- Artemisia tridentata
Artemisia tridentata Sagebrush, from Eastern Washington Conservation statusNot evaluated (IUCN 3.1) Scientific classification Kingdom: Plantae (unranked): Angiosperms (unranked): Eudicots (unranked): Asterids Order: Asterales Family: Asteraceae Genus: Artemisia Species: A. tridentata Binomial name Artemisia tridentata
Artemisia tridentata (also called sagebrush/common sagebrush, big sagebrush, blue/black sagebrush or mountain sagebrush) is a shrub or small tree from the family Asteraceae. Some botanists treat it in the segregate genus Seriphidium, as S. tridentatum (Nutt.) W. A. Weber, but this is not widely followed. The vernacular name "sagebrush" is also used for several related members of the genus Artemisia, such as California Sagebrush (Artemisia californica).
Description and habitat
Sagebrush is a coarse, hardy silvery-grey bush with yellow flowers and grows in arid sections of the western United States and Western Canada. It is the primary vegetation across vast areas of the Great Basin desert. Along rivers or in other relatively wet areas, sagebrush can grow as tall as 3 m (10 feet), but is more typically 1–2 m tall.
Sagebrush has a strong pungent fragrance, especially when wet, which is not unlike common sage. It is, however, unrelated to common sage and has a bitter taste. It is thought that this odor serves to discourage browsing.
Sagebrush leaves are wedge-shaped 1–4 cm long and 0.3–1 cm broad, and are attached to the branch by the narrow end. The outer and wider end is generally divided into three lobes (although leaves with two or four lobes are not uncommon), hence the scientific name tridentata. The leaves are covered with fine silvery hairs, which are thought to keep the leaf cool and minimize water loss. Most of the leaves are carried year-round, as sagebrush tends to grow in areas where winter precipitation is greater than summer precipitation.
Sagebrush flowers in the late summer or early fall. The flowers are yellow and are carried in long, slender clusters.
Sagebrush is not fire-tolerant and relies on wind-blown seeds from outside the burned area for re-establishment. This is in contrast to many of the other plants which share its habitat, such as Rabbitbrush, Ephedra and bunchgrasses, which can root-sprout after a fire. Cheatgrass has invaded much of the sagebrush habitat, and if left unchecked could possibly create a fire cycle that is too frequent to allow sagebrush to re-establish itself.
In the Great Basin, sagebrush is the dominant plant life in the Upper Sonoran and Boreal life zones, and is the primary understory species in the Transitional zone between them. Prior to heavy grazing by cattle and sheep of these areas, sagebrush is thought to have been less dominant, and perennial grasses more common. In the Lower Sonoran life zone, sagebrush is generally replaced by shadscale or greasewood
Sagebrush is the state flower of Nevada.
There are four accepted subspecies:
- Artemisia tridentata subsp. parishii (A. Gray) H. M. Hall & Clem. (Syn. A. parishii A. Gray, A. tridentata var. parishii (A. Gray) Jeps.)
- Artemisia tridentata subsp. tridentata
- Artemisia tridentata subsp. vaseyana (Rydb.) Beetle (Syn. A. tridentata var. vaseyana (Rydb.) B. Boivin, A. vaseyana Rydb.)
- Artemisia tridentata subsp. wyomingensis Beetle & A. L. Young (Syn. A. tridentata var. wyomingensis (Beetle & A. L. Young) S. L. Welsh)
Other subspecies found in literature but not accepted by the Integrated Taxonomic Information System include:
- Artemisia tridentata subsp. xericensis Winward ex Rosentreter & R. G. Kelsey
- Artemisia tridentata subsp. cana USFS ("Evolution and Taxonomy of Sagebrush")
Use and toxicity
The plant is highly allergenic to humans, and can cause dermatitis if applied to the skin of sensitive individuals. The plant's volatile oils are metabolized in the liver into toxic compounds which can cause internal blood clotting and the formation of micro-thrombi in the liver and digestive tract.
Sagebrush leaves compare favorably to alfalfa for livestock nutrition value. However, they also contain oils that are toxic to the symbiotic bacteria in the rumen of most ruminants. These oils have the greatest effect on cattle. Cattle that resort to sagebrush due to the lack of other fodder in the winter often freeze to death before starving, as they rely in large part on the heat of their digestive action for warmth. Ranchers call this condition "hollow belly". Sheep can tolerate moderate consumption of sagebrush leaves, especially the fresh spring buds. Pronghorn are the only large herbivore to browse sagebrush extensively. As pronghorn are the only remaining large herbivore that evolved along with sagebrush (deer are a more recent arrival from Asia), this is not surprising. There is speculation that some of the herbivores that went extinct in North America at the end of the Pleistocene such as the Ground Sloth or the American Camel were also capable of browsing sagebrush.
Native Americans used sagebrush administered internally as a medicine to halt internal bleeding caused by battle wounds and childbirth. The plant is very toxic to internal parasites and was used to expel worms. The plant's oils are toxic to the liver and digestive system of humans if taken internally, with the toxic symptoms subsiding 24–48 hours after ingesting the plant.
A tea made from sagebrush was used internally and as a topical dressing to treat infections by Native Americans in the Mountain West of North America. Woven sagebrush was used to make sandals in prehistory.
- Medicinal plants of the American West
- List of plants poisonous to equines
- Sagebrush Cooperative
- Sagebrush Billium
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