Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

Sand sagebrush

with 10 comments

Sand Sagebrush Plant 0333

As I drove west on Interstate 40 toward Albuquerque, I began to notice occurrences of a grayish-green plant that seemed to grow in a distinctively scraggly way. At Petroglyph National Monument on September 23rd I learned that the plant is sand sagebrush, Artemisia filifolia. At your respiratory peril I’ll tell you that plants in the genus Artemisia are wind-pollinated, just like their cousins in the genus Ambrosia, i.e. ragweeds.

To see the places in the (mostly) west-central United States where sand sagebrush grows, you can check out the USDA map.

© 2014 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

October 14, 2014 at 5:30 AM

10 Responses

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  1. I don’t remember seeing this when I was in western Kansas, but if those brown, dried bits just below the primary plant are what it looks like when it dries up, it’s no wonder. There was a lot of unfamiliar brown out there at the time. This one looks like Mother Nature left her mop on the rocks to dry. I’m assuming there’s some relationship between filifolia and “filament,” too. It looks soft, and light: a great contrast to the rocks.


    October 14, 2014 at 5:58 AM

    • In the Southwest I was a stranger in a strange land, at least botanically speaking. In a few cases I recognized a plant or could tell it was a relative of something I knew from central Texas, but many of the plants were new to me. Because my trip lasted just two weeks, I got familiar with things only in one phase of their lives, so unfortunately I can’t say whether the dry remains in the lower left are the same species as the living one that was my subject; it’s certainly plausible.

      What I can say (because I’ve spent many more years with etymology than botany) is that the word filament is based on Latin fīlum, which meant ‘thread.’ Latin folium meant ‘leaf,’ so the botanical epithet filifolia (with a feminine ending to match the gender of the noun Artemisia, means ‘having thread-like leaves.’ That same species name (with a neuter ending) gets used with the familiar Texas wildflower called greenthread, which also has thread-like leaves:


      Steve Schwartzman

      October 14, 2014 at 6:30 AM

  2. Strange that it is shown in NY state area.

    As we drove west of Enid OK three weeks ago, we started seeing it.

    Jim in IA

    October 14, 2014 at 7:00 AM

    • Oklahoma is one thing, and to be expected, but I had the same reaction as you to New York, which happens to be the state I grew up in. The USDA indicates New York is part of the plant’s native range, but I don’t see how that could be correct. It seems much more likely to me that someone carried the plant or its seeds from the Southwest to the Northeast, which then became a home away from home.

      Steve Schwartzman

      October 14, 2014 at 7:08 AM

  3. As I am already feeling in peril from pollens I won’t come too close to the sand sagebrush; should be easy to keep my distance.


    October 14, 2014 at 7:45 AM

    • I like your alliterative and rhythmic phrase “in peril from pollens,” even if neither of us likes being in that state. It’s prudent of you to keep your cyber-distance.

      Steve Schwartzman

      October 14, 2014 at 8:24 AM

  4. What irony that ragweed is ambrosia. I am fortunate not to have developed any allergies and, most especially, not to plants.
    Sand sagebrush may look scraggly, but it’s a good scraggly.

    Steve Gingold

    October 16, 2014 at 4:28 AM

    • When I began learning about native plants 15 years ago I soon noticed that botanists seemed to have a sense of humor—and sometimes downright sarcasm. Calling ragweed Ambrosia is one example. Etymologically the name is apt, because the literal sense of the Greek word is ‘not dying,’ and that’s how many allergy sufferers feel about their symptoms.

      I’m with you when it comes to finding this plant scraggly in a good way. I was fascinated by the forms of these bushes that I kept seeing as I drove toward Albuquerque, and I knew I would have to photograph some of them, which I eventually did.

      Steve Schwartzman

      October 16, 2014 at 9:59 AM

  5. […] covered with plants that reminded me of the sand sagebrush (Artemisia filifolia) I’d seen so much of in New Mexico and Arizona. I wonder if this was Artemisia […]

  6. […] appealed to me because of its contrast with the darker boulders it was growing among. Notice the sand sagebrush about a quarter of the way down the left edge of the picture (in fact if you follow the link to […]

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