Gardner’s Saltbush/Bud Sage

(2) Gardner’s Saltbush/Bud Sage Plant Community
(Atriplex nuttallii)/(Artemisia spinescens)

Getting There»

PLANT LIST for Gardner’s Saltbush/Bud Sage Plant Community»

Bud Sage <i>(Artemisia spinescens) </i>in bloom. Note bright green color (photo, C. McCracken) Bud Sage (Artemisia spinescens) in bloom. Note bright green color (photo, C. McCracken)
Bud sage is the species of focus in this plant community because it is such an unusual and interesting sagebrush. The bud sage plants are infrequent so you may need to search for a bit. Many plants have just a few green leaves. In mid-May you will see the yellow buds that make small yellow clusters of flowers.

The community itself is one described by DeVelice and Lesica as one of the most threatened plant community types in the Pryors.(1)» Bud sage is a dwarf shrub ranging in height between five to 15 centimeters with sprawling, twisted, woody branches that become somewhat spiny when dead. The bright green color of bud sage makes it unique from other sage species. Instead of flowering in late summer, like other sage species in Montana, bud sage flowers in the spring.

In the Pryor Mountains, bud sage occurs in the red soils characteristic of the Chugwater formation and in the sandy, clay soils in patches between the Crooked Creek road and Penney Peak. Bud sage occurs in all western states excluding Washington. In Montana, it only grows in valleys in Carbon and Beaverhead counties.

Bud Sage (Artemisia spinescens) was not even considered a member of the sagebrush genus Artemisia for a long time because it looks so different from other sagebrush, flowers earlier than most, and can undergo summer dormancy to reduce drought stress. Two visible effects of dormancy are the production of corky tissue that reduces water loss and the sluffing off of the previous season’s bark. It was known as Picrothamnus desertorum until quite recent revisions of the taxonomy of the sagebrush group. It is referred to as Picnothamnus desertorum in a 2011 paper by Garcia et al.(2)» Recent molecular studies of the sagebrush group indicate that this species is in the subgenus Tridentatae along with Artemisia pedatifida Lesica refers to it as Artemisia spinescens. (3)»

Gardner’s Saltbush/Bud Sage Community. (photo, S. Durney) Gardner’s Saltbush/Bud Sage Community. (photo, S. Durney)
The long term monitoring site established in 2012 is near the intersection of Gyp Springs Road and Helt Road. This site has been disturbed recently by cattle and in the past by farming and grazing. There are what appear to be old irrigation trenches and plowing rows. A livestock loading area is near the community along Helt Road, which subjects the community to livestock grazing pressure. DeVelice and Lesica noted that this community type occurs in very arid, harsh environment where vegetation is sparse and not resistant to livestock grazing or invasion by exotics such as Halogeton glomeratus. They suggest that livestock activities should be minimized in this area.

We recorded thirty-one plant species in the bud sage community. Five species in this list are not native to Montana including Russian Thistle (Salsola sp.), Malcolmia (Malcolmia africana), Canada Bluegrass (Poa compress), Halogeton (Halogeton glomerulatus), and Crested Wheatgrass (Agropyron cristatum). The vegetation is sparse within the community and bare soil dominates the area. The importance of the baseline data at this site is that it shows that Bud Sage is not abundant and has likely suffered from human-caused disturbance. Future monitoring will help uncover trends that will help to determine effective management.

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

Winterfat <i>(Krascheninnikovia lanata)</i> left, Bud Sage <i>(Artemisia spinescens) </i> right. (photo, D. Walton) Winterfat (Krascheninnikovia lanata) left, Bud Sage (Artemisia spinescens) right. (photo, D. Walton)

Bud Sage <i>(Artemisia spinescens) </i>in bloom. (photo, D. Walton) Bud Sage (Artemisia spinescens) in bloom. (photo, D. Walton)

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

The bud sage community is west of Helt Road 0.4 miles from its intersection with Crooked Creek Road.
GPS Coordinates: N 45.0135°, W 108.4347°. Elevation: about 4735 feet.

If you have visited the birdfoot sagebrush community, continue southeast along Gyp Springs Road for 4.5 miles. Veer left onto Crooked Creek Road and stay on it for 0.25 miles. Veer left onto Helt Road for 0.4 miles. The bud sage community is on the left side of Helt Road.

* Non-Natives

Bud Sage (Artemisia spinescens)
Big Sagebrush (Artemisia tridentata)
Four-Wing Saltbush (Atriplex canescens)
Shadscale (Atriplex confertifolia)
Gardner’s Saltbush (Atriplex gardneri)
Broom Snakeweed (Gutierrezia sarothrae)
Winterfat (Krascheninnikovia lanata)
Hood’s Phlox (Phlox hoodii)

Hooker’s Sandwort (Arenaria hookeri)
Rattle Milkvetch or Standing Milkvetch (Astragalus adsurgens)
Threeleaf Milkvetch or Plains Orophaca (Astragalus gilviflorus)
Dusty-maiden or Hoary Chaenactis (Chaenactis douglasii)
Cocks-comb Cat’s-eye or Northern Cryptantha (Cryptantha celosioides)
Flatspine Stickseed or Western Stickseed (Lappula redowskii)
Wild Parsley or Spreadstem Musineon (Musineon divaricatum)
Plains Prickly-Pear (Opuntia polyacantha)
Flaxleaf Plainsmustard (Schoenocrambe linifolia)
Scarlet Globemallow (Sphaeralcea coccinea)
Stemless Four-nerve-daisy or Stemless Hymenoxys (Tetraneuris acaulis)
* Halogeton (Halogeton glomeratus)
* African Adder’s-mouth or Malcolmia (Malcolmia africana)
* Russian Thistle (Salsola sp.)

Purple (or Red) Three-awn (Aristida purpurea)
Blue Grama (Bouteloua gracilis)
Bottlebrush Squirrel-tail (Elymus elymoides)
Indian Ricegrass (Oryzopsis hymenoides)
Sandberg’s Bluegrass (Poa secunda)
Needle-and-Thread (Stipa comata)
* Crested Wheatgrass (Agropyron cristatum)
* Cheatgrass (Bromus tectorum)
* Canada Bluegrass (Poa compressa)

(1994) in their study, The Vegetation Map of Rare Plant Community Types in the Pryor Mountains and Pryor Mountain Desert, Carbon County published by the Montana Natural Heritage Program
Sagebrush evolution and systematics in the American Journal of Botany (April 2011)
Manual of Montana Vascular Plants (2012)