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The Burns Reserve is located at the junction of two biogeographic regions and contains a mix of habitats characteristic of both regions.  Joshua trees, which define much of the Mojave landscape to the east, grow only in a small area of the reserve's flat northern section. 

Pinon-juniper woodland: Associated with higher elevations, pinon pines (Pinus monophylla) and junipers (Juniperus californica) form an open woodland throughout the reserve.  Scrub oak (Quercus dumosa), California buckwheat (Eriogonum fasciculatum), and antelope bush (Purshia glandulosa) add to the multilayered structure of this plant community.  Mojave yucca (Yucca schidigera), beavertail cactus (Opuntia basilaris), and golden cholla (0. echinocarpa) are sparse across the gravelly soil.  Chaparral species, such as the mountain-mahogany (Cercocarpus betuloides), spill over from the manzanita chaparral of the lower San Bernardino Mountains.

Desert wash: Lower Railroad Canyon is a wide desert wash with a deep accumulation of coarse-grained sand.  The vegetation of this area contrasts markedly with that of nearby ridges.  Flash floods keep the central channel clear of plants, but along the canyon's edge grow large desert willows (Chilopsis linearis) and thickets of catclaw (Acacia greggii).  This prickly, nearly impenetrable mass of vegetation provides a haven for birds and rodents.

Unlike the pinon-juniper woodland, the desert wash community has a number of summer-blooming perennials, including woolly gilia (Gilia sp.), sandpaper plant (Petalonyx thurberi), and groundsel (Senecio sp.).  Saltbush (Atriplex canescens) and other understory plants typical in a Joshua tree woodland are scarce on the ridges above, but grow profusely in the sandy wash.

Freshwater seep: A small fault exists in the granite bedrock of the north fork of Railroad Canyon.  This fault allows groundwater on occasion to reach the surface, creating a line of tiny seeps and supporting a narrow strand of transmontane riparian vegetation that is characteristic of inland deserts.  Along this stretch, grow dense patches of desert baccharis (Baccharis sergiloides) and matchweed (Gutierrezia sarothrae), large scrub oaks, and several species of rushes (Juncus spp.).





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Copyright 2002
University of California, Natural Reserve System
Last Updated 10/03/02