Tall sagebrush (Artemisia tridentata) is the predominant sagebrush species on our property (Lookout CA). However, another sagebrush species, silver sagebrush (Artemisia cana), has established itself in a swale not far from the house. Silver sagebrush prefers poorly drained clay soil or seasonally waterlogged habitat while tall sagebrush can be found in richer, well drained environments.
Tall sagebrush hosts many galling species (see “Wooly Bud Gall Midge” and “Sagebrush Stem Gall”). Leonard and I wondered if our silver sagebrush plants also supported gall communities. A careful search of the silver sagebrush stand did not reveal a single gall, even though the silver sagebrush is located only a hundred yards away from gall-bearing tall sagebrush.
There are three subspecies of silver sagebrush, also called plains silver sage. Our area has the “Bolander” subspecies which is found from the Sierras of California into Oregon. The other two silver sagebrush subspecies occur further east.
A member of the sunflower family, silver sagebrush reproduces by seeds and can re-sprout from the roots if the plant top is destroyed or cut. A low-growing shrub, silver sagebrush is deciduous (loses leaves in the winter) and faintly aromatic. The grey-green leaves are entire (rarely with one or two small irregular lobes), long, linear and have a whitish pubescence (small, soft hairs). The inflorescence is long and narrow. Unlike many members of the sunflower family, silver sagebrush flowers are not showy.
Silver sagebrush seeds can be eaten “raw” or dried and pounded into a flour. Collecting enough silver sagebrush (or any sagebrush) seeds to make a useful quantity of flour involves more effort than I care to exert. A tea brewed from silver sagebrush leaves is said to cure colds.
Although silver sagebrush is a good browse plant for wildlife and sheep, it is also considered a noxious weed because silver sagebrush is highly competitive with other native perennials.
Although silver sagebrush and tall sagebrush look very similar at first glance, there are many differences between the two shrubs. I usually look at the leaves to quickly separate the sagebrush species in our area – silver sagebrush has long linear leaves while tall sagebrush has leaves with three lobes. Maybe a “compare and contrast” post on these two sagebrush species would be interesting?