intervals for plant communities and ecosystems where flaxleaf plainsmustard may be important. Find further fire regime information for the plant communities in which this species may occur by entering the species name in the FEIS home page under "Find Fire Regimes".

Community or Ecosystem Dominant Species Fire Return Interval Range (years)
silver sagebrush steppe Artemisia cana 5-45 [31,54,71]
sagebrush steppe A. tridentata/Pseudoroegneria spicata 20-70 [50]
basin big sagebrush A. tridentata var. tridentata 12-43 [58]
mountain big sagebrush A. tridentata var. vaseyana 15-40 [8,16,49]
Wyoming big sagebrush A. tridentata var. wyomingensis 10-70 (40**) [65,76]
saltbush-greasewood Atriplex confertifolia-Sarcobatus vermiculatus < 35 to < 100
desert grasslands Bouteloua eriopoda and/or Pleuraphis mutica 5-100 [50]
plains grasslands Bouteloua spp. < 35 [50,71]
blue grama-needle-and-thread grass-western wheatgrass B. gracilis-Hesperostipa comata-Pascopyrum smithii < 35 [50,57,71]
blue grama-buffalo grass B. gracilis-Buchloe dactyloides < 35 [50,71]
grama-galleta steppe Bouteloua gracilis-Pleuraphis jamesii < 35 to < 100
blue grama-tobosa prairie B. gracilis-P. mutica < 35 to < 100 [50]
cheatgrass Bromus tectorum < 10 [52,70]
blackbrush Coleogyne ramosissima < 35 to < 100
western juniper Juniperus occidentalis 20-70
Rocky Mountain juniper J. scopulorum < 35
creosotebush Larrea tridentata < 35 to < 100 [50]
wheatgrass plains grasslands Pascopyrum smithii < 5-47+ [50,54,71]
pinyon-juniper Pinus-Juniperus spp. < 35 [50]
Colorado pinyon P. edulis 10-400+ [22,26,39,50]
Pacific ponderosa pine* P. ponderosa var. ponderosa 1-47 [7]
interior ponderosa pine* P. ponderosa var. scopulorum 2-30 [7,10,45]
Arizona pine P. ponderosa var. arizonica 2-15 [10,17,59]
quaking aspen (west of the Great Plains) Populus tremuloides 7-120 [7,28,48]
mountain grasslands Pseudoroegneria spicata 3-40 (10**) [6,7]
*fire return interval varies widely; trends in variation are noted in the species summary

Rhizomatous herb, rhizome in soil
Caudex/herbaceous root crown, growing points in soil


SPECIES: Schoenocrambe linifolia
Fire top-kills flaxleaf plainsmustard [51,72].

No additional information is available on this topic.

Flaxleaf plainsmustard can sprout from the caudex and underground rhizomes after top-kill [51,72]; therefore, it is described as "unharmed" by fire. It may spread rapidly after top-kill [51], although the mechanisms (vegetative and/or seedling establishment) of postfire establishment are not noted in existing literature (as of 2003). The relative importance of postfire sprouting vs. establishment from seed is unknown for this species. Basic research is needed on the life history of flaxleaf plainsmustard, particularly on seed bank ecology. Fire managers interested in flaxleaf plainsmustard need further information regarding its postfire sprouting response and its ability to establish from seed after fire.

Flaxleaf plainsmustard established after prescribed summer burning (29 July-1 Aug., 1994) in a ponderosa pine community on the Coconino National Forest, Arizona. The burn objective was to document fire effects on sunset penstemon (Penstemon clutei), a rare endemic. As well as establishing on burn plots, flaxleaf plainsmustard also established in unburned experimental trenches dug to reduce root competition for sunset penstemon [23].

In a Utah juniper-Colorado pinyon community in the Green River corridor of northeastern Utah, flaxleaf plainsmustard showed 8% frequency on an 80-year-old burn that was disturbed by frequent bighorn sheep grazing. Bighorn sheep appeared to favor the burn, which still retained a relatively open canopy, over closed-canopy areas that had not experienced fire for 150+ years. Flaxleaf plainsmustard did not occur on closed-canopy plots [25].

There is little research on the mechanisms of flaxleaf plainsmustard establishment after fire. Further information is needed for a sound, scientific basis of fire management for this native mustard.


SPECIES: Schoenocrambe linifolia
As of this writing (2003), information on animal use of flaxleaf plainsmustard is lacking. Animals including rodents [35,73], lagomorphs [35,46], native ungulates [41,43,61], and livestock [29,64] are known to use annual mustards, so it is possible that some animal species also use this perennial mustard. Further research is needed in this area.

Palatability/nutritional value: No information is available on this topic.

Cover value: No information is available on this topic.

As a rhizomatous, native perennial that occurs in early succession [25,44,51,67,72] flaxleaf plainsmustard may be useful on restoration sites. Research is needed on techniques of artificial regeneration using rhizomes, stem cuttings, and/or seed. As of this writing (2003), flaxleaf plainsmustard seed is not commercially available.

No information is available on this topic.

Little is known of the ecology of flaxleaf plainsmustard and other native, perennial mustards. A suite of ecological relationships including species' life history, successional role, fire effects, animal use for food and cover, and impacts of introduced plant species that may fill similar niches, require further research before current and historic roles of perennial native mustards can be understood and applied to management issues.

Schoenocrambe linifolia: References

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