|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|
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.