Artemisia bigelovii


SPECIES: Artemisia bigelovii


  photo courtesy of Charles Webber, California Academy of Sciences
Howard, Janet L. 2003. Artemisia bigelovii. In: Fire Effects Information System, [Online]. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station, Fire Sciences Laboratory (Producer). Available: [].




Bigelow sagebrush
flat sagebrush

The scientific name of Bigelow sagebrush is Artemisia bigelovii (Asteraceae) Gray [14,19,21,27,56]. Taxonomic position of Bigelow sagebrush within the genus is uncertain. Although woody, it appears transitional between the woody sagebrushes (section Tridentatae) and the herbaceous sagebrushes (subgenus Artemisia) [35,57]. It is genetically and morphologically more closely aligned with section Tridentatae, and is usually  included there [1,23,24,33,36,55]. There is no evidence of cross-pollination between Bigelow sagebrush and other woody sagebrush taxa [1,23]. Bigelow sagebrush and sand sagebrush (A. filifolia), an herbaceous species, show molecular and cytological evidence of introgression [23].


No special status

Bigelow sagebrush is state-ranked G3 in Colorado: either very rare and local throughout its range or found locally (even abundantly in some locations) in a restricted range [8,47].


SPECIES: Artemisia bigelovii
Bigelow sagebrush has the most southerly distribution of the woody sagebrush taxa, occupying approximately 34,010 square miles (8,810,000 ha) in the arid Southwest [30,35]. Its center of distribution is the 4 corners region of the Colorado Plateau [18,35,59]. From there it extends to northern Arizona, southeastern California, southern Nevada, central Utah,  south-central New Mexico, and the Texas panhandle [14,19,20,21,27,58]. Bigelow sagebrush's distribution is limited in Colorado, where it occurs in the central and south-central part of the state near the Arkansas River valley [15,56]. Plants database provides a distributional map of Bigelow sagebrush.

FRES29 Sagebrush
FRES30 Desert shrub
FRES35 Pinyon-juniper
FRES38 Plains grasslands
FRES40 Desert grasslands


6 Upper Basin and Range
7 Lower Basin and Range
11 Southern Rocky Mountains
12 Colorado Plateau
13 Rocky Mountain Piedmont

K023 Juniper-pinyon woodland
K038 Great Basin sagebrush
K039 Blackbrush
K040 Saltbush-greasewood
K053 Grama-galleta steppe
K054 Grama-tobosa prairie
K065 Grama-buffalo grass
K069 Bluestem-grama prairie

239 Pinyon-juniper

212 Blackbush
401 Basin big sagebrush
403 Wyoming big sagebrush
405 Black sagebrush
406 Low sagebrush
408 Other sagebrush types
412 Juniper-pinyon woodland
414 Salt desert shrub
501 Saltbush-greasewood
502 Grama-galleta
504 Juniper-pinyon pine woodland
605 Sandsage prairie
702 Black grama-alkali sacaton
703 Black grama-sideoats grama
704 Blue grama-western wheatgrass
705 Blue grama-galleta
706 Blue grama-sideoats grama
707 Blue grama-sideoats grama-black grama
715 Grama-buffalo grass

Bigelow sagebrush occurs in Colorado pinyon-oneseed juniper (Pinus edulis-Juniperus monosperma), singleleaf pinyon (P. monophylla), and desert shrub communities of the Sonoran, Great Basin, and Mojave deserts [6,17,21,31,35,43,58]. Desert shrub associates include big sagebrush (Artemisia tridentata), black sagebrush (A. nova), blackbrush (Coleogyne ramosissima), saltbush (Atriplex spp.), and broom snakeweed (Gutierrezia sarothrae) [20,31,35,37]. Larson and Moir [26] describe a oneseed juniper/Bigelow sagebrush community type of northern Arizona that may extend into southern Utah and southwestern Colorado.

Bigelow sagebrush also occurs in transitional desert shrub-desert grassland communities. Associated species in northern Arizona and New Mexico include big sagebrush, green rabbitbrush (Chrysothamnus viscidiflorus), green ephedra (Ephedra viridis), fourwing saltbush (Atriplex canescens), galleta (Pleuraphis jamesii), and blue grama (Bouteloua gracilis) [5,30]. Associates in transitional Great Basin-Great Plains desert shrub-desert grasslands of northern Arizona include fourwing saltbush, Fremont barberry (Mahonia fremontii), blue grama, ring muhly (Muhlenbergia torreyana), and bottlebrush squirreltail (Elymus elymoides) [44]. Jameson and others [17] provide a vegetation typing of a Bigelow sagebrush-dominated community in northern Arizona.

Bigelow sagebrush-broom snakeweed communities merge into blue grama-buffalo grass (Buchloe dactyloides) shortgrass prairie on the eastern edge of Bigelow sagebrush's distribution [37]. Associates in southeastern Colorado steppes include yucca soapweed (Yucca glauca), pale wolfberry (Lycium pallidum), winterfat (Krascheninnikovia lanata), and tree cholla (Opuntia imbricata). Common shortgrass associates include blue grama, black grama (B. eriopoda), western wheatgrass (Pascopyrum smithii), and galleta [49].


SPECIES: Artemisia bigelovii
Bigelow sagebrush is a native woody shrub [19]. Growing from 12 to 16, rarely 24+ inches (30-40, rarely 60+ cm) tall at maturity [1,16,27], it is a dwarf sagebrush [1,2]. Form is rounded with multiple, recurved stems. Bark is shreddy. Leaves are evergreen, from 0.6 to 1 inch (15-25 mm) long and 0.08 to 0.16 inch (2-4 mm) wide [14,19]. The inflorescence is a dense panicle with 2 to 7 flowers per flowerhead [14,27]. Bigelow sagebrush is similar in appearance to short-statured big sagebrush plants, but is primarily distinguished from all other woody sagebrush species by its flowers [18,30]. Bigelow sagebrush is unique among the woody sagebrush species in having 1 to 3 pistillate ray flowers, although ray flowers are lacking on some plants [18,52].  Ray flowers are marginally located, while the inner 1 to 5 disc flowers are perfect and fertile. Bigelow sagebrush fruits are dry, glabrous achenes about 0.04 inch (1 mm) in length [14,27,35].

Stand structure of Bigelow sagebrush communities is poorly described in the literature. Biological soil crust cover is relatively high in Bigelow sagebrush communities compared to other woody sagebrush species [2].

Physiology: Bigelow sagebrush is one of the most drought-tolerant sagebrushes in North America [1,18,35,52].


Bigelow sagebrush reproduces from seed [1,52,60]. Little is known of the species' reproductive ecology. Further research is needed in this area.

Breeding system: Bigelow sagebrush is polygamomonecious [1,40]. Common garden and molecular genetic studies suggest ecotypic variation exists between Bigelow sagebrush populations [32,34].

Pollination: Pollen is spread by wind [40].

Seed production: No information

Seed dispersal: No information

Seed banking: No information

Germination: No information

Seedling establishment/growth: No information

Asexual regeneration: Bigelow sagebrush does not reproduce asexually [1,52,60].

Bigelow sagebrush is adapted to xeric sites  [18]. It grows in canyons, draws, and on washes, plains, hills, and rimrock [16,20,27,58]. Soils are well drained and usually sandy or gravelly [16,18,20,29]. Bigelow sagebrush is common on limestone soils [16,20,37]. Its overall elevational range is 3,000 to 8,000 feet (915-2,400 m) [18]. Elevational range by state is:

AZ 5,000 to 8,000 feet (1,500-2,400 m) [21]
CA 4,300 to 6,200 feet (1,300-1,900 m) [16]
CO 4,500 to 5,000 feet (1,400-1,500 m) [15]
NM 5,000 to 7,500 feet (1,500-2,300 m) [27]
NV 3,000-5,200 feet (915-1,600 m) [20]
UT 3,200 to 7,005 feet (975-2,135 m) [58]

Bigelow sagebrush's place in succession is unclear and requires further study. Limited evidence suggests that it occurs in all stages of succession. It occurs on open sites [40] and may be favored in early successional communities. On the north rim of the Grand Canyon, Bigelow sagebrush occurs on sites with a history of heavy domestic sheep and cattle grazing. It is also a component of relict ungrazed vegetation [46].

Bigelow sagebrush begins new growth in April. Flowerbuds appear in August, and flowering occurs from August to October [1,21,35]. The leaves abscise in winter [1].


SPECIES: Artemisia bigelovii
Fire adaptations: As of this writing (2002), little is known of the fire ecology of Bigelow sagebrush. As a light-tolerant species [40] that reproduces solely from seed [1,52,60], Bigelow sagebrush may be similar to other woody sagebrush taxa, establishing primarily from off-site seed sources after fire. Much research is needed to understand the life history, successional status, and fire ecology of this species.

Fire regimes of Bigelow sagebrush communities are not described in the literature. The following table provides some fire regime intervals for plant communities and ecosystems where Bigelow sagebrush is sometimes an important component of the vegetation. For further information, see the FEIS summary on the dominant taxa listed below.

Community or Ecosystem Dominant Species Fire Return Interval Range (years)
basin big sagebrush Artemisia tridentata var. tridentata 12-43 [45]
Wyoming big sagebrush Artemisia tridentata var. wyomingensis 10-70 (40**) [54,61]
saltbush-greasewood Atriplex confertifolia-Sarcobatus vermiculatus < 35 to < 100
desert grasslands Bouteloua eriopoda and/or Pleuraphis mutica 5-100
plains grasslands Bouteloua spp. < 35
blue grama-buffalo grass Bouteloua gracilis-Buchloe dactyloides < 35
grama-galleta steppe Bouteloua gracilis-Pleuraphis jamesii < 35 to < 100
blackbrush Coleogyne ramosissima < 35 to < 100
wheatgrass plains grasslands Pascopyrum smithii < 35
pinyon-juniper Pinus-Juniperus spp. < 35 [39]
Colorado pinyon Pinus edulis 10-400+ [11,13,22,39]

Shrub without adventitious bud/root crown
Secondary colonizer (on-site or off-site seed sources)


SPECIES: Artemisia bigelovii
Fire kills Bigelow sagebrush [28].

No entry

As of this writing (2002), there are no published studies on Bigelow sagebrush's response to fire. Since Bigelow sagebrush lacks the ability to regenerate vegetatively [1,52,60], postfire establishment must come from seed. Due to its unique taxonomic position [1,23,24,33,36,55], reproductive ecology of Bigelow sagebrush may be somewhat different than other woody sagebrush taxa. Soil seed bank, germination, and other reproductive studies are lacking for Bigelow sagebrush. Research is needed to understand how Bigelow sagebrush establishes after fire.

If Bigelow sagebrush does not build a soil seed bank, and establishes primarily from off-site, wind-dispersed seed like big sagebrush, its rate of postfire establishment may be similar to that of big sagebrush. Big sagebrush establishes primarily from off-site seed sources. It requires from 15 to 20 years to regain prefire cover on mesic sites, and from 50 to 75 years to regain prefire cover on xeric sites [4,7].

No entry


SPECIES: Artemisia bigelovii
Bigelow sagebrush provides valuable winter and spring forage for wildlife and livestock. Productivity of Bigelow sagebrush communities is rated moderate relative to other sagebrush communities [18].

Bigelow sagebrush was the single most important item in the fall diet of pronghorn in northern Arizona [5].

Palatability/nutritional value: Palatability and nutritional value of Bigelow sagebrush are high relative to other sagebrush species [18,35,48]. Bigelow sagebrush twigs are less woody, and its leaves are less bitter and have a milder odor, than associated sagebrush taxa [26,35]. Near Price, Utah, chemical analysis of  woody sagebrush species showed Bigelow sagebrush was low in 9 volatile compounds compared to 7 associated sagebrush taxa. Bigelow sagebrush, mountain big sagebrush (Artemisia tridentata ssp. vaseyana), and gray low sagebrush (A. arbuscula ssp. arbuscula) were the top 3 taxa preferred by mule deer in feeding trials [48]. Palatability of Bigelow sagebrush in Utah is rated as follows [9]:

cattle fair
domestic sheep good
horses poor
pronghorn fair
elk poor
mule deer fair
small mammals fair
small nongame birds fair
upland game birds good
waterfowl poor

Cover value of Bigelow sagebrush is Utah is rated as follows [9]:

pronghorn poor
elk poor
mule deer poor
small mammals fair
small nongame birds fair
upland game birds fair
waterfowl fair

Bigelow sagebrush is used for range rehabilitation and erosion control [19,31]. It is established from seed, nursery stock, and wilding transplants [35,41].

No information

Controlling Bigelow sagebrush is not generally recommended. Because it occurs on xeric sites of moderate productivity and little research has been done on the ability of the community to respond to disturbance, probability of success cannot be predicted [18].

Bigelow sagebrush is relatively pest free. It is not attacked by insects and rusts to the extent that other sagebrush species are [1], but is susceptible to a wilt disease [38].

Artemisia bigelovii: REFERENCES

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