California Sagebrush


Artemisia californica, also known as California sagebrush, is a species of western North American shrubs in the sunflower family.
A herbaceous plant that is native to western California and northwestern Baja California, it is endemic to the California chaparral and woodlands ecoregion, in coastal sage scrub, coastal strand, chaparral, and dry foothill communities. It is found at elevations from sea level or below to 2,600 feet in elevation.
Artemisia californica prototypically occurs in conjunction with chaparral, toyon and sage, and is a key component of communities which are transitional between chaparral and coastal sage scrub.
It is believed that artemisia californica is allelopathic, secreting chemicals into the ground which inhibit other plants from growing near and around the shrub.
Artemisia californica branches from its base and grows out from there, becoming rounded; it grows five to eight feet high. The stems of the plant are slender, flexible, and glabrous, that is, hairless, or canescent, i.e., fuzzy. The leaves range from one to 10 centimeters long and are pinnately divided with two to four threadlike lobes less than five centimeters long. Their leaves are hairy and light green to gray in color; the margins of the leaves curl under.
The inflorescences are leafy, narrow, and sparse. The capitula are less than 5 millimeters in diameter. The pistillate flowers range in number from six to ten and the disk flowers range from 15 to 30, and they are generally yellowish, but sometimes red.
The fruit produced is a resinous achene, that is, an enclosed seed bearing fruit, up to 1.5 millimeters long. There is a pappus or calyx, that is, a part of the individual floret surrounding the base of the corolla tube in flower, that forms a minute crown on the body of the achene.
The plant contains essential oils known as terpenes, which make it quite aromatic. Many people regard the species to have a pleasant smell.
Although Artemisia californica is a sagebrush and not a true sage, it can be used in cooking as a spice and can also be made into a tea.
Some Native American tribes, particularly the Cahuilla, used it as a treatment to remedy coughs and colds. They chewed the leaves, either dried or fresh. Cahuilla and Tongva women made use of it to alleviate menstrual cramps and to ease labor. The plant stimulates the uterine mucosa, which quickened childbirth. It was also made into a decoction, and if taken regularly prior to menstruation relieved menstrual cramps and some menopausal symptoms. The Ohlone used it as a pain remover by applying the leaves to wounds or teeth, and brewed it into a tea bath to cure colds, coughs, and rheumatism. It was used as a poultice for asthma, as well.
This shrub is cultivated as an ornamental plant in native plant and wildlife gardens, natural landscaping design, and for restoration of disturbed sites and degraded coastal sage scrub. There are several lower height cultivars in the horticulture trade, for drought tolerant groundcover use.
It thrives in full sun, preferring to grow on west or north-facing slopes. It needs little water and prefers no water in the summer months; it does not seem that soil types affect plant growth much. This plant relies on wildfire for seed germination and burned plants can crown-sprout and keep growing.
Animals rarely eat Artemisia californica, probably due to the presence of bitter aromatic terpenes, but it does provide good cover for smaller birds and other animals that can fit between its stems. It is an important habitat plant for the endangered California gnatcatcher.

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