4. Greater sage-grouse depend on it for cover and food.
The greater sage-grouse (Centrocercus urophasianus) is found in Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Montana, North Dakota, eastern California, Nevada, Utah, western Colorado, South Dakota and Wyoming and the Canadian provinces of Alberta and Saskatchewan. Habitat fragmentation and destruction across much of the species’ range have contributed to significant population declines over the past century, and today the species is a candidate for listing by the US Fish and Wildlife Service as a threatened or endangered species. Loss of sagebrush habitat, primarily due to wildfire, invasive species, and livestock grazing, is the main driver of the decline of this species in the western United States because sagebrush provides crucial food and cover for these birds at multiple stages of their life cycle. Greater sage-grouse require large areas of contiguous sagebrush, which is typically killed by wildfire and regenerates slowly from seed in the wild. Unless we put more sagebrush out on the landscape, greater sage-grouse face an uncertain future.
- Big Sagebrush
- Artemisia tridentataSunflower Family Asteraceae (Compositae)
- The Saratoga Sun –
- Plant of the Week
- Sagebrush (Artemisia tridentata Nutt.)
- The Story Behind Sagebrush, An Icon Of The West
- Native American
- Herbs & Plants
- Smudging, and sage vs. sagebrush.
- Sagebrush Plant Information: Growing Facts And Uses For Sagebrush Plants
- What is Sagebrush?
- Additional Sagebrush Plant Information
- Uses for Sagebrush
- How to Care for a Sagebrush Plant
- Resource Cards
- Common Sagebrush
Sunflower Family Asteraceae (Compositae)
Big sagebrush gets its name from its stature and its relation to members of the sagebrush group. Artemisia (ar-tay-MIS-ee-a) is from Artemisia, wife of Mausolus, ancient ruler of Ceria (southwest Asia Minor). She was named after Artemis, the Greek virgin goddess of the hunt and wild nature. Tridentata (tri-den-TAH-ta) means “three toothed,” in reference to the three lobes on the tips of most leaves. Also called big sage, common wormwood or basin sagebrush.
Western. Big sagebrush occurs from California north to Canada, east to Nebraska and south to Mexico.
Sagebrush prefers drier plains, mesas or rocky areas with deep soils. The plants are found from four thousand to ten thousand feet in elevation. Big sagebrush often grows in habitats such as the cold desert shrub or pinyon-juniper woodlands. This plant can also grow in vast tracts. Sagebrush ecosystems have the largest habitat range in the United States, covering nearly four hundred and seventy thousand square miles across eleven western states.
A perennial shrub that grows from two to seven feet tall. A stout trunk bears many side branches that ascend upwards. The young stems are smooth and silvery, but as the plant matures, these stems turn grayer and the bark starts to grow in long strips. The evergreen leaves are one quarter inch to two inches long, wedge-shaped and with three or five lobes at the tip. Nonlobed leaves may grow in the early winter. Flowering stems grow near the ends of the branches and numerous side branches. Dense clusters of tiny yellow or cream-colored flowers are borne along a main stalk with many side stems. Seeds are tiny and black.
Big sagebrush blooms in late summer. One mature plant may produce up to one million seeds.
Big sagebrush is Nevada’s State Plant, which is nicknamed the Sagebrush State. Big sagebrush is an important winter browse plant for a number of wildlife species, including pronghorn, mule deer, domestic livestock, sage grouse and many small mammals. More than seventy percent of the sage grouse’s diet consists of sagebrush leaves and buds. The sage grouse use large clearings in the sagebrush habitat to conduct spring mating dances. These areas, known as leks, are the scenes of early morning activity in which males inflate yellow air sacs located in their chest, puff up their feathers and spread their tail feathers before strutting around the lek in the attempt to bond with one or more females.
The leaves contain aromatic volatile oils to prevent herbivores from digesting their leaves. Many animals, however, will feed upon sagebrush when other food resources are scarce. The leaves have a turpentine fragrance, and after a rainstorm, they perfume the air with a sweet, pungent aroma.
With leaves remaining on the plant during the winter, the plant can photosynthesize later in the year and earlier in the spring than many other plants. Sagebrush can take advantage of the long growing season, photosynthesizing even when temperatures are near freezing.
Often, purplish insect galls occur on the plant. These are caused by the chemical secretions of insects that alter the plant’s growth cells, which then form a protective covering around the insect’s larvae.
Big sagebrush was commonly used by many Native Americans. The wood was burned for fuel or used in construction of dwellings. The leaves and the seeds were eaten. The leaves, which contain camphor, were also used medicinally for coughs, colds, headaches, stomach aches, fevers and to relieve pain during child birthing. Poultices of wet leaves were applied to bruises to reduce swelling. Navajo weavers boiled the leaves and flowers to create a yellow-gold color, used to dye wool. Ute Indians wove the shredded bark into wicks for candles, and they made sacks of woven bark and lined them with the grass.
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The Saratoga Sun –
Sagebrush is one of the most iconic plants populating the west. Found throughout the state, sagebrush is a common and sometimes mundane scene while traveling across Wyoming. Although perhaps not the most interesting backdrop, sagebrush serves an important function in ecosystems.
There are many different species of sagebrush found in Wyoming. The different species are found growing everywhere, from low to high elevations and in cold and hot regions. These plants can have woody or non-woody stems. Sagebrush is in the Artemisia family, which is known for its ability to easily hybridize. There are currently 21 species and 16 varieties found in Wyoming. Four species are actually introduced, yet survive in Wyoming because of its similar habitat to their origins.
Common woody species found growing in Wyoming include black sagebrush, big sagebrush, silver sagebrush, fringe sage, and sand sage. Non-woody species include alpine sagebrush, tarragon, field sagewort, and Michaux sagewort. When considering varieties, big sagebrush is an excellent example of hybridization. Big sagebrush has 6 varieties or sub species, four of which are found in Wyoming. Perhaps one of the most well known varieties is Wyoming big sagebrush. This specific subspecies was actually identified and classified by Dr. Beetle at the University of Wyoming. Other subspecies include mountain big sagebrush, found at high elevations and basin big sagebrush found at lower elevations in most of Wyoming’s lowlands.
Sagebrush provides many different services, acting as a food source, cover habitat, snow catchment and soil stabilization. As a food source, sagebrush serves as a major role during winter months. The plant’s leaves stay green through the winter which provide higher nutrition for grazing animals than other dormant plants. As an evergreen, it’s estimated crude protein levels are around 11% during crucial winter months. Additionally, the plant’s ridged stems help stick out of the snow making them accessible to wildlife. Some studies have suggested that during the winter, sagebrush makes up 100 percent of sage grouse diets, over 75 percent of antelope diets, and over 50 percent of diets for deer and elk in some areas. Livestock, however, do not consume sagebrush in large quantities like that of native ungulates, yet it can serve as a food source during certain times of the year.
Acting as cover, sagebrush is a great source of security for wildlife to hide from predators. Basin big sagebrush can range in height from two to 13 feet tall which means it can conceal upland game birds, small mammals, and even big game. Birds, including sage grouse, use sagebrush for concealing nests from predators during the spring and summer. This structure also provides much needed thermal cover during cold and windy conditions. Sagebrush acts as an excellent habitat source for many wildlife species. The height of certain sagebrush plants can often indicate how deep and the quality of a soil. As one might guess the taller the plant, the deeper the soil profile and fertility.
Sagebrush can be a difficult plant to manage depending on what you are trying to accomplish. Reestablishment of sagebrush is often a challenge for reclamation. Some species of sagebrush re-sprout but most will not re-sprout if burned or if the above ground foliage is completely removed. When this happens sagebrush must establish and grow from seed which can be difficult, especially if there is lots of competition from other plants or harsh growing conditions. For eastern Wyoming this is especially true since it is on the eastern edge of sagebrush’s domain.
Sagebrush enjoys a spring dominated precipitation pattern, meaning areas that receive lots of snow and rain during the months of April and May with drier conditions during warmer summer months are ideal. The spring moisture pattern provides lots of moisture during the cooler months of sagebrush’s growing season and less for other plants to compete during the summer. Eastern Wyoming receives a greater influx of precipitation during the summer from the Gulf of Mexico than western Wyoming. The summer influx of precipitation allows other plants to compete directly with sagebrush while sagebrush is not actively growing because of less than ideal summer temperatures.
If attempting to establish sagebrush, it is important to provide adequate protection of any existing mature plants since they are an excellent seed source. Seeds from existing plants can be harvested to be replanted for establishing new plants, yet this is not always necessary since existing plants can establish new plants easily. For large areas mechanical seeding is needed.
When starting to reseed sagebrush, a proper seed source is critical. Purchase seed from a company that is growing their seeds in a similar environment to that of the area you are planning to reseed. For example, if you are reseeding in the Powder River basin you most likely do not want to purchase seed from a company in Western Washington where maternal plants are growing in a much different climate than Wyoming. Next you will need to decide on a conducive seeding rate, mix, and application. It is suggested that mixing sagebrush with a grass mix is often effective. The seeding rates range from .025 lbs pure live seed (PLS) per acre at one-eighth of an inch for drill seeding and 0.05-0.075 lbs PLS per acre when broadcast seeding.
Seeding in the late fall and early winter is the best time to plant seeds in hopes of stratifying seeds. As pointed out earlier, you should mix the seed with native grasses and forbs. Sometimes this can be expensive, but hopefully the native grasses and forbs will reduce competition from invasive plants. The main thing to remember with establishing sagebrush is be patient. Plants take a long time to establish so don’t expect to have plants two feet tall at the end of the first growing season.
When considering what it takes to establish sagebrush, it is probably hard to think that sagebrush is also difficult to keep thinned at desired densities. Fortunately, there are several treatments land managers can use to keep sagebrush at desired densities. Some managers suggest keeping sagebrush at a density of around 400 plants per acre to provide adequate wildlife habitat and range production. Maintaining mosaic patterns with each treatment should also be implemented for providing quality habitat.
Chemical treatment can be an option for controlling sagebrush. Tebuthiuron, a chemical herbicide, is commonly used for sagebrush control by disrupting the photosynthetic processes of the plant, eventually killing it. This chemical should be used for thinning and not complete control since it is a non-selective herbicide and will harm other plants too.
Burning is an effective control method that can eliminate sagebrush in certain areas, yet is often hard to use for thinning stands. Take note of invasive species nearby that may move into the treated area following the fire. Additional weed control is needed with this method.
If partial plant removal is desired, consider mowing, chaining, management intensive grazing, and disking. These methods are intended to remove portions of sagebrush foliage. Management intensive grazing is effective in the spring when woody plants can be damaged from hoof impact with high stocking rates. Treatments with mechanical equipment for mowing, disking, and chaining are most effective with drier soils to avoid getting stuck and effectively removing portion of the plant.
Plant of the Week
Sagebrush (Artemisia tridentata Nutt.)
Range map of sagebrush. States are colored green where the species may be found.
By Forest Jay Gauna
Sagebrush is an emblem of the mountain West. Its grey leaves and pale yellow inflorescences inspire differing emotions in different people, or even in the same people at different times. I have known people who, on coming to Nevada, have declared it the ugliest land ever to meet there gaze, only to remain there and become enchanted by the silvery carpet of sagebrush covering the hills and mountains there.
Artemisia is a generic name honouring the Greek goddess Artemis, known in the West as Diana; many medicinal plants share this genus with sagebrush, such as A. ludoviciana, A. vulgaris, and A. absinthum. The specific epithet tridentata refers to the leaves, which have at the end three “teeth”, a useful tool for identification. Look for small, grey, hairy leaves an inch long or less, rather strap-like and shaped like a long wedge. The tip of the leaf should have the three teeth. A crushed leaf will give off the characteristic odour of sagebrush, a somewhat spicy, bitter smell; in areas where sagebrush is the predominant shrub, its familiar scent is almost omnipresent during warmer weather. The stems and twigs are grey; the younger twigs are hairy, and older twigs are covered in a stringy, fragile bark that falls off easily. The trunks of older plants are usually low to the ground and twisted into interesting shapes; in areas with deeper soil and more water, the trunks can be taller than a person and somewhat straighter, though still slightly twisting. The inflorescences are, as described above, composed of small, pale yellow flowers; they appear in late summer on the ends of the branches. There are a few subspecies of this widespread species, and differences in the inflorescence are often helpful in differentiating them.
A. tridentata may be found mainly in cold deserts with powdery or sandy soil. It does not take excess water well: streams and riparian areas within the desert often have sharply demarcated edges where the sagebrush ends and the green area begins. It often occurs with western juniper or rabbitbrush. The areas in between the bushes, which are surprisingly bare, are usually filled in with a desert grass such as cheatgrass, Idaho fescue, bluegrass, or bluebunch wheatgrass.
Daniel Moerman’s Native American Ethnobotany lists A. tridentata as one of the ten plants with the greatest number of uses. Understanding the reason for this is easy after visiting the area: sagebrush is nearly everywhere. Tea was made from various parts of the plant, and it was used extensively in medicine. The wood was used as fuel, and the stringy bark was used in the manufacture of ropes and baskets.
Besides practical uses, sagebrush has a symbolic value, especially in Nevada, where it covers most of the State. Sagebrush is the official state plant, is featured on the state flag, and is even mentioned in the state song. Natives of the West who are poets or writers often remember the plant fondly in their writings, if for nothing more than sentimental value: although fairly good forage, it is rarely eaten by wildlife or livestock because of the bitterness of its foliage.
For More Information
- PLANTS Profile – Artemisia tridentata, sagebrush
The Story Behind Sagebrush, An Icon Of The West
Listen Listening… / 4:14 Big Sagebrush (Broadcast “Field Notes” 12/13/15)
Break off a sprig of big sagebrush and inhale its aroma: the fragrance is clean, sharp and as cool as the smell of winter. Call it camphor blended with a touch of Christmas. Crush a few leaves between your fingertips and the scent is suddenly somewhat bitter and more pungent. Let the sprig dry for a few hours and you’ll find that the fragrance gradually loses its bite, softening to crisp evergreen with a hint of juicy berry.
Big sagebrush flourishes throughout North America’s Great Basin and sagebrush steppe. One of more than a dozen species of Artemesia, big, or tall, sagebrush is the most common, ranging from as far south as New Mexico all the way up into the Dakotas, Montana, and British Columbia. This woody-stemmed evergreen shrub is able to thrive in such widely diverse environments because it has double systems of roots, branches, and leaves.
First, let’s talk about the roots. One network of small roots laces out beneath shallow layers of soil, enabling the plant to soak up sudden rainfall or meltwater before evaporation occurs. Meanwhile tresses of longer, tougher roots plumb deeper into the earth, searching out underground water reserves.
Now let’s examine the branches. Big sagebrush produces both vegetative and reproductive branches. Vegetative branches are leafy. Small yellow flowers blossom on reproductive branches in late summer and early fall. After the seeds ripen, reproductive branches die off, but may remain on the shrub for another year.
Now for the leaves. The first type — non-lobed ephemerals — sprout in early spring and die off as the soil dries up in summer. Shorter leaves pop up in late spring and carry on photosynthesis throughout the winter. It’s from these shorter leaves, graced with three lobes at the tip, that big sagebrush derives its official name: Artemesia tridentata. Both the ephemeral and the lobed leaves are tiny, usually from one-quarter of an inch to one inch long. A coating of fine gray hairs covers each leaf, imparting a frostiness that gives big sagebrush its characteristic silvery green color. Run your hands along a branch of big sagebrush and you’ll find its leaves feel as soft and smooth as fine suede.
Big sagebrush is a survivor. A healthy shrub may live up to 100 years. It competes with native and non-native grasses, and tends to grow abundantly in areas damaged by overgrazing. The size of the shrub depends upon the moisture content of the soil. The average shrub stands from two to four feet tall; however, in dry areas big sagebrush may be as small as 6 inches, and in wetter climes the plant has been known to grow as high as 15 feet. Its branches provide winter forage for deer and elk, as well as a food and habitat for sage grouse and other birds and small animals.
Anthropologists have found that early Native Americans used big sagebrush for a variety of medicinal and domestic purposes. The Shoshone and Paiute used the leaves to relieve toothaches. The Coahuilla, Hopi and Tewa peoples brewed a potent tea to treat stomach ailments. The Navajo wrapped aching, rheumatic joints in bandages of wet sagebrush leaves; they also boiled a sagebrush tea for treatment of post-partum pain suffered by new mothers, as well as for coughs and colds. Other tribes burned or steamed the fragrant leaves to purify the air.
Whether or not you like the Christmasy, camphoraceous scent of big sagebrush is a matter of personal taste. But one thing is certain: mention sagebrush and you conjure up the myth of the American West. If the western states ever decide to fly their own flag, it will probably be the silvery green color of sagebrush.
“Field Notes” is produced by the Montana Natural History Center.
See also: sage brush
- sage brush
sage + brush, from resemblance in odor and appearance to Salvia officinalis.
- (UK, US) IPA(key): /ˈseɪd͡ʒˌbɹʌʃ/
English Wikipedia has an article on: Wikipedia
sagebrush (plural sagebrushes)
- Any of several North American aromatic shrubs of the genus Artemisia, having silvery-grey, green leaves.
- alpine sagebrush (Artemisia scopulorum)
- African sagebrush (Artemisia afra)
- Basin sagebrush (Artemisia tridentata)
- big sagebrush (Artemisia tridentata)
- Bigelow sagebrush (Artemisia bigelovii)
- birdfoot sagebrush (Artemisia pedatifida)
- black sagebrush (Artemisia nova, Artemisia arbuscula)
- blue sagebrush (Artemisia tridentata)
- boreal sagebrush (Artemisia arctica)
- budsage (Artemisia spinescens)
- California sagebrush (Artemisia californica)
- Carruth’s sagebrush (Artemisia carruthii)
- coastal sagebrush (Artemisia californica)
- dwarf sagebrush (Artemisia scopulorum)
- fringed sagebrush (Artemisia frigida)
- gray sagewort (Artemisia ludoviciana)
- island sagebrush (Artemisia nesiotica)
- little sagebrush (Artemisia arbuscula)
- longleaf sagebrush (Artemisia longifolia)
- low sagebrush (Artemisia arbuscula)
- Michaux sagebrush (Artemisia michauxiana)
- Owyhee sagebrush (Artemisia papposa)
- prairie sagebrush (Artemisia ludoviciana)
- pygmy sagebrush (Artemisia pygmaea)
- ragweed sagebrush (Artemisia franserioides)
- sand sagebrush (Artemisia filifolia)
- scabland sagebrush (Artemisia rigida)
- silver sagebrush (Artemisia cana)
- Succor Creek sagebrush (Artemisia packardiae)
- timberline sagebrush (Artemisia rothrockii)
- threetip sagebrush (Artemisia tripartita)
- white sagebrush (Artemisia ludoviciana)
shrub of the genus Artemisia
Herbs & Plants
Of The Southwest
Sagebrush, the icon of the “Old West”, is a common plant, found on desert hillsides and mountain foothills, usually up to 7,000 feet in elevation.; often found along roadsides. Sagebrush is the traditional plant used for sweat lodge and ritual purification, with the smoke being used to clear the air of bad spirits and influences. From ancient times to the present, Native Americans who gather this plant for use in purification rituals, prepare themselves spiritually first, by prayer and fasting, and gather sage ( and any other medicinal herb) with an attitude of respect and reverence for the Earth Mother.
Leaves are silvery, 1/4 to 1 inch long; plants are usually 2 to 3 or more feet high. Sagebrush has bacteriostatic, astringent, and antioxidant properties. Sagebrush kills bacteria, inhibits free radicals, and has anti-inflammatory and anti-carcinogenic actions, and so is most useful as a cleansing first aid wash for disinfecting wounds and skin irritations. The Hopi used a tea made from the leaves as a medicine for digestive problems, headaches and colds. It is used for similar medicinal purposes by the Navajo, and for the making of a yellow dye for weavers. The leaves can be very useful in the kitchen as a means of protecting stored dried food from insects and rodents. When gathering sagebrush, look for mature plants, strip away leaves and small stems from larger woody stems. Sagebrush is best picked when flowering; tie it in bundles and hang upside down to dry. Stable as long as characteristic scent is present, for up to two years. Substitution: The garden herb known as Sage (Latin name Salvia) is not the same plant, but does have some similar properties.
Do not use in pregnancy, as reported to have caused birth defects in test animals.
Be sure of the identity of the plant before you use it. If a preparation makes you sick or gives you a rash, don’t use it, and throw it away! If your condition does not improve, see your doctor. Be sure to let your physician know EVERYTHING that you are taking!
Smudging, and sage vs. sagebrush.
>>The only other “authentic” smudging herb I’ve seen used by native americans (I am Chippewa, not a smudge using group per se, but have friends from many tribes) is artemesia tridentata.
Yes, Artemisia tridentata, or tripartita, or many other species that are woody shrubs are called Sagebrush. Very good smudge. Effective antibacterial for airborne bacteria. Great for cleaning out smells. Close your windows, light the stick, go around the house, I usually go along the ceiling edges, and get all the corners that collect the stale energy. I have a broom in the other hand to clean the cobwebs at the same time. Before the house fills with too much smoke, finish up and open the windows and doors, letting all the smoke blow away. Certainly, wonderful for purification and stale spirit energies, in the more traditional sense, antibaterial in the scientific scents.
Indeed, as an adult I had chicken pox, left me “out of it” for a while. I returned to me house weeks later, to find the electricity turned off and the refrigerator quite foul. I left it open outside, hosed it out, tried bleach, baking soda, vinegar, cleanser. Nothing would remove the smell, after all this, and left open for days. So I lit a sage stick (Artemisia tridentata), stuck it in the fridge, and closed the door. Opened it about an hour later, the foul smell was gone. All the food tasted like Sagebrush for a while. That was fine with me.
The white sage is a very different smell and plant. I believe the Native Americans who didn’t have access to White Sage(Salvia) used Sagebrush. Sagebrush is accessible in more of North America than the Salvia.
Some Native Americans used Cedar leaves in the smudge.
>You’ve answered a question (that I haven’t asked) about the use of artemisia as a smudge ingredient. I have three pounds of artemisia douglasiana on order (for another purpose) and plan to experiment with some of it in a smudge when it arrives. BTW, artemisia (AKA mugwort), as you correctly pointed out, is not a sage.
Woah, Dale, that Mugwort, an herbaceous (not woody) Artemisia is used for a different purpose. You can smudge with it, but it is not for purification like the woody Artemisias. Also, you might want to know that Mugwort when burnt smells suspiciously similar to Marijuana, more so than any other plant I’ve smelled. If you burn it in your house as a smudge, you may not think so, but others that come and visit may eye you suspiciously ….. perhaps they think you are holding out on them, or that you may not pass your next drug test. Nevertheless, do not smudge your car with Mugwort. The local Peace Officer doesn’t know about Mugwort.
The following is a cut and paste from our list here …. written in August of this year:
> I am having a lot of difficulty identifying the plant that Native Americans use for ceremonial purposes. They call it sage (and yes I know what it looks like) but I can’t find any other names for it or it’s latin name. It is almost ready to harvest here in Minnesota.
The common name Sage refers to a variety of unrelated plants, many of which were used ceremonially. You’ve gotten 3 latin names so far, so how do you tell now?
Sage – Salvia sp. is in the Mint Family (Labiatae) with square stems, opposite leaves and two lipped flowers. If you have a Salvia, the leaves will be in pairs on the stem, generally with wide leaves that are entire (no teeth, lobes, serrations, or grooves along the edges of the leaf, just oval shaped). This genus includes garden sage for cooking and white sage (ceremonial) and black sage, purple sage, hummingbird sage, and innumerable others. This plant is probably not growing wild in Minnesota.
Sagebrush (sage) – shrubby Artemisia sp. is in the Sunflower family. They have woody stems and are bushes (shrubs) with often irregularly shaped leaves. These plants have also been used ceremonially. The flowers are small and yellow centered.includes silver sage.
Mugwort (Sagewort) herbaceous Artemisia sp. is related to the Sagebrush, only it is not a woody shrub, it is an herb (botanically speaking, not a tree or shrub). This are the plants used for dreams. The details of the specific species of the Artemisias are complex and confusing.
Hope this helps some, many folks become confused with the common name “Sage”.
C&W Herbs, Inc.
Eugene, Or USA
“It’s easy to harvest wild plants, the hard part is not harvesting.”
Sagebrush Plant Information: Growing Facts And Uses For Sagebrush Plants
Sagebrush (Artemisia tridentata) is a common sight along roadsides and in open fields in parts of the Northern Hemisphere. The plant is characteristic with its grayish green, needle-like leaves and spicy, yet acrid, smell. During the heat of the day, the scent is a recognizable fragrance in desert and scrublands. Growing sagebrush plants in the home landscape provides a natural look for the open field or pasture.
What is Sagebrush?
While familiar to most people, there are wonderful attributes to this plant. What is sagebrush and what are uses for sagebrush? This amazingly adaptive plant is tough enough to thrive in inhospitable terrain.
It has fine hairs on the leaves that help prevent moisture loss and produces a deep taproot that dredges moisture from nearly subterranean deposits of moisture under the earth. This plant is a member of the family Artemisia, or wormwood, of which there are varieties across the globe.
Artemisia is a genus of plants with pronounced medicinal abilities. Sagebrush plants are no exception and teas were made from the bush and used for the healthful properties.
Additional Sagebrush Plant Information
Sagebrush leaves can be identified
by their grayish wooly appearance. They are about an inch long and end in a three-pronged set of “teeth.” This characteristic is important sagebrush plant information and sets them apart from other species of Artemisia.
The young bark is gray and covered in fine hairs while older growth is dressed in shredded bark that falls off easily. Most plants do not grow taller than 4 feet but occasionally they have been found 10 feet tall in their native habitat. The shorter size is more likely when growing sagebrush plants in the home landscape.
Uses for Sagebrush
In addition to the medicinal uses for sagebrush, it is important habitat for native birds, small rodents and reptiles. The plant was used as building material for baskets and rope, and the wood was fuel for early Native American people.
It also has importance as a spiritual and ritual aromatic plant. The smoke is thought to have cleansing properties by those with belief in spirits.
As a poultice, it clears lungs and eases aches and pains. It was once chewed for its ability to soothe stomach problems and bowel issues. Another of the uses for sagebrush included lining cloth with the leaves of the plant as a diaper.
How to Care for a Sagebrush Plant
Sagebrush is a member of a hardy and adaptive genus that thrives where moisture and nutrients are low. They can survive ferocious winds and extreme periods of drought. As such, the worst thing you can do to sagebrush is overwater it. If you give the plant supplemental water in spring, it will bloom. There is no need to water after the plant has been established.
Most pests and insects are repelled naturally by the plant’s strong taste and odor.
Plant the bush in well-drained soil with plenty of sand or gritty material mixed into a depth of at least 8 inches. Potted plants should grow in a mixture of half sand and half perlite. This provides the dry conditions even in a container that the plants need.
Pruning to remove dead wood or errant growth should be done in late winter.
Try a sagebrush plant for part of your xeriscape garden or as an anchoring plant for unused and arid zones of the landscape.
The root system of sagebrush has a deep tap root and shallow branching roots.
Driving through arid lands of eastern Washington and Oregon, you look out to what seems to be a sea of gray-green shrubs. The most common shrub scattered across the landscape is big sagebrush. It grows in a community with bunchgrasses in silty and sandy soils throughout the Columbia Basin and on the slopes of adjoining hills. But other kinds of sagebrush grow in the Mid-Columbia too. For instance, you can find scattered patches of three-tip sage along the crests of the Rattlesnake Hills and stiff sage on rocky outcrops of Gable Mountain, the Saddle Mountains, and Umtanum Ridge. Sagebrush is one of many plants native to our shrub-steppe ecoregion.
What is sagebrush?
Sagebrush is a woody shrub with silvery leaves that stay green all year. Each leaf of big sagebrush has three lobes. Usually, the plant grows to about 4 feet, but scientists have found shrubs taller than 10 feet in areas with deep soil and plenty of moisture. In late summer or early fall, small golden yellow flowers bloom on sagebrush plants, but you have to look closely to see them. You can identify sagebrush easily by its sharp odor, especially after rain. Early pioneers traveling along the Oregon Trail described the scent as a mixture of turpentine and camphor.
How does sagebrush grow?
Only certain plants can survive in lands like ours where little rain falls, heavy winds blow, summer is hot, and winter is cold. Sagebrush and other plants have developed ways to adapt to these harsh environmental conditions. For example, the narrow leaves of sagebrush are covered with tiny hairs that give them a silky sheen. This helps protect the plant from drying in heat and wind. Also, the root system of sagebrush has evolved so the plant can water itself. At night, the tap root of sagebrush pulls moisture from deep in the soil up to shallow branching roots that grow near the surface. During the day, the shallow roots use this water to keep the shrub alive.
Although the gnarled branches of sagebrush may seem tough, as with other elements of the natural community, the plant really is fragile. Sagebrush does not come back easily after human disturbance such as urban or agricultural development, or even after natural occurrences such as wildfire. It takes years, maybe lifetimes, for sagebrush to fully grow back. Sagebrush still hasn’t returned to some areas of the Columbia Basin burned by a large fire 40 years ago.
What animals are associated with sagebrush?
Sagebrush provides habitat for wild birds and other species. Sage sparrows, sage thrashers, and loggerhead shrikes all build their nests in the plant’s branches. Other birds, including larks, burrowing owls, and long-billed curlews nest on the ground in stands of sagebrush. And the shrub is life itself to sage grouse, which nest on the ground around sagebrush and eats its leaves. Creatures such as the pygmy rabbit and sagebrush vole also depend on sagebrush habitat for cover. There is statewide concern for preserving existing sagebrush habitats to maintain diminished populations of these animals. Efforts are being made to protect stands of sagebrush and restore it to damaged habitats. Doing so will help ensure future breeding populations of these birds and other native wildlife species.
“Science is constructed of facts as a house is of stones. But a collection of facts is no more a science than a heap of stones is a house.” Henri Poincare
Keep in mind this fact sheet is intended to be used only as background information to support your effort to encourage inquiry-based science, which parallels the way scientists uncover knowledge and solve problems.
1. Take a hike.
Where to go: Many natural areas exist in the Mid-Columbia Basin where you still can walk among sagebrush and other native plants. The crest of the Horse Heaven Hills, Red Mountain, Badger Mountain, and Wahluke Slope are just a few places in the Tri-Cities vicinity.
What to take: Be sure to take binoculars, a field notebook, sketchbook, or camera. Hike in morning or evening when you’ll likely see more wildlife.
What to look for: Common animals you might see while exploring sagebrush country include mule deer, elk, pheasants, pocket mice, and several species of birds. Depending on the time of year and where you go, you’ll see, hear, or smell different things. In spring and summer you’ll likely encounter darkling beetles on Badger Mountain. In early summer dust or after a fresh snowfall, look for the tracks of jackrabbits or hooved animals such as elk or mule deer. Maybe you’ll hear the shrill cry of the curlew (culee culee) in mid March along Horn Rapids Road, or come eye to eye with a coyote on the Wahluke slope.
2. Grow your own.
Native plants such as sagebrush, rabbitbrush, and bunchgrass are good for local landscaping. They require little or no additional water and often are less susceptible to insects, disease, and drought. Also, using these plants helps replace those lost to human development and wildfire. Local botanists say grasses such as bottlebrush squirreltail, Sandberg’s bluegrass, and bluebunch wheatgrass germinate and grow well if you’re willing to collect your own seed. Some nurseries in the Mid-Columbia now sell sagebrush seedlings and other native plants. Ask about their availability.
- A Practical Guide for the Amateur Naturalist, 1988. Gerald Durrell, Alfred A. Knopf, New York, New York.
- Common Wildflowers of the Shrub-Steppe Region, 1997. Arid Lands Field Institute, University Center for Professional Development, Washington State University Tri-Cities, Richland, Washington (Available at the Consolidated Information Center Libraries, WSU Tri-Cities).
- Sagebrush Country, 1974. Ronald Taylor and Rolf Valum, Touchstone Press, Beaverton, Oregon.
- Shrub-Steppe Seasons: A Natural History of the Mid-Columbia Basin, 1995. Lee E. Rogers, Pacific Northwest Laboratory, Richland, Washington (available at the Consolidated Information Center Libraries at WSU Tri-Cities).
- Vascular Plants of the Hanford Site, 1992. M. R. Sackschewsky, D.S. Landeen, J.L. Downs, W.H. Rickard, and G.I. Baird, Westinghous Hanford Company, WHC-EP-0554, Richland, Washington (available at the Consolidated Information Center Libraries, WSU Tri-Cities).
Initial development and printing was funded by the Partnership for Arid Land Stewardship (PALS). Project Manager: Karen Wieda. Written by: Lynn Fulton, Columbia School District. Series Editor: Georganne O’Connor; Design: WinSome Design.
Common Name: Sagebrush, Big Sagebrush
The Chaparral biome is one of the environments where sagebrush can be found. Sagebrush can also be found on the dry plains of the western U.S. and the drier southern side of mountains. The Chaparral climate has hot and dry summers with rainy and mild winters. In the coastal parts of the Chaparral temperatures range from 53° to 65° Fahrenheit; and in the mountain areas of southern California it averages 32° to 60° Fahrenheit. The amount of precipitation ranges from 12 inches to 40 inches a year. Sagebrush grows in dry places where other plants do not, but it prefers well drained soils in sheltered areas.
The sagebrush is a perennial shrub with straight, stiff stems. Sagebrush can grow to be 2 to 12 feet tall. The leaves are 1/2 to 1 1/2 inches long, have a ragged three-toothed edge (“tridentata” means “three-toothed”), grow close together, and are greenish. The actual plant is silvery-grey and roundish. It has small white or yellow flowers that grow close together in groups called florets. The sagebrush produces seeds. This plant is deciduous. The sagebrush has a strong sweet smell and a bitter taste.
The sagebrush survives its dry environment because of some of its adaptations. When rain is scarce its deep tap roots find water, but when it does rain it has shallow roots that are spread out below the surface to absorb the water. When it is very dry sagebrush can still be living, but look dead. When this happens it can get uprooted and spread its seeds when blown by the wind.
Sagebrush is used by Native Americans as a smudge herb (an herb burnt for the smell). It is picked along with juniper, chaparral, desert tea and other herbs. When its leaves are powdered they can be used for rashes such as diaper rash. Its decoction, which is the water that it has been boiled in, can be used on bitten and irritated skin. The sagebrush’s smoke is offensive to many animals and insects and helps keep mosquitoes away. When wrapped around perishable food it will keep insects and rodents away. Some livestock and wildlife animals that eat this plant are: cattle, domestic sheep, horses, pronghorn, elk, mule deer, white-tailed deer, small mammals, small non-game birds, upland game birds, and waterfowl.
Sagebrush is on no endangered species list, but doesn’t grow in as many areas it used to. This is because people have been planting other plants that can come back after a fire, which it can’t.
by Evan K. 2002
W., Monroe. “Sagebrush”. The World Book Multimedia Encyclopedia Chicago, IL: World Book, Inc. (2000).
“Sagebrush” http://www.encyclopedia.com/articles/11309.html. (November 3, 2001).
“Sagebrush”. Encyclopedia Briticana Inc. Chicago, IL (1998).