Thursday, December 31, 2015

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Great Basin Sagebrush

Artemisia tridentata

Great Basin Sagebrush: photo by Cliff Hutson
Great Basin Sagebrush: photo by Cliff Hutson

Great Basin sagebrush, Artemisia tridentata, is closely associated with the Great Basin Desert which lies east of the Sierra Nevada Mountains.  It additionally occurs in the southern Sierra and Peninsular ranges. The herbarium at Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden even contains specimens collected in Los Angeles, Riverside, and San Bernardino counties. Neither is the plant limited to the Sagebrush Scrub community. It can be found in, among others, desert scrub, pinyon-juniper woodland, and Joshua tree woodland.

These habits clearly represent a vast range in climate, soil types, competition with other plants, and animals. One of plant’s features that makes for this adaptability is that it has two sets of roots. Shallow roots that lie just below the surface of the soil collect any precipitation that falls. A very strong central root may go as deep as thirteen feet, frequently tapping in to the water table. 

Artemisia tridentata: photo by Cliff Hutson
Artemisia tridentata: photo by Cliff Hutson

Also known as Big Sagebrush, it is an evergreen shrub, although one of my sources described it as “evergray” due to the lovely gray-green color of its leaves. The hairy leaves are, as described in Jepson eFlora, “Generally wedge-shaped, generally (0)3(5)-toothed or lobed at tip”. Aye, there's the rub. The appellation “tridentata” means three-toothed, but on some plants the leaves have no teeth at all. Some may have little lobes that are more bumps than teeth. Another may have teeth that are fang-like in appearance. Keep in mind, too, that sagebrush is not sage, even though it can have a similar tangy fragrance. 

The many-branched shrub grows from a couple of feet in height to six feet tall, and about as wide. Small, or insignificant, yellow flowers in long, loosely arranged tubular clusters pop out in late summer or early fall. The production of edible seeds completes the cycle. 

Thursday, December 3, 2015

California Juniper

Juniperus californica

 (Juniperus californica)
California Juniper: photo by Cliff Hutson

California Juniper is a shrub-like tree that is native to California and is found only slightly beyond California’s borders; a short distance into the Great Basin in southern Nevada, northwestern Arizona, and Baja California. Throughout our state it is found in the Peninsular Ranges, Transverse Ranges, California Coast Ranges, Sacramento Valley foothills, Sierra Nevada, and at higher elevation sky islands in the Mojave Desert ranges in Pinyon-Juniper Woodland, Joshua Tree Woodland, and Foothill Woodland communities. It is a member of the Cupressaceae or cypress family

The plant can grow to forty feet in height, but is usually much shorter (10-15 ft.). The leaves are scalelike, and yellow-green in color.  The bark is ashy gray to brown, and furrowed or shredded in appearance. The “berries” are actually cones (7–12 mm) which are described as bluish (although they look greenish to me), with a bloom, and contain one or two seeds. The cones are red-brown when dry. California juniper is said to be dioecious, producing cones of only one sex on an individual plant. But a small percentage of plants are monoecious, i.e., both sexes on the same plant.

Juniperus californica provides food and shelter for a variety of mammals and birds. Notably, it is a larval host for the native moth Sequoia sphinx (Sphinx sequoiae). It is popular species for bonsai; and also has value as an ornamental being drought-tolerant and requiring no water after it is established.

Indigenous people used the wood for sinew-backed bows. South Coast Province people also ground up the cones and molded them into cakes, which were said to taste sweet. It is reported that other groups ate the berries fresh or prepared them as a mush. A medical decoction was also used to treat rheumatism and urinary problems.