Artemisia tridentata - Nutt.
Big Sagebrush
Other English Common Names: Basin Big Sagebrush
Other Common Names: big sagebrush
Taxonomic Status: Accepted
Related ITIS Name(s): Artemisia tridentata Nutt. (TSN 35498)
Unique Identifier: ELEMENT_GLOBAL.2.130545
Element Code: PDAST0S1R0
Informal Taxonomy: Plants, Vascular - Flowering Plants - Aster Family
Kingdom Phylum Class Order Family Genus
Plantae Anthophyta Dicotyledoneae Asterales Asteraceae Artemisia
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Concept Reference
Concept Reference: Kartesz, J.T. 1994. A synonymized checklist of the vascular flora of the United States, Canada, and Greenland. 2nd edition. 2 vols. Timber Press, Portland, OR.
Concept Reference Code: B94KAR01HQUS
Name Used in Concept Reference: Artemisia tridentata
Taxonomic Comments: This species has undergone considerable taxonomic revision in the past century and circumscription of subspecies remains a topic of considerable controversy. Workers in the field should be aware of the morphologic variation within the subspecies across the range of the species (i.e., approximately from the Sierra Nevada in the west to the plains of the Rocky Mountains in the east). Because rangeland managers and conservationists can often identify local morphologic and chemical races based on grazing or habitat preferences of wildlife and domestic animals, some impetus exists to further subdivide the subspecies at the varietal level. This treatment of the species complex remains conservative in light of the need for further study (Flora of North America Editorial Committee, 2006).
Conservation Status

NatureServe Status

Global Status: G5
Global Status Last Reviewed: 18Jul2016
Global Status Last Changed: 30Sep1987
Ranking Methodology Used: Ranked by inspection
Rounded Global Status: G5 - Secure
Reasons: This species, and its various subspecies, has a very wide range and extends approximately from the Sierra Nevada in the west to the plains of the Rocky Mountains in the east. It is one of the most widespread shrubs in North America and appears stable, or perhaps increasing, throughout its range.
Nation: United States
National Status: N5
Nation: Canada
National Status: N4N5 (10Mar2014)

U.S. & Canada State/Province Status
United States Arizona (SNR), California (SNR), Colorado (SNR), Idaho (SNR), Massachusetts (SNR), Montana (S5), Nebraska (SNR), Nevada (SNR), New Mexico (SNR), North Dakota (SNR), Oregon (SNR), South Dakota (SNR), Utah (SNR), Washington (SNR), Wyoming (SNR)
Canada Alberta (S2), British Columbia (SNR)

Other Statuses

NatureServe Global Conservation Status Factors

Range Extent Comments: This species has a very wide range extending from British Columbia south to Baja, California and Arizona. Its range extends eastward to the New Mexico, Colorado, and the Dakotas (FNA, 2006).

Number of Occurrences: > 300
Number of Occurrences Comments: In North Dakota, it is locally common only in Bowman to McKenzie Cos. (Stevens (1963).

Number of Occurrences with Good Viability/Integrity: Many to very many (41 to >125)

Overall Threat Impact: Unknown
Overall Threat Impact Comments: Sagebrush is not fire-tolerant and relies on wind-blown seeds from outside the burned area for re-establishment. Big sagebrush is readily killed when aboveground plant parts are charred by fire. If sagebrush foliage is exposed to temperatures above 195 degrees Fahrenheit (90C) for longer than 30 seconds, the plant dies. Among the three major subspecies of big sagebrush, basin big sagebrush is considered intermediate in flammability. Mountain big sagebrush is most flammable, and Wyoming big sagebrush is least flammable. Since the advent of effective fire control and intensive livestock grazing (reducing ground fuel and understory competition), regeneration and establishment of western juniper have expanded into suitable sites previously dominated by Artemisia tridentata. Western juniper (Juniperus occidentalis) is also intolerant of fire and historically, spread was restricted by natural fires (Tirmenstein, 1999). This expansion of young stands of western juniper is common in Oregon, Idaho, and northeastern California (Burns and Honkala, 1990). However, suppression of fire results in hotter and longer burning fires that are typically followed by the spread of the invasive cheat grass (Bromus tectorum). Especially in Washington state, habitat loss and fragmentation pose the greatest threat to the species (Gamon, pers. comm., September 2011).

Short-term Trend: Relatively Stable to increase of <25%

Long-term Trend: Unknown

Environmental Specificity: Moderate. Generalist or community with some key requirements scarce.
Environmental Specificity Comments: It is a somewhat drought tolerant plant and grows on a variety of soil types on arid plains, valleys, foothills, and mountains.

Other NatureServe Conservation Status Information

Global Range: This species has a very wide range extending from British Columbia south to Baja, California and Arizona. Its range extends eastward to the New Mexico, Colorado, and the Dakotas (FNA, 2006).

U.S. States and Canadian Provinces
Color legend for Distribution Map

U.S. & Canada State/Province Distribution
United States AZ, CA, CO, ID, MA, MT, ND, NE, NM, NV, OR, SD, UT, WA, WY
Canada AB, BC

Range Map
No map available.

U.S. Distribution by County Help
State County Name (FIPS Code)
WY Lincoln (56023), Sublette (56035)*, Teton (56039)
* Extirpated/possibly extirpated
U.S. Distribution by Watershed Help
Watershed Region Help Watershed Name (Watershed Code)
14 Upper Green (14040101)+, Blacks Fork (14040107)+
17 Greys-Hobock (17040103)+, Salt (17040105)+, Teton (17040204)+*
+ Natural heritage record(s) exist for this watershed
* Extirpated/possibly extirpated
Ecology & Life History
General Description: A large, aromatic, evergreen shrub with short, narrow, hairy, gray-green leaves that have 3 small lobes at the tip (FNA 2006).
Technical Description: Description from FNA (2006): "Shrubs, 40-200(-300) cm (herbage gray-haired), aromatic; not root-sprouting (trunks relatively thick). Stems gray-brown, glabrate (bark gray, exfoliating in strips). Leaves persistent, gray-green; blades usually cuneate, (0.4-)0. 5-3.5 0.1-0.7 cm, 3-lobed (lobes to 1/3 blade lengths, 1.5+ mm wide, rounded), faces densely hairy. Heads (usually erect, on slender peduncles) in paniculiform arrays 5-30 16 cm. Involucres lanceolate, (1)1.54 13 mm. Phyllaries oblanceolate to widely obovate, densely tomentose. Florets 38; corollas 1.5-2.5 mm, glabrous. Cypselae 12 mm, hairy or glabrous, glandular."
Diagnostic Characteristics: Artemesia tridentata is much larger than most species in the genus. It's leaves are persistent and have lobes less than 1/3 the length of the leaf blade versus lobes greater than 1/3 the length on A. tripartita (FNA 2006). Unlike those of A. rothrockii, the leaves of A. tridentata are not sticky-resinous and are persistent.
Duration: PERENNIAL, Long-lived, EVERGREEN
Reproduction Comments: Flowering mid summer to late fall (FNA 2006).

Basin big sagebrush reproduces from seed. Plants 2 to 3 years of age are capable of producing viable seed. Wind is the primary dispersal agent, although animal and water dispersal can also occur (animals as a minor dispersal agent when seeds are dislodged as the animals brush against branches; seeds contain a small air space which permits floatation in water) (Tirmenstein, 1999). Approximately 90% of big sagebrush seed is dispersed within 30 feet (9 m) of the parent shrub. Few seeds are carried more than 100 feet (30 m). Seed density declines rapidly away from the parent shrub, with maximum seed dispersal at approximately 108 feet (33 m). The rate of seed dispersal depends on wind and storm activity after seeds reach maturity. Rates of seed dispersal are slower in basin big sagebrush than in other subspecies. Seed dispersal takes approximately 8 weeks. Seed of basin big sagebrush is short-lived and lasts less than 5 years when stored in a warehouse. Some seedbanking occurs in other subspecies of big sagebrush, so seedbanking in basin big sagebrush is probable. Some basin big sagebrush seeds remained viable after prescribed burning in Utah. Emergence of basin big sagebrush seedlings on burned soil was reduced, however, compared to emergence of Wyoming and mountain big sagebrush. It was also reduced compared to emergence of basin big sagebrush on unburned control soil (Tirmenstein, 1999).

Basin big sagebrush doesn't resprout after fire or other disturbance (Tirmenstein, 1999).

Known Pests: Puccinia tanaceti, a rust fungus, causes the disease "black stem rust" (Welch and Nelson 1995).
Ecology Comments: The Sage Grouse utilizes Artemesia tridentata as nest cover, shelter, and a food source. Because A. tridentata is evergreen, it is one of their most important food sources outside the growing season. Other species also depend on this species as a food source: elk, mule deer, pronghorn, and pygmy rabbits (Tirmenstein 1999).

Sagebrush species are associated with mycorrhizal fungus in the genus Glomus which may be required for the establishment of seedlings (Tirmenstein 1999).

Habitat Comments: This plant dominates hundreds of square km of sandy valley floors and plains above approximately 5000 feet elevation (Rhode, 2002). It is drought tolerant but cannot stand excessive sub-moisture. It grows on moderately shallow to deep, well-drained, sandy to silt loam soils of neutral to slightly alkaline reaction. It occurs on practically all range except meadows and at high elevations (USDA, 2010).
Economic Attributes
Economically Important Genus: Y
Economic Comments: Some Native Americans used the bark of big sagebrush to make ropes and baskets (Tirmenstein 1999).
Management Summary Not yet assessed
Population/Occurrence Delineation Not yet assessed
Population/Occurrence Viability
U.S. Invasive Species Impact Rank (I-Rank) Not yet assessed
NatureServe Conservation Status Factors Edition Date: 17Nov2010
NatureServe Conservation Status Factors Author: Cordeiro, J.
Element Ecology & Life History Edition Date: 17Nov2010
Element Ecology & Life History Author(s): Cordeiro, J.

Botanical data developed by NatureServe and its network of natural heritage programs (see Local Programs), The North Carolina Botanical Garden, and other contributors and cooperators (see Sources).

  • Burns, R. M., and B. H. Honkala, eds. 1990. Silvics of North America, vol. 1: Conifers. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Agriculture Handbook 654, Washington, DC. 675 pp.

  • Flora of North America Editorial Committee. 2006a. Flora of North America North of Mexico. Vol. 19. Magnoliophyta: Asteridae, part 6: Asteraceae, part 1. Oxford University Press, New York. xxiv + 579 pp.

  • Gamon, John. Personal communication. Washington Natural Heritage Program, Washington State Department of Natural Resources, Olympia.

  • Howard, J. L. 1999. Artemisia tridentata subsp. wyomingensis. In: Fire Effects Information System, [Online]. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station, Fire Sciences Laboratory (Producer). Available: [2011, September 15].

  • Kartesz, J.T. 1994. A synonymized checklist of the vascular flora of the United States, Canada, and Greenland. 2nd edition. 2 vols. Timber Press, Portland, OR.

  • Little, E.L., Jr. 1979. Checklist of United States trees (native and naturalized). Agriculture Handbook No. 541. U.S. Forest Service, Washington, D.C. 375 pp.

  • Rhode, D. 2002. Native Plants of Southern Nevada An Ethnobotany. University of Utah Press: Salt Lake City, Utah. 188 pp.

  • Stevens, O.A. 1963. Handbook of North Dakota Plants. North Dalota Institute of Regional Studies: Fargo, North Dakota. 324 pp.

  • Tirmenstein, D. 1999. Artemisia tridentata spp. tridentata. In: Fire Effects Information System. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station, Fire Sciences Laboratory (Producer). Available online: (accessed 18 November 2010).

  • USDA NRCS. 2010. The PLANTS Database. USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service [USDA, NRCS]. National Plant Data Center, Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Available online: Accessed 2010.

  • Welch, B. L., and D. L. Nelson. 1995. Black Stem Rust Reduces Big Sagebrush Seed Production. Journal of Range Management 48(5):398-401.

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