SPECIES: Artemisia frigida
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SPECIES: Artemisia frigida


Photo courtesy of Wisconsin State Herbarium
Photographer: Emmet J. Judziewicz

Photo courtesy of Wisconsin State Herbarium
Photographer: Emmet J. Judziewicz

McWilliams, Jack 2003. Artemisia frigida. In: Fire Effects Information System, [Online]. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station, Fire Sciences Laboratory (Producer). Available: http://www.fs.fed.us/database/feis/ [].


No entry


fringed sagebrush
pasture sage
prairie sagebrush
fringed sagewort

The scientific name of fringed sagebrush is Artemisia frigida Willd. (Asteraceae) [53,66,71,74,85].

Numerous ecotypes of fringed sagebrush are known over its broad range, but it is not known to hybridize with other Artemisia spp. [90].


No special status

A classification of "critically imperiled" has been assigned to fringed sagebrush in Kansas [73] and fringed sagebrush is listed as "imperiled" in Wisconsin [131].


SPECIES: Artemisia frigida
In North America fringed sagebrush occurs naturally from Alaska and western Northwest Territories south along the Rocky Mountains to southern British Columbia, northern Arizona, New Mexico [60], and eastern Texas [55,60]. It extends east to the Great Plains of Colorado, central Nebraska, western Minnesota, central Saskatchewan and Alberta. Fringed sagebrush also occurs in northern Europe and Asia [60]. It has been introduced to northern central states, New England, and the eastern seaboard. The Plants Database provides a distribution map of fringed sagebrush for the United States.

FRES15 Oak-hickory
FRES17 Elm-ash-cottonwood
FRES20 Douglas-fir
FRES21 Ponderosa pine
FRES23 Fir-spruce
FRES26 Lodgepole pine
FRES29 Sagebrush
FRES30 Desert shrub
FRES34 Chaparral-mountain shrub
FRES35 Pinyon-juniper
FRES36 Mountain grasslands
FRES38 Plains grasslands
FRES39 Prairie
FRES40 Desert grasslands
FRES44 Alpine



5 Columbia Plateau
6 Upper Basin and Range
7 Lower Basin and Range
8 Northern Rocky Mountains
9 Middle Rocky Mountains
10 Wyoming Basin
11 Southern Rocky Mountains
12 Colorado Plateau
13 Rocky Mountain Piedmont
14 Great Plains
15 Black Hills Uplift
16 Upper Missouri Basin and Broken Lands

K011 Western ponderosa forest
K012 Douglas-fir forest
K015 Western spruce-fir forest
K016 Eastern ponderosa forest
K017 Black Hills pine forest
K018 Pine-Douglas-fir forest
K019 Arizona pine forest
K021 Southwestern spruce-fir forest
K022 Great Basin pine forest
K023 Juniper-pinyon woodland
K024 Juniper steppe woodland
K032 Transition between K031 and K037
K037 Mountain-mahogany-oak scrub
K038 Great Basin sagebrush
K040 Saltbush-greasewood
K050 Fescue-wheatgrass
K051 Wheatgrass-bluegrass
K052 Alpine meadows and barren
K053 Grama-galleta steppe
K054 Grama-tobosa prairie
K055 Sagebrush steppe
K056 Wheatgrass-needlegrass shrubsteppe
K057 Galleta-threeawn shrubsteppe
K063 Foothills prairie
K064 Grama-needlegrass-wheatgrass
K065 Grama-buffalo grass
K066 Wheatgrass-needlegrass
K067 Wheatgrass-bluestem-needlegrass
K068 Wheatgrass-grama-buffalo grass
K069 Bluestem-grama prairie
K070 Sandsage-bluestem prairie
K074 Bluestem prairie
K075 Nebraska Sandhills prairie
K081 Oak savanna
K082 Mosaic of K074 and K100
K098 Northern floodplain forest

42 Bur oak
63 Cottonwood
204 Black spruce
206 Engelmann spruce-subalpine fir
208 Whitebark pine
209 Bristlecone pine
210 Interior Douglas-fir
216 Blue spruce
217 Aspen
218 Lodgepole pine
219 Limber pine
220 Rocky Mountain juniper
235 Cottonwood-willow
236 Bur oak
237 Interior ponderosa pine
238 Western juniper
239 Pinyon-juniper
240 Arizona cypress

101 Bluebunch wheatgrass
102 Idaho fescue
104 Antelope bitterbrush-bluebunch wheatgrass
105 Antelope bitterbrush-Idaho fescue
107 Western juniper/big sagebrush/bluebunch wheatgrass
109 Ponderosa pine shrubland
110 Ponderosa pine-grassland
301 Bluebunch wheatgrass-blue grama
302 Bluebunch wheatgrass-Sandberg bluegrass
303 Bluebunch wheatgrass-western wheatgrass
304 Idaho fescue-bluebunch wheatgrass
305 Idaho fescue-Richardson needlegrass
306 Idaho fescue-slender wheatgrass
307 Idaho fescue-threadleaf sedge
308 Idaho fescue-tufted hairgrass
309 Idaho fescue-western wheatgrass
310 Needle-and-thread-blue grama
311 Rough fescue-bluebunch wheatgrass
312 Rough fescue-Idaho fescue
314 Big sagebrush-bluebunch wheatgrass
315 Big sagebrush-Idaho fescue
316 Big sagebrush-rough fescue
317 Bitterbrush-bluebunch wheatgrass
318 Bitterbrush-Idaho fescue
319 Bitterbrush-rough fescue
320 Black sagebrush-bluebunch wheatgrass
321 Black sagebrush-Idaho fescue
322 Curlleaf mountain-mahogany-bluebunch wheatgrass
323 Shrubby cinquefoil-rough fescue
324 Threetip sagebrush-Idaho fescue
401 Basin big sagebrush
402 Mountain big sagebrush
403 Wyoming big sagebrush
404 Threetip sagebrush
405 Black sagebrush
406 Low sagebrush
408 Other sagebrush types
409 Tall forb
411 Aspen woodland
412 Juniper-pinyon woodland
413 Gambel oak
415 Curlleaf mountain-mahogany
416 True mountain-mahogany
501 Saltbush-greasewood
503 Arizona chaparral
504 Juniper-pinyon pine woodland
509 Transition between oak-juniper woodland and mahogany-oak association
601 Bluestem prairie
602 Bluestem-prairie sandreed
603 Prairie sandreed-needlegrass
604 Bluestem-grama prairie
605 Sandsage prairie
606 Wheatgrass-bluestem-needlegrass
607 Wheatgrass-needlegrass
608 Wheatgrass-grama-needlegrass
609 Wheatgrass-grama
610 Wheatgrass
611 Blue grama-buffalo grass
612 Sagebrush-grass
613 Fescue grassland
614 Crested wheatgrass
615 Wheatgrass-saltgrass-grama
701 Alkali sacaton-tobosagrass
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
710 Bluestem prairie
712 Galleta-alkali sacaton
714 Grama-bluestem
715 Grama-buffalo grass
722 Sand sagebrush-mixed prairie
915 Mixed herb-herbaceous
921 Willow

Fringed sagebrush appears as a codominant in several habitat types and community types. It tends to be a dominant on dry, well-drained soil types or in areas characterized by disturbance.

In a 1st approximation of sagebrush (Artemisia spp.)-steppe habitat types in northern Colorado, Francis [49] describes a "topographic climax" habitat type of bluebunch wheatgrass (Pseudoroegneria spicata)/fringed sagebrush as part of an effort to classify mule deer winter range. Also in Colorado, Komarkova [80] describes 4 habitat types with fringed sagebrush as a dominant in the Gunnison and Uncompahgre National Forests. Three of these habitat types occur on warm, dry, south-facing slopes and 1 on an area "controlled" by grazing.

Fringed sagebrush is a dominant shrub in the ponderosa pine (Pinus ponderosa)/fringed sagebrush/needle-and-thread grass (Hesperostipa comata) community type in Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado [2]. A community type of fringed sagebrush/glaucous bluegrass (Poa glauca) occurs in southeastern Yukon. In the montane zone of the Alsek River region, southwestern Yukon, a fringed sagebrush/glaucous bluegrass community type is restricted to extremely dry, well-drained aeolian deposits along the Alsek and Dezadeash rivers [39]. A blue grama (Bouteloua gracilis)/ fringed sagebrush community type in Colorado is described by Moir and Trlica [95]. They suggest that it is a result of "environmental stress" induced by grazing.

Nadeau and Corns [97] describe a prairie Junegrass (Koeleria macrantha)/fringed sagebrush/wild blue flax (Linum lewisii) and a thickspike wildrye (Elymus macrourus)/fringed sagebrush vegetation type in Jasper National Park in Alberta.

Fringed sagebrush occurs in a wide variety of habitat types encompassing grasslands, shrublands and dry woodlands. Some of the more common associates of fringed sagebrush in these ecosystems are:

mixed prairie -dense clubmoss (Selaginella densa), winterfat (Krascheninnikovia lanata), needle-and-thread, blue grama, western wheatgrass (Pascopyrum smithii), prairie Junegrass [38], broom snakeweed (Gutierrezia sarothrae) [111], and Hood's phlox (Phlox hoodii) [124].

shortgrass prairie -blue grama, buffalo grass (Buchloe dactyloides), western wheatgrass [43,79], needle-and-thread, threadleaf (Carex filifolia) and needleleaf sedge (C. duriuscula), saltgrass (Distichlis spicata), alkali sacaton (Sporobolus airoides), scarlet globemallow (Sphaeralcea coccinea), fourwing saltbush (Atriplex canescens), winterfat, rubber rabbitbrush (Chrysothamnus nauseosus), and broom snakeweed [79].

Alaska steppe-bluebunch wheatgrass [42].


SPECIES: Artemisia frigida
Fringed sagebrush is a fragrant, aromatic [90], perennial [111] mat-forming, native "semi-shrub," woody at the base, that grows to a height of 4 to 14 inches (10-35 cm) with a spread of 6 to 12 inches (15-30 cm) [68]. Woody stems are spreading and often much branched. The upper herbaceous stems are erect and leafy.

The numerous leaves are 0.24 to 0.48 inch (6-12 mm) long and are 2 or 3 times pinnately divided. Numerous small flower heads are borne in nodding racemes or open panicles. Each head contains 10 to 17 outer, seed-producing, pistillate, ray flowers and numerous (25-50) tubular-funnelform, perfect, seed-producing disc flowers [90]. The fruits are achenes bearing tiny seeds [111].

Roots: In a 1965 study of grassland species in Saskatchewan, Coupland and Johnson [31] suggest roots of fringed sagebrush have "sufficient plasticity" to adjust to a semiarid climate by developing taproots in periods when moisture penetration permits, but to make use of moisture near the surface in habitats where deeper supplies are continually limiting due to runoff. In locations where moisture is often deficient near the soil surface, but where occasional moisture penetration to considerable depth permits establishment of deep roots, the taproot system is well developed. Taproots are not found where deep penetration of moisture is prevented by excessive runoff or where moisture supply in the upper layers of soil is more dependable.

Where the taproot is developed extensively it is a woody structure up to 0.4 inch (10 mm) in diameter, which descends vertically. Its thickness decreases rapidly, as many laterals originate just below the soil surface. These mostly descend vertically or obliquely, but a few grow horizontally before turning abruptly downwards. Main laterals are 2-3 mm in diameter and usually penetrate as deeply as the main taproot. Taproots can extend to depths as great as 5.3 feet (1.6 m) [31].

Within medium textured soils lateral spread of roots was greatest in the most arid zone where it reached 7.9 to 9.8 inches (20-25 cm). Under these conditions small branches (0.5-1.0 mm in diameter) from the taproot are usually confined to the top 35.4 inches (90 cm) of soil and these spread more widely than the thicker laterals [31].

In a 1984 study of mycorrhizal inoculum in a ponderosa pine forest in Colorado, Kovacic and others [81] determined fringed sagebrush was mycorrhizal and Dittberner and Olson [36] describe fringed sagebrush as endomycorrhizal.


Fringed sagebrush reproduces by seed [30] produced by both ray and disc flowers [90]. Under favorable conditions, fringed sagebrush increases in basal cover by layering [121].

Breeding system: Fringed sagebrush ray and disc flowers are fertile [90].

Pollination: Fringed sagebrush is wind pollinated [101].

Seed production: No seed is produced by fringed sagebrush in dry years; even in favorable years less than half of plants produce seed [30].

Bai and Romo [12] conducted experiments in Saskatchewan to determine effects of disturbance on seed production in fringed sagebrush. They utilized clipping, litter removal, tillage, and clipping plus litter removal as disturbance agents at 2 different sites. Data were collected the 1st and 2nd growing season following disturbance. They concluded disturbance was not a major influence on seed production by fringed sagebrush. Other factors, such as climate, exerted a dominant effect. Tillage had a greater effect in stimulating seed production than clipping or removing litter. The authors attributed this to reduced competition from neighboring plants. Average of results over both years were:




Year following disturbance Site Clipping (C)

Litter removal (L)

Tillage C+L Control
Seeds/head 2nd 1&2 9.5a1 2.5a 9a 2.5a 1.0a
Heads/inflorescence 2nd 1 49b 123a 93a 51b 28c
    2 8c 2c 15c 2c 2c
Inflorescences/plant 1st 1 38bc 59b 150a 37bc 39bc
    2 8bc 8bc 4c 1c 5c
  2nd 1&2 5b 15b 54a 4b 2b
Seeds/plant 1st 1 73,100b 66,300bc 250,000a 40,800bc 38,700bc
    2 2,800c 3,200c 700c 200c 4,500c
1Means followed by the same letter within a parameter are not significantly different (P>0.05)
2Least significant difference (P≤0.05)

Seed dispersal: Sagebrush (Artemisia spp.) seed, in general, has very poor dispersal. It lacks appendages for airborne transport by wind or for attachment to animals. Most seed falls beneath the plants and moves 3 feet (1 m) or less per generation [115]. However, Whisenant and Uresk [130] state the "widely dispersed" seed of fringed sagebrush helps it re-establish after fire.

Iverson [69] studied dispersal distance of fringed sagebrush seeds in western North Dakota. He estimated seeds of fringed sagebrush dispersed 55 inches (140 cm) given hypothetical conditions of 18.6 miles/hour (30 km/hr) wind speed and a seed height of 11.8 inches (30 cm).

Seed banking: Fringed sagebrush produces a large amount of seeds that can remain viable in the soil for "many" years until conditions are favorable for germination [28]. In years with limited seed production, the seed bank is sufficient to maintain populations of fringed sagebrush should established plants perish [12]. In a study of revegetation after surface mining in North Dakota, fringed sagebrush germinated after 3 and 4 years in the seed bank. In a 1-year-old soil stockpile, fringed sagebrush contributed 22% of total vegetation after the soil was spread [70].

Germination: Fringed sagebrush seeds in the soil can germinate anytime during the growing season [11].

Seedling establishment/growth: Environmental conditions during June and early July are critical in the emergence and growth of fringed sagebrush. Most seedlings of fringed sagebrush emerge in spring and early summer, enabling them to temporarily exploit the period for growth when soil water is highest and temperatures are moderate. However, fringed sagebrush seeds in the soil can germinate and seedlings can be recruited anytime during the growing season [11].

Fringed sagebrush seedlings withstand short-term drought "very well" and show moderate competitiveness and vigor. A 3-year establishment period is required for plants to reach flowering under dryland conditions [127].

In a laboratory experiment on emergence of fringed sagebrush seedlings, Harvey [60] determined surface plantings gave highest germination but desiccation severely limited seedling survival. Emergence of fringed sagebrush seedlings from 3 different planting depths was [60]:

Depth (mm) Percentage of seedling emergence
2.5 69
5.0 12
7.5 0

Asexual regeneration: Fringed sagebrush's ability to reproduce asexually is disputed. Fringed sagebrush can be regenerated from cuttings collected from February through May [68]. Under favorable conditions, fringed sagebrush increases in basal cover by layering [121]. Whisenant and Uresk [130] report 38% of fringed sagebrush resprouted after a prescribed fire in a mixed-prairie in South Dakota.

Fringed sagebrush occupies a wide variety of sites. Most typically, it grows in full sunlight in dry, coarse, shallow soils. However, it tolerates moderate shade well and thrives on ditch banks and along streams [121]. On winter ranges in western Utah and eastern Nevada, fringed sagebrush may occur in dense stands along shallow depressions that collect moisture from summer rains [90].

Elevation: Fringed sagebrush occurs from 4,000 to 11,000 feet (1,200-3,350 m) throughout its range [68]. Specific elevational ranges for fringed sagebrush in various locations show a wider range of elevation. They are:

Alaska: "lowlands" to 3,281 feet (1,000 m) [66]
Arizona: 5,500 to 8,000 feet (1,676-2,438 m) [76]
Colorado: 4,500 to 10,000 feet (1,372-3,048 m) [58]
Nevada: 6,800 to 11,000 feet (2,073-3,353 m) [75]
New Mexico: 5,500 to 8,000 feet (1,676-2,438 m) [89]
Utah: 2,953 to 11,417 feet (900 to 3480 m) [128]

Salt tolerance: Fringed sagebrush has a "fair" tolerance for salt [68].

Drought tolerance: Fringed sagebrush has a "good" drought tolerance, requiring an annual precipitation range of 8 to12 inches (20-30 cm) [68,119].

Soil: Fringed sagebrush does well on shallow to deep, well-drained soils with a pH from neutral to slightly alkaline. Texture of the soil can be fine to coarse [68]. Hann [56] states fringed sagebrush is found on soils with calcareous parent materials.

Dittberner and Olson [36] compiled information on soil types and growth of fringed sagebrush for Utah, Colorado, Wyoming, Montana, and North Dakota. They describe fringed sagebrush's growth as good on loam, sandy loam, and clay loam; fair on gravel and sand; fair to poor on clay and poor on dense clay.

Topography: Fringed sagebrush occurs on rocky ridges and foothills [68].

Fringed sagebrush is well represented in all successional stages, depending on location and ecosystems. It is well adapted in northern mixed prairie in a successional continuum from early to late seral stages [11]. It is also part of both seral and climax communities in a ponderosa pine/bunchgrass biogeoclimatic zone in the Junction Wildlife Management Area of British Columbia [46].

Early: In a discussion of winter game range in southern Idaho by Rosentreter and Jorgenson [108], they describe fringed sagebrush as a "good" pioneer species on harsh sites.

Mid-successional: Burgess [21] studied succession in the sandhills of southeastern North Dakota. He found fringed sagebrush to be a "transitional" plant species. Frequency and cover percentages for 60 quadrats were:

Pioneer Transitional Climax
Frequency Cover Frequency Cover Frequency Cover
0 0 4.8 .12 0 0

Climax: A community type of fringed sagebrush/glaucous bluegrass in southeastern Yukon is considered an edaphic climax [39]. Coupland [29] describes fringed sagebrush as "...the most abundant species among the herbs and dwarf half-shrubs" in the climax vegetation of northern mixed-grass prairie.

Phenology of fringed sagebrush is influenced by geographic location. Generally development begins later in northern areas and earlier in southern locations.

In the mixed-grass prairie of Canada, fringed sagebrush begins growth about mid-April. Flower stalks appear towards the end of July and flower buds are present about the end of the 1st week in August. Fringed sagebrush is in full bloom 2 weeks later. Seed ripens by mid-September and the foliage dries "soon" afterward [30].

A shortgrass prairie in Colorado observed by Dickinson and Dodd [33] showed fringed sagebrush began growth at the beginning of April with flower buds present in mid-July and mature floral buds by the end of the month. Floral buds and open flowers were present by the end of August and ripening fruit by the beginning of September. By the end of September, the plants had buds, flowers, green and ripe fruit and were dispersing seeds. Early November brought winter dormancy but seeds continued to disperse. Flowering of fringed sagebrush was delayed because of a dry autumn during the study and after flowering; the same conditions apparently brought on earlier seed dispersal.


SPECIES: Artemisia frigida
Fire adaptations: Fringed sagebrush's persistence during fire and its ability to establish in the postfire environment of a South Dakota mixed-prairie were discussed by Whisenant and Uresk [130]. The "widely dispersed" seeds of fringed sagebrush, parts of an individual plant surviving fire, and recovery by vegetative growth are listed as fringed sagebrush adaptations for persistence. The authors stated fringed sagebrush is only capable of establishing immediately after fire when competition is reduced.

Resprouting has been observed after fire in fringed sagebrush. Cawker [24] states fringed sagebrush "may stump sprout" after burning, and Anderson and Bailey [3] noted an increase in fringed sagebrush cover after 24 years of spring burning due to "the suckers of fringed sagebrush ."

Fire regimes: There is no specific information in the literature concerning fire regimes for fringed sagebrush. Fire regimes for plant communities and ecosystems in which fringed sagebrush occurs are summarized below. For further information regarding fire regimes and fire ecology of communities and ecosystems where fringed sagebrush is found, see the "Fire Ecology Adaptations" section of the FEIS species summary for the plant community or ecosystem dominants listed below.

Community or Ecosystem Dominant Species Fire Return Interval Range (years)
bluestem prairie Andropogon gerardii var. gerardii-Schizachyrium scoparium < 10 [82,98]
Nebraska sandhills prairie Andropogon gerardii var. paucipilus-Schizachyrium scoparium < 10
silver sagebrush steppe Artemisia cana 5-45 [61,103,132]
sagebrush steppe Artemisia tridentata/Pseudoroegneria spicata 20-70 [98]
basin big sagebrush Artemisia tridentata var. tridentata 12-43 [112]
mountain big sagebrush Artemisia tridentata var. vaseyana 15-40 [8,22,94]
Wyoming big sagebrush Artemisia tridentata var. wyomingensis 10-70 (40**) [123,135]
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-needle-and-thread grass-western wheatgrass Bouteloua gracilis-Hesperostipa comata-Pascopyrum smithii < 35
blue grama-buffalo grass Bouteloua gracilis-Buchloe dactyloides < 35
grama-galleta steppe Bouteloua gracilis-Pleuraphis jamesii < 35 to < 100
blue grama-tobosa prairie Bouteloua gracilis-Pleuraphis mutica < 35 to < 100
cheatgrass Bromus tectorum < 10 [98]
curlleaf mountain-mahogany* Cercocarpus ledifolius 13-1000 [10,114]
mountain-mahogany-Gambel oak scrub Cercocarpus ledifolius-Quercus gambelii < 35 to < 100
western juniper Juniperus occidentalis 20-70
Rocky Mountain juniper Juniperus scopulorum < 35
wheatgrass plains grasslands Pascopyrum smithii < 35 [98]
Engelmann spruce-subalpine fir Picea engelmannii-Abies lasiocarpa 35 to > 200 [7]
black spruce Picea mariana 35-200 [40]
blue spruce* Picea pungens 35-200
pine-cypress forest Pinus-Cupressus spp. < 35 to 200 [7]
pinyon-juniper Pinus-Juniperus spp. < 35 [98]
whitebark pine* Pinus albicaulis 50-200 [1,5]
Mexican pinyon Pinus cembroides 20-70 [96,120]
Rocky Mountain lodgepole pine* Pinus contorta var. latifolia 25-300+ [6,7,107]
Colorado pinyon Pinus edulis 10-400+ [47,52,77,98]
interior ponderosa pine* Pinus ponderosa var. scopulorum 2-30 [7,14,86]
Arizona pine Pinus ponderosa var. arizonica 2-15 [14,27,116]
galleta-threeawn shrubsteppe Pleuraphis jamesii-Aristida purpurea < 35 to < 100 [98]
aspen-birch Populus tremuloides-Betula papyrifera 35-200 [40,125]
quaking aspen (west of the Great Plains) Populus tremuloides 7-120 [7,54,93]
mountain grasslands Pseudoroegneria spicata 3-40 (10**) [6,7]
Rocky Mountain Douglas-fir* Pseudotsuga menziesii var. glauca 25-100 [7,8,9]
oak-hickory Quercus-Carya spp. < 35[125]
oak-juniper woodland (Southwest) Quercus-Juniperus spp. < 35 to < 200 [98]
oak savanna Quercus macrocarpa/Andropogon gerardii-Schizachyrium scoparium 2-14 [98,125]
little bluestem-grama prairie Schizachyrium scoparium-Bouteloua spp. < 35 [98]
elm-ash-cottonwood Ulmus-Fraxinus-Populus spp. < 35 to 200 [40,125]
*fire return interval varies widely; trends in variation are noted in the species summary

Small shrub, adventitious bud/root crown
Ground residual colonizer (on-site, initial community)
Initial off-site colonizer (off-site, initial community)


SPECIES: Artemisia frigida
Fire apparently top-kills fringed sagebrush. Authors cited below describe fringed sagebrush as "killed" by fire without delineating whether the plant is top-killed or completely killed by fire.

During prescribed fire experiments in a mixed-prairie in Badlands National Park, South Dakota, fire killed "many" fringed sagebrush plants [130]. In a wildlife habitat improvement study for California bighorn sheep in British Columbia, burning of big sagebrush stands resulted in killing "most" fringed sagebrush plants [100]. Wasser [127] states wildfire generally kills "some" fringed sagebrush plants and sometimes "most" plants.

Whisenant and Uresk [130] noted density of fringed sagebrush changed "little" following fire. Seedlings established quickly following fire. Size of fringed sagebrush plants after fire was "greatly" reduced. About 38% of fringed sagebrush plants resprouted following fire. Wasser [127] states fringed sagebrush plants recover from wildfire in 3 years.

In a discussion of plant response to fire in various ecosystems, Wright and Thompson [133] describe fringed sagebrush as "reduced" by spring burning in a mixed-grass prairie and "seriously harmed" by both spring and fall burning in the Canadian Great Plains.

Kirsch and Kruse [78] state cover of fringed sagebrush was "unchanged" by burning on the mixed-grass prairie of North Dakota. However, their definition of unchanged includes a range of change in cover from plus 99% to minus 49% for the plants studied.

Bailey and Anderson [13] conducted an experiment in Alberta designed to determine effects of spring and fall prescribed burning of a rough fescue (Festuca altaica)/short bristle needle and thread (Hesperostipa curtiseta) grass community. They noted fringed sagebrush canopy coverage was reduced by both spring and fall burns. After an August, 1994, wildfire in northern dry mixed prairie in southeastern Alberta, fringed sagebrush appeared to decline in overall abundance. Pooled data from 1995 to 1997 show a decrease in estimates of fringed sagebrush's percent weight of total vegetation weight on burned sites relative to unburned sites for both upland and lowland areas [44]:

Upland Lowland
Burned Unburned Burned Unburned
1.3 17.4 0.8 3.4

Grassland sites burned by wildfire were compared the 1st year after burning to unburned sites in western North Dakota by Dix [37]. His results show an increase in frequency of fringed sagebrush on the site burned in summer, but a decrease in frequency for sites burned in fall and spring.

Summer Fall Spring
unburned burned unburned burned unburned burned
15 25 17 7 42 10

After 24 years of annual spring burning in the aspen (Populus tremuloides) parklands of east-central Alberta, fringed sagebrush increased in both canopy cover and frequency [3]. Increase in canopy cover was significant at P<0.05.

Frequency, % Canopy cover, %
Unburned (n=458) Burned (n=458) Unburned (n=458) Burned (n=458)
3 7 0.2 0.3

The Research Project Summary Seasonal fires in Saskatchewan rough fescue prairie provides information on prescribed fire use and postfire response of plains grassland community species including fringed sagebrush.

Fire shows promise as a potentially desirable means of reducing fringed sagebrush, an "unwanted increaser," on Canadian rangelands [13].


SPECIES: Artemisia frigida
Forage value of fringed sagebrush varies according to season, year, location, and classes of animals utilizing it [110]. Some consider fringed sagebrush a pest species; many others consider it a valuable forage species [28]. Fringed sagebrush is not readily eaten by browsing animals except in autumn and winter. However, half of the foliage of fringed sagebrush may be consumed in winter pastures [30]. Currie and others [32] studied diet of cattle using fistulated animals in Colorado and found fringed sagebrush was consistently selected throughout most of the growing season. Fringed sagebrush was utilized during every month but July. The authors considered this interesting because fringed sagebrush is generally considered unimportant or undesirable cattle forage. Percentage of fringed sagebrush in cattle diet during the study was:

May June July August September November
19.8 23.3 0 4.0 9.2 9.0

Fringed sagebrush is considered a "fair" forage species for domestic sheep by Hutchings [67]. Dittberner and Olson [36] rate fringed sagebrush as good forage for domestic sheep in Utah, Colorado, and Wyoming and fair in Montana and North Dakota. They rate fringed sagebrush as fair forage for horses in Utah, Colorado, and Wyoming, and poor in Montana and North Dakota.

Many large game animals utilize fringed sagebrush throughout western United States and Canada. In a 1971 literature review, Bayless [17] discusses use of fringed sagebrush by big game in Montana. He summarized big game use of fringed sagebrush as:

Species Location Season of use Use
pronghorn central Montana fall

Browse made up 50% of total volume in rumen samples with western snowberry (Symphoricarpos occidentalis), silver sagebrush, and fringed sagebrush most important.

winter Big sagebrush, silver sagebrush and fringed sagebrush made up 93% of volume of the rumen samples.
spring Big sagebrush and fringed sagebrush made up 65% of volume of rumen samples [25].
summer Five forbs including fringed sagebrush, long-leaf sagebrush (A. longifolia), three-leafed milkvetch (Astragalus gilviflorus), alfalfa (Medicago sativa), and sweetclover (Melilotus officinalis) constituted 62% or more of the total use at feeding sites and averaged 35% of identifiable material in rumen samples [129].
elk Gallatin Canyon winter 3% of plant use [26]
Crow Creek drainage, Elk Horn Mountains winter fringed sagebrush was a "significant plant" [51]
white-tailed deer Sun River winter Fringed sagebrush rated 7th among browse plants utilized (total # browse plants not given) [113].


Snowy Mountains winter Fringed sagebrush comprised 9% by volume of total winter diet [72].
bighorn sheep Sun River winter Fringed sagebrush was 1 of the browse species that received "significant use [113]."
Gallatin Canyon winter Fringed sagebrush, a preferred food item, constituted 9% of the diet [26].

Importance of key winter forage plants for British Columbia ungulates is ranked by Blower [19]. His results for fringed sagebrush are:

Species coast deer mule deer white-tailed deer mountain goat bighorn sheep Roosevelt elk Rocky Mountain elk moose caribou
Importance low high moderate low high low moderate low low

Bison in northeastern Colorado browsed fringed sagebrush in March and October. In March on a pasture that had been "heavily" browsed by cattle, fringed sagebrush was 20.2 % of the bison diet with a standard error of 13.6. In October it was 11.3 % with a standard error of 5.6 [99].

Food habits of Rocky Mountain elk in the northern Great Plains were studied by Wydeven and Dahlgren [134] in Wind Cave National Park, South Dakota. They found fringed sagebrush was an "important" or "major" plant in the diet of Rocky Mountain elk in fall, winter, and spring. Percent of fringed sagebrush in elk rumen contents, along with standard deviation, from July, 1976, to August, 1977 was:

Fall (n=6) Winter (n=11) Spring (n=4) Summer (n=9)
0.5 0.8 3.8 4.9 9.3 5.6 0.4 0.7

In a literature review of Rocky Mountain mule deer foods, Kufeld and others [84] rated deer use of fringed sagebrush as "moderate" in winter and "light" in spring and fall.

Bartman [15] utilized tame mule deer to determine diet of mule deer in pinyon (Pinus spp.)/juniper (Juniperus spp.)/mixed shrub winter range during a 2-year experiment in Colorado. Fringed sagebrush was used most heavily by mule deer in February and March during both years. No use or only trace amounts were noted in the remaining winter months. Currie and others [32] also utilized tame mule deer in a Colorado study in managed ponderosa pine habitats to determine if diets of mule deer and cattle were in competition. Their results indicate mule deer utilize fringed sagebrush during the growing season, not just winter months. Fringed sagebrush was ranked 9th of 129 species grazed by mule deer and percentage of total diet of fringed sagebrush by month was:

April May June July August October
12.5 2.2 6.9 0.7 trace 1.0

Bayless [16] studied pronghorn winter diet in Montana. He found pronghorn utilized fringed sagebrush more than would be expected when compared to percentage of total vegetation available in February and March:

January February March
9 feeding sites 12 feeding sites 7 feeding sites
instances of use  % of diet % of vegetation available instances of use % of diet % of vegetation available instances of use % of diet % of vegetation available
7 trace trace 332 11 6 94 3 trace

As part of the same study, Bayless [16] analyzed contents of 18 pronghorn rumen samples collected during the winter of 1966/1967. Frequency of occurrence and volume of plant taxa, both in percentages, for fringed sagebrush were:

December January February March
67/14 50/trace 67/16 83/5

In a 1963 study of pronghorn diet at 2 sites in Saskatchewan, Dirschl [35] analyzed rumens of pronghorns and determined they utilized fringed sagebrush year-round. His results, presented as percent of diet by weight, were:

Spring Summer Fall Winter
site 1 site 2 site 1 site 2 site 1 site 2 site 1 site 2
11 13 3 -- 7 -- 7 4

Fringed sagebrush is also important to small game and nongame mammals. White-tailed jackrabbits in Colorado utilize fringed sagebrush in spring and autumn. Fringed sagebrush composes 15% of their spring diet and is an "important" part of their fall diet [41]. Also in Colorado, Hansen and Gold (1977) [57] observed black-tailed prairie dogs from June, 1973, to June, 1975, and desert cottontails from June, 1974, to June, 1975, as part of a study to determine competition with cattle for food. Fringed sagebrush was not part of the cattle's diet but the researchers reported fringed sagebrush to be part of the diet of both black-tailed prairie dogs and desert cottontails. Fringed sagebrush was one of the "most important" food items for black-tailed prairie dogs and made up 8% of their total diet. Fringed sagebrush made up 15% of the total diet of desert cottontails. Their results expressed as an average ( Standard Error) percentage of seasonal diets were:

Spring (April-May) Summer (June-August) Fall (September-November) Winter (December-March)
Black-tailed prairie dogs 5 2 <1 5 2 21 4
Desert cottontails 9 3 <1 12 5 40 5

Sage-grouse and greater prairie-chickens utilize fringed sagebrush as both adults and juveniles. Food habits of greater sage-grouse in central Montana were studied by Peterson [102] during the summers of 1966 and 1968. Fringed sagebrush was 1 of the 5 most utilized plants and began to appear in the diet of sage-grouse chicks when they were 4 weeks old but only as a trace. Use of fringed sagebrush increased until the chicks were 11 to 12 weeks old.

Use of fringed sagebrush by adult sage-grouse occurred in August and September. Percent frequency and volume of fringed sagebrush in the diet of adult sage-grouse for these 2 months were:

  August  (n = 18) September  (n = 14)
Frequency/Volume 63/11 37/2

Another study of sage-grouse in central Montana [126] observed food habits of adult sage-grouse. Use of fringed sagebrush began in March and continued through November. Percent frequency and volume of fringed sagebrush in 299 sage-grouse crops was:

April (n = 22) May (n = 24) June (n = 18) July (n = 45) Aug. (n = 26) Sept. (n = 29) Oct. (n = 13) Nov. (n = 21) Total (n = 299)
55/18 21/6 39/20 31/7 52/13 28/8 69/12 33/5 31/8

In a study of greater prairie-chicken food habits on the Sheyenne National Grasslands in North Dakota, Rumble and others [109] found fringed sagebrush was part of greater prairie-chicken brood diets. Adult birds utilized fringed sagebrush in both winter and summer. Percent composition and standard error of fringed sagebrush in adult greater prairie-chickens diet was [109]:

December (n=7) January (n=49) February (n=63) April (n=45) May (n=88) June (n=39) July (n=44) August (n=27)
0 4.0 1.9 10.7 2.7 7.9 2.4 8.7 2.2 0.9 0.4 0.3 0.3 0.3 0.1

In Wind Cave National Park, Forde [48] found higher vesper sparrow numbers were associated with several plants, including fringed sagebrush.

Palatability/nutritional value: Because of its range and diverse habitats, fringed sagebrush varies considerably in its value as forage for livestock. Brand and Goetz [20] rate fringed sagebrush as unpalatable to cattle. In North Dakota, Hooper and Nesbitt [64] state fringed sagebrush is bitter and the least palatable forage in the mixed-prairie. Stock will not begin to eat it until other forage becomes scarce. However, in the Southwest, fringed sagebrush rates "fairly good" in palatability for cattle and "very good" for domestic sheep and goats, especially during winter and spring. It is highly prized for domestic sheep forage during lambing season [121].

In a 1946 study of white-tailed deer diet in the Black Hills of South Dakota, Hill [62] ranked palatability of fringed sagebrush for the 4 seasons as:

January to March April to June July to September October to December
medium low unpalatable low

Nutritional value of fringed sagebrush for wildlife in some western states is rated [36]:

Species Utah Colorado Wyoming Montana North Dakota
Elk good good fair good --
Mule deer good good good fair fair
White-tailed deer fair good -- -- --
Pronghorn good -- good good fair
Upland game birds good -- fair fair poor
Waterfowl poor -- poor -- --
Small nongame birds fair -- fair fair --
Small mammals good -- far fair --

Fringed sagebrush is "moderately" nutritious and is more important for fattening than body-building or energy-producing feed. Chemical analysis of fringed sagebrush indicates it ranks with alfalfa hay in proportions of crude fiber and carbohydrates and contains about 4 times as much fat, 1/2 the ash and 2/3rds as much protein as alfalfa [121].

Fringed sagebrush collected over base-metal deposits in Precambrian rocks of west-central Colorado showed the following concentrations of elements when the ash was analyzed [88]:

Element Range
Fe 0.3-0.7 (%)
Mg 1.0-2.0 (%)
Ti 0.15-0.2 (%)
Mn 0.07 (%)
Na 0.3-0.5 (%)
Ag 0.1-0.2 (ppm)
B 300-500 (ppm)
Ba 300-700 (ppm)
Cd 10-50 (ppm)
Co <5 (ppm)
Cr 0-5 (ppm)
Cu 100-200 (ppm)
La 20-30 (ppm)
Mo 10-15 (ppm)
Ni 10-15 (ppm)
Pb 20-30 (ppm)
Sr 200-1000 (ppm)
V 15-30 (ppm)
Y 10 (ppm)
Zn 1000-1500 (ppm)
Zr 50-100 (ppm)

Dietz [34] discusses fringed sagebrush as part of a study to determine nutritive value of  shrubs in the Black Hills of South Dakota. Seasonal values of nutrients for stems and leaves of fringed sagebrush, oven-dry basis, were:

Nutrient Spring Summer Fall Winter
Crude protein (%) 16.4 12.4 9.3 7.6
Acid-detergent fiber (%) 32.7 35.5 35.7 36.0
Acid-detergent lignin (%) 5.3 9.3 12.1 17.4
Cellulose (%) 29.0 24.9 24.1 25.3
Ash (%) 6.9 5.9 5.4 5.1
Ca (%) 0.71 0.72 0.84 1.01
P 0.40 0.37 0.31 0.18
Seasonal gross energy (cal/g) 4,737 5,022 5,068 4,852

He also describes dry matter and nutritive production of fringed sagebrush in fall on a deer range in the Black Hills [34]:

Dry matter production Crude protein Gross energy
pounds/acre percent pounds/acre Kcal/g Kcal/acre
23.7 9.3 2.20 5.068 54,530

Cover value: Dittberner and Olson [36] rate fringed sagebrush's cover value for wildlife in some western states as generally low.

Germination of fringed sagebrush differs between field and laboratory conditions with field germination lower than laboratory germination. Fringed sagebrush had an overall field germination rate of 8.9 2.3% after being tested at 3 different sites in Montana for 3 years [60].

In a laboratory study of fringed sagebrush germination [111], heads of the achenes had to be threshed and extra plant material sifted and removed. No other pretreatment was necessary for germination. Cleaned seed of fringed sagebrush averages 3,875,000 per pound (8,545/gm) [90].

The achenes germinated very well over most of a range of temperatures from 63 to 75 degrees Fahrenheit (17-24 oC) for 8 hours and 53 to 88 degrees Fahrenheit (11.5- 31 oC) for 16 hours. Temperatures of 93 degrees Fahrenheit (34 oC) or higher strongly depressed germination percentages and lengthened germination times. Optimum germination was at a constant temperature of approximately 63 degrees Fahrenheit (17 oC) with a mean germination time of 5.4 days, and alternating temperatures 56 to 75 degrees (13.5-17 oC) for 8 hours and 74 degrees Fahrenheit (23.5 oC) for 16 hours with a mean germination time of 5.3 days.

Harvey [60] utilized a temperature gradient bar for 14 days to measure percent germination of fringed sagebrush seeds. His results were:

Temperature (oC) Percent germination S.D.
6 47 11.7
8 63 17.1
10 79 12.0
12 81 10.0
14 77 6.1
16 68 6.3
18 57 5.8
20 36 9.8
22 33 8.7
24 21 8.9
26 9 4.6
28 5 5.5
30 1 3.5

Germination of fringed sagebrush achenes is "strikingly" affected by increase in moisture stress [111]. Total percentage germination and time required to reach 75% of total germination at 7 levels of moisture stress with a constant temperature of 63 degrees Fahrenheit (17 oC) (n = 2) were:

Water potential (bars) Total germination (%) Time to reach 75% of total germination (days)
0 98a1 5
-2 85b 5
-4 49c 8
-7 41c 10
-10 18d 11
-13 0e --
-16 0e --
1Numbers not followed by the same letter are significantly different (p = 0.05).

No response to either presence or absence of light was noted in germinating seeds of fringed sagebrush by Sabo and others [111]. However, Wasser [127] states surface seeding of fringed sagebrush is beneficial because light induces greater germination where surface moisture is assured, e.g., with irrigation or where snowmelt extends for a few weeks.

Fringed sagebrush is well adapted to northerly cool climates and is especially useful for stabilization of disturbed soils [91]. It can be used for soil stabilization during erosion control [68], because of its root system [90] (see General Botanical Characteristics).

Fringed sagebrush is 1 of the plants recommended by Rosentreter and Jorgenson [108] for restoring winter game range in southern Idaho. They state it has limited distribution in Idaho but would do well on cold sites and be a good pioneer on harsh sites.

Meier and Weaver [92] discuss use of native plants for roadside vegetation management in the northern Rocky Mountains. They conclude fringed sagebrush would grow best if seeded in Douglas-fir, shortgrass, or foothill bunchgrass types. It would do well in a ponderosa pine type and have least success if seeded in a mixed-grass type.

In North Dakota a study was done to observe number of seedlings emerging from "prairie hay" when used as mulch to provide a seed source for revegetating disturbed sites. Number of established fringed sagebrush seedlings increased significantly (P<0.05) after the hay was stored for a year [106].

Since fringed sagebrush increases in grazed pastures [30,87], it is often considered an indicator of overgrazing [30]. As an example of this, in an early study (1960) of grazing effects in Colorado on short-grass range, average green forage production of fringed sagebrush in heavily grazed (60% by weight of current herbage growth of dominant forage grasses in 6 months) pastures was 26 pounds (11.8 kg); moderately grazed (40%) yielded 21 pounds (9.5 kg); and lightly grazed (20%) only produced 18 pounds (8.2 kg) of forage [79]. However, Reed and Peterson [105] caution against indiscriminate use of fringed sagebrush as a range condition indicator. They feel abundance of fringed sagebrush may be related to weather, and considerable damage to the range from grazing may occur long before increases in fringed sagebrush are apparent.

Lovering and Hedal [88] investigated use of fringed sagebrush as a biogeochemical indicator species for base-metal deposits in Precambrian rocks in west-central Colorado. They concluded that because of its wide distribution, fringed sagebrush could be useful in mineral exploration since the chemical composition of fringed sagebrush may mirror composition of the soil where it grows.

Native Americans used fringed sagebrush in a variety of ways. The northern Cheyenne tribe wove fringed sagebrush into a braid and wore it like a head-band to treat nosebleed [59]. In the Fort Yukon region of northeastern Alaska, native people boil leaves and stems of fringed sagebrush in water for bathing sore or painful feet. The steam is inhaled to relieve congestion and steam baths are used to soothe varicose veins. Leaves of fringed sagebrush are boiled in water to make a strong tea used for relief of colds or mixed with spruce pitch and applied to wounds [63].

Early settlers used fringed sagebrush to make a bitter tea which they believed was a tonic and remedy for typhoid fever [65].

Fringed sagebrush is used for landscaping because of its attractive, fine, silvery-green foliage [68].

Wasser [127] recommends using seed stock of fringed sagebrush from habitats similar to seeding site.

In a clipping experiment designed to simulate grazing in Colorado, Buwai and Trlica [23] found fringed sagebrush detrimentally affected by any 2 multiple defoliation treatments. Plants were most affected by heavy defoliation (90% of current year's growth removed) during rapid growth and near maturity. Effects were least severe when fringed sagebrush plants were moderately defoliated (60% of current year's growth removed) during the quiescence and rapid growth phenological stages. Plant vigor and herbage yields were less for all defoliated plants than for control plants. Root total nonstructural carbohydrates of fringed sagebrush were reduced by multiple defoliations except when plants were defoliated at a "moderate" level during quiescence and rapid growth. The authors conclude "complete rest from grazing during later phenological stages during some years may be required to maintain fringed sagebrush vigor, production, and carbohydrate reserve levels."

Hutchings [67] recommends 40% use of annual growth of fringed sagebrush by domestic sheep.

Herbicides: A 1970 review of herbicidal treatments for fringed sagebrush is provided by Ryerson and others [110].

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