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Managing rangelands: promoting sustainable native shrub species

Fire Bush: the multipurpose sand dune stabilizer


Arid and semi-arid rangelands face increasing climate variability and grazing pressure as the world’s demand for food increases. ICARDA is promoting drought-tolerant shrub and grass species as a crucial means of assisting rangeland rehabilitation efforts, helping to conserve rapidly-depleting water resources, and maintain grazing at sustainable levels. The result: a win-win situation for rural communities and the environment.


Calligonum comosum – or Fire Bush - is an excellent pastoral species for fixing soil and providing a source of protein for livestock.  Its wood is highly prized as fuel, as it burns smokeless.  It grows in course sandy dessert soils and is used for grazing, fire wood, sand dune fixation, and pasture rehabilitation.  It plays a vital role in the fight against desertification.  In addition to being cultivated around desert plantations and used as a wind break, it is also utilised for medicinal purposes and human consumption.


Scientific Name: Calligonum comosum L'Herit


Common Name: Arta, Fire Bush


Location: Extremely Arid Climates of the Saharan and Negev Central Asian Desserts


Characteristic of the Saharan zone, Fire Bush is planted for sand dune fixation and pasture rehabilitation.  It is a major food source for camels and is also browsed by sheep and goats. Although Fire Bush has low protein levels, its young branches are highly palatable and have total digestible nutrients of 68.29 percent.


Growing in areas with less than 100 millimeters (mm) of annual rainfall, Fire Bush can reach heights of up to two meters (m) with a crown diameter of 100 to 250 Centimeters (cm). The shrub has small leaves that are inconspicuous and sometimes reduced to scales. Although its presence is an indicator of fresh water, water deficits can be a factor restricting plant growth and photosynthesis.   


The plant has medicinal properties and is used to treat camel scabies.  The dried leaves and stems are also chewed to treat toothache, and the plant is also known for its anti-inflammation properties and ability to treat gastric ulcers.  The fruits of this plant are also edible to humans: young shoots are used as salad greens or powdered to add flavoring to drinks. 


Establishment & Management


Calligonum comosum seeds are spread by wind.  Seed dispersal occurs during May-June.  Seeds can be harvested by shaking the female plant slightly with a cloth to catch the seeds underneath. Fallen seeds can also be harvested on the ground under the crown of the plant.  After harvesting, drying may take two to three weeks. Threshing will eliminate the hair on the seeds using a sieve with 6 mm.  To separate the seed from the residues you can clean them manually or mechanically with a selector seed cleaner using the appropriate sieves (9 mm circular shape-4.5 mm above and below the rectangular shape). Avoid ventilation and washing.  Germination is inhibited by light, high temperatures, and close contact to water.  For field seeding, the plant needs to be placed deep into the sand to avoid exposure to light.  Germination rates are 71% at 20°C and declines as the temperature increases.  Characterized by a relatively high thermal optimum germination phase, the seeds of this species should be sown in a nursery during the warm period.


‘Fire Bush’ benefits: 

  • Ability to survive dry, harsh conditions
  • Helps stabilize sand dunes
  • Many medicinal uses
  • Young shoots edible by humans and livestock
  • An indicator of fresh water
  • Provides smokeless firewood used for tanning hides
  • Forage for camels
  • Total digestible wheat of 68.29 percent


Effective maintenance:

  • Harvest seeds by shaking the female plant
  • Plant seeds deep in the soil in the field; germination is best in the dark
  • Nursery sowing in the warm period is preferable
  • Germination is highest at 20 degrees Celsius and declines at higher temperatures. 


ICARDA’s Rangeland Ecology and Management Unit


ICARDA’s Rangeland Ecology and Management Unit aims to address the unsustainable use of resources induced by adverse effect of climate change and an increasing demand for food and feed in the dry areas. ICARDA programs promote the enhanced quality and productivity of crop, forage, livestock, and the improved management of water resources through close cooperation with farmers and national researchers.


For more information:


Dr. Mohamed Neffati, Institut des Régions Arides (IRA) Médenine, Tunisia


Dr. Mounir Louhaichi, ICARDA Range Ecology and Management Research Scientist.