Birdfoot Sagebrush/Bluebunch Wheatgrass

(1) Birdfoot Sagebrush/Bluebunch Wheatgrass Plant Community
(Artemisia pedatifida/Agropyron spicatum)

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PLANT LIST for Birdfoot Sagebrush/Bluebunch Wheatgrass Community»

Birdfoot Sagebrush/Bluebunch Wheatgrass community. (Photo, S. Durney) Birdfoot Sagebrush/Bluebunch Wheatgrass community. (Photo, S. Durney)
According to Peter Lesica, Birdfoot Sagebrush is an unappreciated jewel among the 19 sage species found in Montana – thirteen of which are found in the Pryor Mountains. (1)» It is a subshrub (1-6 inches tall) that forms mats co-dominated by perennial Bluebunch Wheatgrass. This community covers several miles along the Gyp Springs road of the south Pryors and occurs in scattered sites along Crooked Creek road near Demijohn Flats. The soils where it is found are sandy or clayey and on open slopes and flats, typically at around 5,000 in elevation.

Birdfoot Sage is cespitose (cushionlike), aromatic, with mostly basal gray-green persistent leaves, less than an inch long and divided into linear lobes that resemble a bird’s foot. The flowering heads are composed of many female and bisexual yellow disk flowers. The fruits (achenes) are elliptic, brown, and very small (about 1 mm). Flowering occurs from late spring to mid-summer. The Montana State University Herbarium has one specimen from the foothills of the Bridger Mountains from 1951. Otherwise the Beartooth – Pryor Mountain locations are the only places where it occurs in Montana. The species also ranges south and west in the steppes of Colorado, Idaho, Utah and Wyoming.

Birdfoot sage showing the mat forming shoots and distinctly shaped leaves. (Photo, S. Durney) Birdfoot sage showing the mat forming shoots and distinctly shaped leaves. (Photo, S. Durney)
Birdfoot sage was, until recently, placed in the subgenus Dracunculus because of its flower structure that has the outer female florets and central bisexual florets that are functionally male. Molecular studies completed in 2011 have concluded that it belongs in the subgenus Tridentatae, which is composed of New World endemic sagebrush species.

Twenty-five other plant species were recorded at the long-term study site established in 2012 within the Gyp Springs road population. The community is disturbed by windblown soil that creates a pedestalling effect (see photo). In addition, the plant community experiences full exposure to the sun, drying the soil quickly after a rainstorm. It is not advisable to visit the area immediately after a heavy rain because the clay-rich soils become incredibly sticky.

No non-native plant species were recorded and with minimal human disturbance we hope it will remain that way.

It is worth the time to experience this community in the spring and fall to observe the plant community in flower and enjoy the stunning scenery.

Return to the main Botanical Guide to Special Places in the Pryors.

<i>Physaria sp.</i> (photo, D. Walton) (photo, D. Walton) Physaria sp. (photo, D. Walton)

Milk-Vetch, <i>Astragalus missouriensis </i> (photo by Dick Walton) Milk-Vetch, Astragalus missouriensis (photo by D. Walton)


Directions:

Refer the printable Botanical Guide version of the Pryor Mountain Map Set.

The birdfoot sage community is about ten miles from Warren, Montana. It is on the northeast side of Gyp Springs Rd 2.6 miles southeast from the junction with Helt Rd. and 4.5 miles northwest from the junction with Crooked Creek Rd.
GPS Coordinates: N 45.0396°, W 108.5018° Elevation: about 5,040 feet.

At Warren MT (Look for the Montana Limestone Company sign on Highway 310.) turn east onto Helt or Quarry Road. After 2.7 miles continue straight on the smaller Helt Road. (The larger Quarry Rd curves left.) In 4.3 more miles curve right onto Gyp Springs Road and follow it for about 2.6 miles. The Birdfoot Sage Community is on the left side of the road looking up towards the Pryor Mountains.

Shrubs:
Birdfoot Sagebrush (Artemisia pedatifida)
Big Sagebrush (Artemisia tridentata)
Shadscale (Atriplex confertifolia)
Gardner’s Saltbush (Atriplex gardneri)
Broom Snakeweed (Gutierrezia sarothrae)
Winterfat (Krascheninnikovia lanata)
Hood’s Phlox (Phlox hoodii)

Forbs
Hooker’s Sandwort (Arenaria hookeri)
Missouri Milkvetch (Astragalus missouriensis)
Desert Indian Paintbrush or Northwest Paintbrush (Castilleja angustifolia)
Cocks-comb Cat’s-eye or Northern Cryptantha (Cryptantha celosioides)
Flatspine Stickseed or Western Stickseed (Lappula redowskii)
Cous Biscuitroot (Lomatium cous)
Wild Parsley or Spreadstem Musineon (Musineon divaricatum)
Evening Primrose (Oenothera sp.)
Plains Prickly-Pear (Opuntia polyacantha)
Fuzzy-tongue Penstemon (Penstemon eriantherus)
Physaria sp.
Scarlet Globemallow (Sphaeralcea coccinea)
Sword Townsend-daisy (Townsendia spathulata)
Smooth Woody Aster (Xylorhiza glabriuscula)
Rayless Tansy-aster or Nuttall’s Goldenweed (Xanthisma grindelioides)

Grasses:
Bluebunch Wheatgrass (Agropyron spicatum)
Blue Grama (Bouteloua gracilis)
Indian Ricegrass (Oryzopsis hymenoides)
Sandberg’s Bluegrass (Poa secunda)

Manual of Vascular Plants of Montana.