Silver Sagebrush

Our Idaho Wildflower of the Week.

Here is a piece of silver sagebrush growing out of the midst of a juniper bush. You can see more of them in the background.

Here is what they look like in the aggregate. As you can see, we have the classic dusty road, barb-wire fence, and a behind it a meadow of sage stretching off into a vivid blue sky. This little stretch of sage and lava rock is a short walk from my house. Around it are cultivated fields.

We have a number of silvery plants here in Idaho. Besides silver sage, which grows everywhere, and our old friend Lamb’s Quarter, wherever there is water we have Russian olive trees. They are almost exactly the same silvery-sagey-grey color. Both plants give off a pleasant smell. The sage brush smells spicy and resiny, and the Russian olives have an extraordinarily fresh smell that is almost like a drink of water as it wafts towards you on a hot day. Between the two of them, this place smells terrific any time there is enough moisture in the air to carry the scents to us on the wind.

Silver Sage is not the only kind of sagebrush, far from it. According to the guidebook Central Rocky Mountain Wildflowers,

Silver sagebrush is well adapted to the wildfires that have swept its habitat for thousands of years. When burned to the ground it simply resprouts from surviving buds on horizontal stems below the soil surface. In contrast, big sagebrush is more often killed by fire, relying on seed to recolonize the burned area. Silver sagebrush was first described to botanical science by Frederick Pursh in 1814, from an October 1804 collection made by Meriwether Lewis near the mouth of the Cheyenne River, in present-day South Dakota.

page 192

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