Tamarix aphylla (athel)
- Summary of Invasiveness
- Taxonomic Tree
- Notes on Taxonomy and Nomenclature
- Plant Type
- Distribution Table
- History of Introduction and Spread
- Risk of Introduction
- Habitat List
- Biology and Ecology
- Latitude/Altitude Ranges
- Air Temperature
- Rainfall Regime
- Soil Tolerances
- Natural enemies
- Notes on Natural Enemies
- Means of Movement and Dispersal
- Pathway Vectors
- Plant Trade
- Impact Summary
- Environmental Impact
- Impact: Biodiversity
- Social Impact
- Risk and Impact Factors
- Wood Products
- Similarities to Other Species/Conditions
- Prevention and Control
- Links to Websites
- Distribution Maps
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PicturesTop of page
IdentityTop of page
Preferred Scientific Name
- Tamarix aphylla (L.) Karst. (1882)
Preferred Common Name
Other Scientific Names
- Tamarix aphylla (L.) Lanza (1909) comb. illegit.
- Tamarix aphylla (L.) Warb. (1929) comb. illegit.
- Tamarix articulata Vahl (1791) nom. illegit.
- Tamarix orientalis Forsk. (1775)
- Thuja aphylla L. (1838)
International Common Names
- English: athel pine; athel tamarisk; athel tree; desert tamarisk; evergreen athel; flowering cypress; saltcedar; tamarisk
- Spanish: pinebete
Local Common Names
- Germany: Blattlose Tamariske
- India: asreli; erraerusaru; errashirisaru; eshel; farash; jhau; kharbi; kharlei; laljhav; lal-jhav-nu-jhado; narbi; narlei; okan; pharwan; rahta; raktajhav; shivappu-atru-shavukka; tarfa; ukon
- Pakistan: asreli; farash; jhau; kharbi; laljhav; narbi; okan; pharwan; rahta; ukon
- South Africa: woestyntamarisk
- TAAAP (Tamarix aphylla)
Summary of InvasivenessTop of page
Taxonomic TreeTop of page
- Domain: Eukaryota
- Kingdom: Plantae
- Phylum: Spermatophyta
- Subphylum: Angiospermae
- Class: Dicotyledonae
- Order: Tamaricales
- Family: Tamaricaceae
- Genus: Tamarix
- Species: Tamarix aphylla
Notes on Taxonomy and NomenclatureTop of page
DescriptionTop of page
T. aphylla is a large (to 20 m tall with a trunk to 1 m or more in diameter) evergreen tree to high shrub. It generally attains small height and large girth. A variable height of the tree has been reported in the literature; 8-12 m (National Academy of Sciences, 1980) and 18 m height and girth of 1.8-2.1 m, occasionally attaining 3-3.5 m girth (Troup, 1921; Brandis, 1924). The tree is not very long-lived. It tapers rapidly and is heavily branched, but its crown does not spread widely.
It has slender, cylindric, jointed branches which are articulate at the base of the sheath. The bark is reddish-brown to grey and the slender twigs are often hoary with deep punctate glands that produce a saline efflorescence. The salty 'tears' drip in the night and the soil beneath trees is generally covered with a salt layer (Troup, 1921; National Academy of Sciences, 1980).
The foliage is fine bluish-grey or greyish-blue and superficially resembles long pine needles or Casuarina foliage. The leaves are small (about 2 mm long) and reduced to tiny scales that ensheath the wiry twigs and are well equipped to withstand desiccation (Troup, 1921). The lamina is reduced to a minute triangular tooth that is marked with glands. The tree is never totally leafless.
The flowers are loosely arranged on the slender spikes. They are small, usually white, occasionally pink, unisexual or bisexual, monoecious or dioecious, sessile and delicate. They are scattered on long, slender spikes which are usually clustered at the end of branches in loose racemose panicles, bracts sheathing. Vernal inflorescences simple, aestival ones compound and more common. Raceme 3-6 cm long, 4-5 mm broad, with sub-sessile flowers. Bracts triangular to broadly triangular, acuminate, somewhat clasping, longer than pedicels. Pedicel much shorter than calyx. Calyx pentamerous. Sepals ca. 1.5 mm long, entire, obtuse, the two outer slightly smaller, broadly ovate to broadly elliptic, slightly keeled, the inner slightly larger, broadly elliptic to sub-orbicular. Corolla pentamerous, sub-persistent to caducous. Petals 2-2.25 mm long, elliptic-oblong to ovate-elliptic. Androecium haplostemonous, of five antesepalous stamens; filaments inserted between the lobes of the nectary disc (hololophic) (Baum, 1978).
Fruit is a small, bell-shaped sessile capsule, and ripens in the cold season. The capsules contain minute seeds with tufts of long, soft, woolly hairs. Ripe capsules turn brown and open up gradually to allow the minute seeds to be dispersed by the wind.
Plant TypeTop of page
DistributionTop of page
In North America, it occurs south of the freeze zone in the southern parts of California, Arizona and Texas, or roughly south of the 34th parallel from California through New Mexico and below the 30th parallel in south Texas. It extends into northern Mexico approximately to the 24th parallel. Griffin et al. (1989) gives the distribution of T. aphylla in Australia.
Distribution TableTop of page
The distribution in this summary table is based on all the information available. When several references are cited, they may give conflicting information on the status. Further details may be available for individual references in the Distribution Table Details section which can be selected by going to Generate Report.Last updated: 17 Dec 2021
|Continent/Country/Region||Distribution||Last Reported||Origin||First Reported||Invasive||Planted||Reference||Notes|
|Kenya||Present, Few occurrences||Native||Planted|
|Tanzania||Present, Few occurrences||Native|
|Afghanistan||Present, Few occurrences||Native||Planted|
|-Madhya Pradesh||Present, Localized||Native|
|-Uttar Pradesh||Present, Localized||Native||Planted|
|United States||Present||Present based on regional distribution.|
|-New South Wales||Present, Localized||Introduced||Invasive|
|-Northern Territory||Present, Localized||Introduced||Invasive|
|-South Australia||Present, Localized||Introduced||Invasive|
|-Western Australia||Present, Localized||Introduced||Invasive|
History of Introduction and SpreadTop of page
In recent years, athel pine spread rapidly and became a very serious weed along the Finke River in central Australia, reportedly after flooding several years ago (Griffin et al., 1989; Parsons and Cuthbertson, 1992). The sources of this infestation were traced to plantings at homesteads near the river. According to Agriculture & Resource Management Council (2000) the Griffin et al. (1989) research led to the declaration of this species as a noxious weed under the Northern Territory Noxious Weeds Act (1962) in 1988. It is prohibited from Western Australia, a declared plant in Tasmania, a class B or C noxious weed in Australian Northern Territory and is also mentioned in the South Australia list (National Weeds Strategy Executive Committee, 2003). Invasion events in Australia include outbreaks at the Finke River, Northern Territory, Starvation Lake and Tilcha Flow, South Australia, the Gascoyne and Avon Rivers in Western Australia and lesser occurrences in localized areas of Queensland (Agriculture & Resource Management Council, 2000). Binggeli (1999) describes T. aphylla as 'highly invasive'.
T. aphylla has been widely planted in the southwestern USA and northern Mexico but has increased and spread only in a few locations. The largest is a 285 ha area of a large, dense, monotypic stand of trees beside the southeastern corner of the Salton Sea in southern California, rumoured to have spread from two trees planted at a gas station. Along the lower Colorado River between California and Arizona, and along the lower Rio Grande between Texas and Mexico, it occurs among saltcedars (deciduous Tamarix spp.) and other vegetation, or on sparsely vegetated stream banks where it appears to have spread naturally. Recently, athel has spread extensively along the shores of Lake Mead, between Nevada and Arizona at ca. 36°N. This is at a latitude much farther north and much colder than athel would be expected to grow. Its growth and survival here may be because of the warming influence of this large lake during the winter. Also, these plants may be a hybrid which could confer greater cold tolerance. The recently discovered sexual reproduction and aggressive invasion at Lake Mead makes T. aphylla a threat in other areas of the desert in southwestern USA (Barnes et al., 2004) and possibly also in northern Mexico. According to (USDA-NRCS, 2005) this species is a declared noxious weed in Wyoming, Washington, Montana and New Mexico.
Henderson (2001) states it is a proposed category 3 invader in South Africa. Cronk and Fuller (1995) reports that it is invasive in Australia and Hawaii.
Risk of IntroductionTop of page
HabitatTop of page
Habitat ListTop of page
|Terrestrial||Managed||Managed forests, plantations and orchards||Present, no further details|
|Terrestrial||Managed||Managed grasslands (grazing systems)||Present, no further details|
|Terrestrial||Managed||Disturbed areas||Present, no further details||Harmful (pest or invasive)|
|Terrestrial||Managed||Rail / roadsides||Present, no further details||Harmful (pest or invasive)|
|Terrestrial||Managed||Urban / peri-urban areas||Present, no further details||Harmful (pest or invasive)|
|Terrestrial||Natural / Semi-natural||Natural forests||Present, no further details||Harmful (pest or invasive)|
|Terrestrial||Natural / Semi-natural||Natural grasslands||Present, no further details||Harmful (pest or invasive)|
|Terrestrial||Natural / Semi-natural||Riverbanks||Present, no further details||Harmful (pest or invasive)|
|Terrestrial||Natural / Semi-natural||Wetlands||Present, no further details||Harmful (pest or invasive)|
|Terrestrial||Natural / Semi-natural||Deserts||Present, no further details||Harmful (pest or invasive)|
|Littoral||Coastal areas||Present, no further details||Harmful (pest or invasive)|
Biology and EcologyTop of page
T. aphylla is one of only four invasive taxonomic entities that Gaskin and Schaal (2003) could identify by DNA analysis.
Physiology and Phenology
The leaves and branches are shed during the cold season, and new shoots and leaves appear in India during May. According to Troup (1921), the small flowers of T. aphylla appear during May to September on long slender spikes and the capsules ripen in December-January. In some parts of the Punjab and Haryana in the Indo-Pakistan subcontinent, the seed ripens from the middle of July to the middle of November.
In its native range, germination is generally good and natural regeneration is fairly plentiful. The seedlings establish themselves as a jungle-like growth of wildings in low-lying areas or hollows where rainwater collects. The seed loses viability in a few days if stored at ambient temperature.
Providing there is sufficient moisture seeds can germinate almost year-round in Australia (Agriculture & Resource Management Council, 2000). This source notes that most germination occurs during the Australian autumn.
In its native range, T. aphylla produces a large number of seeds, i.e. about 500,000 seeds/year from a single tree (National Academy of Sciences, 1980; Sheikh, 1993). The seeds are minute, about 1000 per gram. A moist soil will also permit vegetative reproduction.
Athel has long been presumed to be sterile in North America and to reproduce only vegetatively. However, the recently invasive population at Lake Mead in southern Nevada, USA, produced seeds over an average of 51 days, with a germination rate of 22% in the laboratory. The trees occupy a zone along the lakeshore above T. ramosissima and below Larrea tridentata where it now forms extensive monospecific stands (Barnes et al., 2004). This appears to be a hybrid population, which may give it greater cold tolerance.
T. aphylla is generally found in arid subtropical and desert regions in ravine thorn scrub forests, desert dune scrub forests and in Salvadora scrub forests. It tolerates temperatures from -10 to 50°C and frequent droughts (National Academy of Sciences, 1980). It survives in areas with annual rainfall of 75-100 mm, but for optimum growth it requires 350-500 mm rainfall which may occur in summer or in both summer and winter. It has been planted on the coasts of North Africa and Israel with annual rainfall of around 200 mm.
The best growth of T. aphylla is in loamy soil, but it is also found on sand as well as on stiff clay and on alkaline, saline and seasonally waterlogged soils (National Academy of Sciences, 1980). It has a high survival rate in saline areas (Malik and Sheikh, 1983; Tomar and Gupta, 1985; Hussain and Gul, 1991) and on saline sodic soils (Sarir et al., 1986; Sharma et al., 1992).
Latitude/Altitude RangesTop of page
|Latitude North (°N)||Latitude South (°S)||Altitude Lower (m)||Altitude Upper (m)|
Air TemperatureTop of page
|Parameter||Lower limit||Upper limit|
|Absolute minimum temperature (ºC)||-10|
|Mean annual temperature (ºC)||18||28|
|Mean maximum temperature of hottest month (ºC)||27||40|
|Mean minimum temperature of coldest month (ºC)||3||8|
RainfallTop of page
|Parameter||Lower limit||Upper limit||Description|
|Dry season duration||6||8||number of consecutive months with <40 mm rainfall|
|Mean annual rainfall||200||500||mm; lower/upper limits|
Rainfall RegimeTop of page
Soil TolerancesTop of page
- seasonally waterlogged
Special soil tolerances
Natural enemiesTop of page
|Natural enemy||Type||Life stages||Specificity||References||Biological control in||Biological control on|
|Chionaspis etrusca||Herbivore||Plants|Leaves; Plants|Stems|
|Colposcenia elegans||Herbivore||Plants|Inflorescence; Plants|Leaves|
Notes on Natural EnemiesTop of page
Beeson (1941) reported the following insect pests of T. aphylla in India and Pakistan: Chionaspis engeddensis (an armoured scale insect, in heavy infestations in plantations of T. aphylla in the Punjab); Trabutina serpentina (a scale insect which feeds on the sap of branchlets); Teleiodes myricariella (a small moth, the larvae of which feed on spun leaves); Cossus acronyctoides (the larvae of this moth bore into living stems). Characoma nilotia is reported to feed on the inflorescences of T. aphylla (Habib, 1980).
The insect herbivores discovered in the exploration for biological control agents were listed for Israel (Gerling and Kugler, 1973) and for Pakistan (Habib and Hassan, 1982). The buprestid Steraspis squamosa is the most damaging. Many of the insects that attack the deciduous saltcedars do not attack, or only lightly attack, T. aphylla. Few of the 325 Tamarix insects reported by Kovalev (1995) from the former USSR, China, southern Asia or the Mediterranean area are listed for T. aphylla.
The following fungi have been recorded on T. aphylla (Zaman et al., 1972): Polyporus calcutensis, Polyporus hispidus, Sirodiplospora tamarici, Teichospora obduceu and Valsaria tamaricis.
Means of Movement and DispersalTop of page
T. aphylla produces a large number of seeds (about 500,000 seeds/year from a single tree) that are minute, about 1000 per gram, and are blown by the wind or dispersed in water. It can also disperse to a limited extent by the rooting of plant parts that wash downstream in floods.
Vector Transmission (Biotic)
Animal dispersal is possible (Weber, 2003).
Invasive events in Australia, USA and South Africa were associated with intentional introduction. The sale of ornamental plants by nurserymen, and the secondary spread of windblown seeds or cuttings from these plants are significant means of dispersal. Dispersal from plantings for streambank erosion control or for windbreaks has also occurred.
Pathway VectorsTop of page
Plant TradeTop of page
|Plant parts liable to carry the pest in trade/transport||Pest stages||Borne internally||Borne externally||Visibility of pest or symptoms|
|Fruits (inc. pods)||weeds/seeds||Yes|
|Stems (above ground)/Shoots/Trunks/Branches|
|True seeds (inc. grain)||weeds/seeds|
|Plant parts not known to carry the pest in trade/transport|
|Growing medium accompanying plants|
Impact SummaryTop of page
|Fisheries / aquaculture||Negative|
ImpactTop of page
Agriculture & Resource Management Council (2000) report major negative impacts to the central Australian pastoral industry. The impact to the pastoral industry occurs through reduced pasture production, elimination of watering holes as the water table is reduced and the difficulty of herding the animals.
Environmental ImpactTop of page
Impact: BiodiversityTop of page
In the USA, athel has had relatively little impact on wildlife because of its infrequency. In hot areas, its size offers welcome shade for wildlife. In the surveys of Anderson and Ohmart (1984) in southern California, nearly all of the summer tanagers were found in athel. However, athel hosts even fewer native insects than does saltcedar (weedy deciduous Tamarix spp.), and populations of the accidentally introduced leafhopper Opsius stactogalus and the scale insect Chionaspis etrusca are far lower than on saltcedars. Luken and Thieret (1997) describe the drying up of springs in Death Valley National Monument, California, with a consequent fall in biodiversity.
Social ImpactTop of page
Risk and Impact FactorsTop of page
- Proved invasive outside its native range
- Highly adaptable to different environments
- Tolerates, or benefits from, cultivation, browsing pressure, mutilation, fire etc
- Highly mobile locally
- Has high reproductive potential
- Damaged ecosystem services
- Ecosystem change/ habitat alteration
- Negatively impacts agriculture
- Negatively impacts tourism
- Reduced amenity values
- Reduced native biodiversity
- Competition - monopolizing resources
- Difficult/costly to control
UsesTop of page
It has been introduced in Australia as a windbreak, hedge plant, and ornamental tree (Griffin et al., 1989). In the desert areas of southwestern USA and northern Mexico, it has been widely planted as a shade tree; it is also sometimes planted as a hedge plant, and pruned frequently. Surveys in Arizona and Texas indicate that it has about the same value as the deciduous Tamarix species as an ornamental, about 0.25% of all yard trees (CJ DeLoach, USDA-ARS, Temple, Texas, USA, unpublished data). Today, it is seldom recommended or planted by nurseries because the limbs are brittle and can break, causing damage.
In North America, it is used less for honey production and colony maintenance than are the saltcedars (deciduous Tamarix spp.) but is preferred as shade for the beehives in the summer because of its large size and more dense shade. It is used much more for windbreaks than are saltcedars because of its larger size and evergreen foliage (Brooks and Dellberg, 1969; Lyles et al., 1984). This usage is apparently declining, because few such new locations are now apparent. In a few locations, it has been used for streambank erosion control but much less than was saltcedar, probably because it does not tend to spread and form dense thickets.
Wood ProductsTop of page
Sawn or hewn building timbers
- Carpentry/joinery (exterior/interior)
- For light construction
- Composite boards
- Industrial and domestic woodware
- Tool handles
Similarities to Other Species/ConditionsTop of page
This species is easily distinguished from the other North American exotic T. ramosissima/T. chinensis (r/c) and T. canariensis/T. gallica (c/g) species/hybrid groups and from T. parviflora. T. aphylla is a large tree (to 20 m tall and 1 m trunk diameter), with distinct long, sparsely branched foliage resembling Casuarina foliage, flowers whitish to pinkish arranged in whorls around the rachis, evergreen, and cold intolerant. Saltcedars in the r/c and c/g species/hybrid groups are smaller (usually 2-5(-10) m tall), with foliage more branched and with bract-like leaves, pink to reddish flowers, deciduous and cold tolerant. T. parviflora is similar in these saltcedar characteristics and in addition has flowers with four petals and stamens, and typically in small inflorescences in clusters along the outer stems that appear before the leaves in the spring.
Prevention and ControlTop of page
Due to the variable regulations around (de)registration of pesticides, your national list of registered pesticides or relevant authority should be consulted to determine which products are legally allowed for use in your country when considering chemical control. Pesticides should always be used in a lawful manner, consistent with the product's label.Mechanical Control
Weber (2003) reports that small individuals may be dug out providing the roost system is removed to prevent resprouting from suckers. This author also discusses the procedure for felling mature trees, providing herbicides are applied to the remaining stumps to hinder resprouting. Agriculture & Resource Management Council (2000) describe the use of bulldozers for large trees and thickets, again with provision for removing the root system and with care to ensure that removed roots are not subsequently covered with soil (i.e. facilitating conditions for further regeneration). This source also lists a blade ploughing method for the removal of large numbers of seedlings.
Herbicide combinations such as picloram/2,4-D or triclopyr/2,4-D can be used to hinder resprouting from stumps (Parsons and Cuthbertson, 1992; Weber 2003). Agriculture & Resource Management Council (2000) advocate repeated stem injections of herbicide at points not more than 100 mm apart. This source also describes the treatment of basal bark with herbicide as a method particularly useful for immature trees i.e. before a tough bark has developed. Herbicide can be applied directly to the leaves of seedlings/saplings that are less than 2 m tall (Agriculture & Resource Management Council, 2000).
A biological control programme is under development for the weedy, deciduous saltcedars (Tamarix spp.) of the western USA. T. aphylla is becoming weedy at only a few locations there. It is not presently a subject for biological control, although this could change in the future if it becomes a widespread, serious weed as it has in Australia. At present, biological control insects are being selected that do not damage athel or that cause it only slight damage that does not compromise its value as a desert shade tree (of particular importance to Mexico). In cage tests at Temple, Texas, USA, the larvae of the various biotypes of Diorhabda elongata fed on athel almost as well as on saltcedars but the adults oviposited only 20-50% as much on athel. Open-field tests on athel at Kingsville, Texas and Artesia, New Mexico are in progress (A Griffith, USDA-ARS, Temple, Texas, USA, personal communication, 2004).
ReferencesTop of page
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