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Plains silver sagebrush

Plains silver sagebrush (Artemisia cana ssp. cana) is a subspecies of silver sagebrush and one of the most important plants on the rangeland today (Wambolt, Walton, & White, 1990).  Silver sagebrush and the plains subspecies are both straight, freely branched, round shrubs that can reach 1.5 meters (100-150 cm) in height and these plants can live up to 100 years (McAuthur & Taylor, n.d.). Stems that have aged on the plant will turn tough with brown bark; whereas new growth tends to appear yellowish-green (McAuthur & Taylor, n.d.).  Leaves are like long, narrow teeth that point outward from the stem, and are more grayish than that of the silver sagebrush. As the leaves age, they gain a sticky adhesiveness to them. The smaller leaves at the top of the stem surround the round, bunched flower heads and give off a bitter, spicy aroma when brushed or crushed. Flowers bloom from August to September and the seeds ripen between October and November (McAuthur & Taylor, n.d.).  Seeds are dispersed in a variety of ways: when animals brush against the plant, by the wind, or by fall snowstorms.  Seeds germinate best in gently tilled and less nutrient rich soils.  New plants may also be established from rhizomes - a special root system that grows a new plant from the root of the parent plant – and those are often are more abundant than new establishment from seeds (Wambolt et al., 1990).     

Plains silver sagebrush grows best on well-watered soils and prefers drainages, flood areas, and stream bottoms (Beetle, 1960).  It occurs east of the continental divide in Montana, the Dakotas, Wyoming, western Nebraska and northern Colorado (McAuthur & Taylor, n.d.). Plains silver sagebrush has the ability to spread quickly after a fire by re-sprouting and through the use of rhizomes (Beetle, 1960).  It has been noted to cross with big sagebrush, forming hybrids throughout the plains. Plains silver sagebrush grows by intermingling with the tall perennial grasses of the prairie, especially with western wheatgrass.  Though there are many similarities between silver sagebrush and plains silver sagebrush, the differences confirm plains silver sagebrush as its own unique subspecies. 

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© Ashley Nickolai

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