Western mugwort, discussed in my last post (“Western Mugwort” on 11-13-17) is a member of the Artemisia genus. Another member of this genus is budsage (Artemisia spinescens). That said, it must be noted that some taxonomists separate budsage from Artemisia and refer to it as Picrothamnus desertorum. Currently, DNA analysis has not confirmed where budsage belongs taxonomically.Bud sage, spring sage and bud sagebrush are some of the other colloquial names for A. spinescens.
Budsage is a member of the Aster Family. These short (usually less than a foot in height), intricately branched shrubs assume a rounded shape. They are adapted to xeric (dry) conditions, often becoming dormant in the summer. Budsage is found in states west of the Rocky Mountain (except Washington) at elevations between 2,300 and 8,000 feet. Its habitat is scrub and clay or gravelly soils. Budsage also grows well in alkaline or salty soils.
Budsage has an extensive root system composed of a vertical tap root and horizontal side branches. The trunk and older twigs are dark brown to grey and shreddy. Young twigs are light colored with short, white hairs.
The deciduous (unusual for Artemisia) leaves are alternate, fan-shaped and palmately divided 3 to 5 times.
Budsage inflorescences are comprised of a few flower heads in short lateral spikes sprouting from the leaf axils. Once the mature flower heads fall off, the rachis (main stem of inflorescence) becomes a spine on the twig. Each yellowish to brownish flower head has 2 to 6 fertile ray flowers and 5 to 13 sterile disk flowers. The pollen is light and windblown.
Budsage fruit is a tiny, hairy achene (1 seeded with a hard, dry shell).
In spite of its spines, budsage is considered a valuable browse plant for livestock and wildlife, particularly in early spring when the foliage is new and tender.
These budsage plants are growing along California Highway 299 east of Cedarville near the Nevada border (Modoc County). The photographs were taken in late May.