Chamaebatia foliolosa

mountain misery


The Basics

USFS Plant Database

Mountain misery grows in a Mediterranean climate, characterized by mild, wet winters and hot, dry summers.

The currently accepted name of mountain misery is Chamaebatia foliolosa Benth., in the Rosaceae, or rose, family. There are no recognized subspecies, varieties, or forms. Chamaebatia australis (southern mountain misery), once described as C. foliolosa var. australis, is now considered a distinct species.

Mountain misery clones form a low-growing layer in open ponderosa pine (Pinus ponderosa) and mixed coniferous forests. Stands occur in patches, providing from 20 to 90 percent cover. In the Challenge Experimental Forest of the Plumas National Forest, density in the mixed coniferous forest is as high as 17,068 stems per acre (42,175 stems/ha).

In California black oak (Quercus kelloggii) forests, mountain misery frequently codominates the understory with whiteleaf manzanita (Arctostaphylos viscida) and greenleaf manzanita (A. patula). (Plant Database)


Mountain misery is a low, erect, native evergreen shrub from 0.5 to 2 feet (0.2-0.6 m) in height. The multibranched stems arise at intervals of a few inches from a complicated and sometimes matlike system of roots and rhizomes. Individual rhizomes have been measured at over 82 feet (25 m) in length and extend from 4 to 16 inches (10-40 cm) beneath the soil surface. Roots are found as deep as 4.9 feet (1.5 m) belowground. Masses of multilobed nitrogen-fixing nodules have been found on roots of plants near Pollock Pines. Examination of roots in areas where soils have thick surface horizons (Ao), however, revealed no root nodulation in that horizon. Roots in lower horizons were not examined. The fernlike, viscid, aromatic leaves are pinnately dissected into tiny crowded segments. Each segment is tipped with a resin gland. Flowers are glutinous. The fruit is an achene about 0.5 inch (5 mm) long, containing a single seed. (Plant Database)


Mountain misery is moderately shade tolerant, growing under open tree stands but not under closed canopies. When fire or other disturbance occurs at regular intervals, it attains subcanopy dominance within 3 to 4 years and remains dominant until the next disturbance. Mountain misery is a climax understory species in ponderosa pine forests, which are fire-climax in California. Without fire or other disturbance, it will decline as the overhead canopy closes.

The resinous, finely divided leaves of mountain misery are highly flammable, especially when draped with fallen pine needles and other forest debris. Mountain misery will carry surface fire, and the species is an important element of fuel loads in California's mixed coniferous and ponderosa pine forests.

Mountain misery survives fire by sprouting from the root crown, roots, and rhizomes following top-kill. It reestablishes on burns almost exclusively from sprouting. (Plant Database)


The primary method of reproduction is vegetative. Mountain misery produces clones from its rhizomes, roots, and root crown. Sexual reproduction is less frequent. Methods of seed dissemination were not reported in the literature. Seeds require from 1 to 3 months of cold stratification (35 to 41 degrees Fahrenheit [1.7-5.0 deg C]) prior to germination.

New leaf initiation begins in spring, with flowers opening from May through July. Growth usually stops in midsummer, probably limited by inadequate soil moisture. Seed is disseminated in fall. Leaves are retained for 12 to 19 months before abscission (Plant Database)

Species Distribution

Mountain misery is distributed along western slopes of the Cascade Range and the Sierra Nevada from Shasta County south to Kern County, California. (Plant Database)


USDA Plant Database USDA, NRCS. 2016. The PLANTS Database (, 4 February 2016). National Plant Data Team, Greensboro, NC 27401-4901 USA.

Flora of North America Flora of North America Editorial Committee, eds. 1993+. Flora of North America North of Mexico. 19+ vols. New York and Oxford.

Silvics of North America Burns, R.M., and B.H. Honkala. 1990. Silvics of North America (Volume 1: Conifers, Volume 2: Hardwoods). USDA Forest Service Agricultural Handbook 654.

Intermountain Herbarium Consortium of Intermountain Herbaria. 2016. http// Accessed on February 04.

Burke Museum Plant Image Collection The plant image collection at the Burke Museum, University of Washington.

Jepson Manual The Jepson Manual: Vascular Plants of California. B.G. Baldwin, D.H. Goldman, D.J. Keil, R. Patterson, T.J. Rosatti, and D.H. Wilken [editors]. 2012. 2nd edition, thoroughly revised and expanded. University of California Press, Berkeley, CA., hardcover; 1600 pages. ISBN-13: 978-0520253124.

USGS Plant Species Range Maps Critchfield, W.B., and Little, E.L., Jr., 1966, Geographic distribution of the pines of the world: U.S. Department of Agriculture Miscellaneous Publication 991, p. 1-97. Little, E.L., Jr., 1971-1978, Atlas of United States trees, volume 1,3,13,17, conifers and important hardwoods: U.S. Department of Agriculture Miscellaneous Publications.