Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

Four-wing saltbush

with 17 comments

Last November I temporarily stopped showing photographs from my September trip through parts of the American Southwest so that you could see some of the many things going on in nature in Austin during a colorful late-autumn. Now let me reach back and show some more pictures from my trip. Mixed in with those images are likely to be a few more-recent ones from Austin.

*  *  *  *  *  *

Four-Wing Saltbush with Seeds 0361

In a November 9th post that showed petroglyphs in New Mexico and Arizona, the second photograph also let a four-wing saltbush plant creep in at the lower right. Melissablue said she was “tickled that we are still treated to botany.” At the time, Atriplex canescens was only “a member of the supporting cast,” as shoreacres put it, but now four-wing saltbush gets to play the starring role. The in-situ picture above and the closeup below of another specimen are from two sections of Petroglyph National Monument in Albuquerque on September 23, 2014.

Four-Wing Saltbush Seeds 0110

© 2015 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

January 7, 2015 at 5:24 AM

17 Responses

Subscribe to comments with RSS.

  1. Pretty, useful and tasty. What more could you want?


    January 7, 2015 at 6:40 AM

    • That’s a good tripartite summary of a four-winged bush.

      Steve Schwartzman

      January 7, 2015 at 7:06 AM

      • Obviously I need a fourth quality to keep things equal.


        January 7, 2015 at 6:46 PM

        • It takes only a 25% reduction to get from 4 to 3, but it takes a 33-and-a-third % increase to get from 3 to 4. Reality can seem (or be) unfair.

          Steve Schwartzman

          January 7, 2015 at 6:50 PM

          • Now that is unfair, especially to those of us who struggle with maths.


            January 7, 2015 at 10:55 PM

  2. Has kind of a Euphorbia look to it, doesn’t it? Useful and tasty… I think I missed that part.


    January 7, 2015 at 9:59 AM

    • I missed the tasty part too until Gallivanta brought it up and prompted me to go back to the linked article. (I prepared this post two months ago, so I’d forgotten the information in the link.)

      In the “To B or not to B” category, Euphorbia can cause euphoria in plant lovers.

      Steve Schwartzman

      January 7, 2015 at 10:43 AM

  3. A quick glance at the first image, while still in the email notice, had me thinking of a goldenrod thicket. Just shows how important it is to look closer or even stop and smell the saltbush. The many blooms are really quite lovely.

    Steve Gingold

    January 7, 2015 at 1:32 PM

    • I wouldn’t have thought about goldenrod, but now that you mention it I can see some resemblance. Your “stop and smell the saltbush” has an alliterative advantage over the conventional phrase.

      Steve Schwartzman

      January 7, 2015 at 4:41 PM

    • Steve, note my reply to shoreacres below.

      Steve Schwartzman

      January 8, 2015 at 10:09 AM

  4. We have a few varieties of saltbush that grow in more arid country in Australia. We had a variety that had larger leaves on the old property. I loved the silver-grey shimmer of the pale green leaves on ours. We also had hedges made of the bushes in our yard in the outback. Getting little splinters of the broken hardened stems in our skin stung a little though. The flowers on ours were in bunches and white. Thanks for sharing the pics and information. It brought back memories for me. 🙂


    January 7, 2015 at 5:58 PM

    • No kind of saltbush grows in Austin, nor had I ever heard of these plants, so the one that I encountered 700 miles away in New Mexico was new to me. I also didn’t realize until your comment that saltbushes grow in even more distant places. According to Wikipedia: “Atriplex is distributed nearly worldwide from subtropical to temperate and to subarctic regions. Most species rich are Australia, North America, South America and Eurasia. Many species are halophytes and are adapted to dry environments with salty soils.” I was just a visitor in saltbush habitat, but you have years of experience with these plants, which I’m glad to have reminded you of.

      Steve Schwartzman

      January 7, 2015 at 6:07 PM

  5. Such lovely, muted colors in the flowers. The combination of yellow and green is beautiful. They look so much like already-dried bouquets. Perhaps the presence of the beige petals is a sign they had begun drying. I like the grey-green leaves and stems, too: so much like cenizo, sand sagebrush, or even mealy blue sage.


    January 7, 2015 at 8:31 PM

    • You’re not alone in interpreting the second photograph as showing flowers, but I believe they’re the plant’s fruits (in the botanical rather than ordinary sense of the word). According to what I’d read, the four “wings” in the name refer to the flanges surrounding the plant’s seeds, and the authoritative article at

      Click to access pg_atca2.pdf

      confirms that “the seed is contained in a winged utricle that turns a dull yellow when ripe and may remain attached to the plant throughout winter.” (See the article’s third photo.)

      One curious thing I learned from the article is that “fourwing saltbush can exhibit trioecy (three sexual states), with plants able to switch from female to male under environmental stress.” Just imagine if people could do the same.

      Steve Schwartzman

      January 8, 2015 at 10:08 AM

  6. Interesting plant, the blooms are really special.

    Charlie@Seattle Trekker

    January 8, 2015 at 1:44 AM

  7. […] you want an even closer look, you can check out a post about our 2014 trip to the […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: