Ecology Research Paper on Gaultheria shallon (Pursh salal)

Ecology Research Paper on Gaultheria shallon (Pursh salal)

Species description: Gaultheria shallon is a perennial dicotyledonous plant of the family Ericaceae. The plant is rhizomatous and grows in full bloom during the summer, spring and fall seasons. The plant is characterized by green foliage and produces white flowers during its flowering period. The plant grows to a height of about 1 foot tall in twenty years following germination but can grow to a maximum of 6 feet in maturity. Gaultheria shallon produces purple conspicuous fruits which are also its seeds and has a moderate foliage porosity during summer and high porosity during winter. The plant can be propagated by bare root, container and seed. Once on the ground, the seed has a high perseverance capacity and can last for years before germination. Upon germination, the proliferation rate is rapid. Due to the high carbon to nitrogen ratio possessed by the tree, it does engage in nitrogen fixation.

Figure 1: Gaultheria shallon (Source: Ladybird Johnson Wildflower Center)

Species Ecology: Although the plant species may take long to germinate and to reach maturity, it has the capacity to perform well in both shady and sunny ecologies under high and low elevations. In its environment, the plant spreads its rhizomes, covering large tracts of land hence resulting in the formation of dense and impenetrable thickets. The growth of Gaultheria shallon implies that it cannot co-exist with undergrowth such as cover grass. On the other hand, it provides a suitable environment for the existence of burrowing animals such as moles that feed on the rhizomes. The tree may however exist in the presence of other plant types such as the western poison oak which has been recognized to be a close associated of the species, particularly in the California Coast ranges where Gaultheria shallon is predominant (Hogan 116). Native people in areas where the plant is dominant consider it a source of medication due to the anti- inflammatory characteristics of the leaves.

The plant requires a minimum rainfall of 55 mm and a maximum of 125 mm annually and a temperature of approximately 7⁰F for optimum growth and productivity. It is also a diversely characterized plant, with tolerance for coarse as well as fine textured soils. The soil fertility also does not have to be high as a moderate fertility supports effective productivity of the plant. According to USDA, the plant requires a minimum soil pH of 5.5 and a maximum of 7 for optimum growth. The plant is neither salt nor drought tolerant and can be killed by saline soils as well as during drought. Moreover, it has a high moisture consumption rate and is also fire resistant.

Species Distribution: Currently, Gaultheria shallon is described as a Native American plant although it is currently distributed in Canada as well as in Europe. In the Native American origin, the plant was recognized for its medicinal purposes and used as such. In Europe, the plant colonizes the acidic woodlands and heath lands. In Canada, it was first used by the aboriginal communities as an ornament by florists.

Conservation status, history of human uses and other interesting facts: Gaultheria shallon is widely used by the communities within which it exists as a medicinal product. Among many plants, this was transported to Britain by an individual for the purposes of ornamental use. In spite of its seemingly sturdy stature, the tree has minimal applications, only considered palatable by humans and as a nursery stock product.



Works Cited

Hogan, Michael C. Western poison-oak: Toxicodendron diversilobum, Nicklas Stromberg (Ed.). GlobalTwitcher, 2008.

Ladybird Johnson Wildflower Center. Gaultheria shallon. 1987. Accessed from

United States Department of Agriculture USDA. Conservation plant characteristics: Gaultheria shallon pursh salal. 2017. Accessed from