What grows on our dry slopes and plateaus? Well, often it looks like nothing much! But there are "basic bushes" and most of them are saltbrush.
And most of the time, they don't look like much — like the photo to the right, taken along 2600 Road. But they are crucial to our landscape for, without them to hold the soil and the scarce moisture, no other plants could survive.
This plant has the male and female flowers on different plants. In the spring, you might (if you're lucky) notice the three-millimeter-wide clusters of yellow pollen of the male flowers. The quarter-inch-wide leaves are up to an inch long. And from a distance, the whole plant looks gray-green giving us the botanical name Atriplex canescens (Atriplex is an ancient Latin name and canescens means "whitish").
These two-foot-tall plants are hardly noticeable most of the year, but when fall-winter comes, the female plants are covered with yellowish-tan seed heads. Each seed head has four half-inch membranes expanded outward, and in the center is the tiny seed, one to two millimeters wide. It's almost invisible to the human eye but a real attraction for birds. I've watched them carry off a seed head and peck it to pieces to get the seed. Most bushes on the 'dobes are members of the Goosefoot Family (Chenopodiaceae).
Interestingly, among the many small herbaceous members of this family are domestic spinach, sugar beets and table beets. But the alien weed Russian thistle is in the family too, as well as our native greasewood and shadscale.
No doubt many uses were found for this worldwide plant family, but to me, its greatest value is stabilizing our 'dobe lands. Right now, four-winged saltbrush can be seen along barren road cuts and steep 'dobe slopes. When we don't have flowers, we can still admire the seeds.blog comments powered by Disqus