Artemisia norvegica


   © Br. Alfred Brousseau, Saint Mary's College
Taylor, Jane E. 2006. Artemisia norvegica. In: Fire Effects Information System, [Online]. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station, Fire Sciences Laboratory (Producer). Available: [].



boreal sagebrush
arctic wormwood
boreal sagewort
spruce wormwood

The scientific name of boreal sagebrush is Artemisia norvegica Fries (Asteraceae) [13,14,30,48,66].

Infrataxa: Some systematists recognize only 1 variety of boreal sagebrush as occurring in North America: A. norvegica Fries var. saxatilis (Bess.) Jepson [13,14,30,43]. Cronquist and others [14] suggest that additional varieties should possibly be recognized to account for boreal sagebrush in high arctic areas. Based primarily on distribution, plant size, size and shape of the flower heads, and pubescence color, some systematists recognize 2 additional subspecies of boreal sagebrush: A. norvegica Less ssp. beringensis (Hultén) Hultén and A. norvegica Fries ssp. comata (Rydb.) Welsh [33,35].

Within this review, "boreal sagebrush" refers to the species as a whole unless otherwise specified.

Artemisia arctica Less. [1,13,14,30,33,35,43,44]
A. arctica Less. ssp. arctica [1,33,35]
A. norvegica Fries var. piceetorum Welsh & Goodrich [13,14,66]
A. norvegica Fries var. saxatilis (Bess.) Jepson [13,14,30,43]
A. norvegica Fries ssp. saxatilis (Bess.) Hall & Clements [13,14,29,33,43,44]
A. arctica Less. ssp. saxicola (Rydb.) Hultén [13,14,61]
   =A. norvegica Fries [13,14,30,48,66]

A. arctica Less. var. beringensis Hultén [1]
   = A. norvegica Less ssp. beringensis (Hultén) Hultén [33]

A. arctica Less ssp. comata (Rydb.) Hultén [1,33,35]
A. comata Rydb. [33]
A. norvegica Fries var. comata (Rydb.) Welsh [35]
   = A. norvegica Fries ssp. comata (Rydb.) Welsh [33,35]


No special status

Information on state-level protected status of plants in the United States is available at Plants Database.


SPECIES: Artemisia norvegica
Boreal sagebrush is patchily distributed from Nunavut west to Alaska and south to British Columbia, Alberta, and Washington. It occurs in California and east into the Rocky Mountain states of Utah, Wyoming, and Colorado. Boreal sagebrush occurred historically in Montana but may be extirpated [35,58]. It is widespread in Eurasia [14]. Plants Database provides a distributional map of boreal sagebrush and its infrataxa in the United States.

Infrataxa: Artemisia arctica ssp. beringensis only occurs in limited locations in the western Aleutians and the Bering Strait [33]. Artemisia arctica ssp. comata occurs in the Northwest Territories west to Alaska and south to British Columbia and Alberta [58].

FRES23 Fir-spruce
FRES26 Lodgepole pine
FRES44 Alpine

STATES/PROVINCES: (key to state/province abbreviations)



2 Cascade Mountains
4 Sierra Mountains
8 Northern Rocky Mountains
9 Middle Rocky Mountains

K007 Red fir forest
K052 Alpine meadows and barren


108 Alpine Idaho fescue
213 Alpine grassland
216 Montane meadows
410 Alpine rangeland
902 Alpine herb
907 Dryas
910 Hairgrass
914 Mesic sedge-grass-herb meadow tundra
915 Mixed herb-herbaceous
918 Tussock tundra
921 Willow

Boreal sagebrush typically occurs in tundra, subalpine, and alpine Fell-field, grass- and sedge (Carex spp.)-dominated communities. Baker [4] lists boreal sagebrush as a vegetation type in alpine meadow habitats in Colorado, but does not provide any description or further discussion of this type. Publications that discuss plant communities in which boreal sagebrush occurs are listed below. The list is neither restrictive nor all inclusive.



SPECIES: Artemisia norvegica
This description provides characteristics that may be relevant to fire ecology, and is not meant for identification. Keys for identification are available (e.g., [1,30,33,44,66]).

Boreal sagebrush is a native, perennial, caespitose subshrub that grows from 2.0 to 5.9 inches (20-60 cm) in height [1,30,38,66]. Erect stems arise from a simple or branched caudex [66]. Occasionally the plant produces short stolons [38,44]. Leaves are mainly basal, and are 0.8 to 7.9 inch (2-20 cm) long. The nodding inflorescence is raceme- or spike-like [1,30,38,66]. Marginal flowers are pistillate, and the central disc flowers are perfect [66]. The fruit is a 1-seeded achene [38]. Boreal sagebrush has a stout taproot [48,66].


Boreal sagebrush regenerates by seeds [10] and occasionally produces short stolons [38,44].

Pollination: Boreal sagebrush is pollinated by wind [41].

Breeding system: Boreal sagebrush is monoecious [66].

Seed production: No information is available on this topic.

Seed dispersal: The small seed size and papery seedcoat aid in wind dissemination of boreal sagebrush seeds. Wind transport of seeds appears to be an important means of dispersal in the subalpine and alpine areas where the sweep of the wind is unbroken by trees [10].

Seed banking: Artemisia species generally lack a long-lived seed bank [41].

Germination: Germination information specific to seeds of boreal sagebrush is limited; however, it is reported that seeds of Artemisia species in general require light and moist chilling for germination to occur [41]. In 1 laboratory study, Baskin and Baskin [7] found that the optimum germination temperature of boreal sagebrush seeds was 64 °F (18 °C ).

Seedling establishment/growth: Although the literature reports that boreal sagebrush regenerates by seeds [10], information is lacking on the specifics of seedling establishment and growth.

Asexual regeneration: Although it is recorded that boreal sagebrush occasionally produces stolons [38,44], additional information on boreal sagebrush's regeneration capacity by stolons is lacking. Sprouting is rare in sagebrush species, but a few species do sprout [41]. Further research is needed on the sprouting ability of boreal sagebrush.

Boreal sagebrush grows in moist to mesic tundra meadows [11,12,32,47], rocky slopes and ridges [31,38], and glacial moraines [51] in the montane to alpine zones [38]. Soils are typically gravelly with little organic horizon, derived from a variety of substrates including granite, gneiss, schist, and sandstone [42,51,53]. In tundra ecosystems the top 6 to 24 inches (15-61 cm) of soil is the "active layer", which is subject to seasonal freeze and thaw cycles. Below the active layer is the permafrost layer [16]. Boreal sagebrush commonly occurs in "snow melt" or "snow patch" communities where snow often accumulates in the lee of rocky outcrops and provides protection from desiccating winter winds [28,45].

Complete elevational ranges of boreal sagebrush are not available for all areas in which it occurs. The following table summarizes reported elevational ranges of boreal sagebrush:

Area Elevation
AK sea level to 6,562 feet (2,000 m) [33]
CA 7,546 to 12,467 feet (2,300-3,800 m) [29]
CO 11,000 to 13,000 feet (3,353-3,962 m) [26]
Mount Rainier National Park, WA 5,500 to 7,500 feet (1,676-2,286 m) [52]
Intermountain West 10,827 to 11,975 feet (3,300-3650 m) [14]
BC sea level to 9,843 feet (3,000 m) [38]

Boreal sagebrush is 1 of the herbaceous species that initially colonizes dry sandy sites of the floodplain of the Tanana River in Alaska in the "alluvium with scattered willows and herbs" stage of succession. The plant layer in this stage is often short lived because of heavy flooding, siltation, and erosion from the adjacent active river channel. Boreal sagebrush may persist into the early part of the "open willow" stage, but it drops out quickly as the willow canopy cover increases [59]. Additional information on the successional status of boreal sagebrush is lacking, and further research is needed in this area.

Boreal sagebrush flowers from June to September [14]. Further information on seasonal development is lacking.


SPECIES: Artemisia norvegica
Fire adaptations: No information is available on the reestablishment of boreal sagebrush following fire. Because boreal sagebrush seeds are well suited for wind dissemination [10], and since sprouting in sagebrush species is rare [41], it can be speculated that the primary mode of reestablishment of boreal sagebrush following fire is reseeding. Seeds can be windblown into burned areas from off-site sources or from surviving individuals in the burned area. Localized spread can occur from seeds falling to the ground around surviving plants. Boreal sagebrush can produce stolons [38,44], but information is lacking on whether or not the stolons can sprout following a fire. Research is needed on the fire adaptations of boreal sagebrush.

Fire regimes: In the literature, alpine and arctic tundra ecosystems tend to be considered concurrently when fire regimes are discussed [27]. In this review, alpine and arctic tundra are discussed as one, generally following Rowe's [49] definition of tundra as the treeless vegetation of high latitudes and high elevations, usually characterized by lichens, sedges, and dwarf shrubs. Fire regimes of tundra ecosystems are not well understood, partly because fires in these systems are not common [27]. The fire return interval may be as short as 100 years, but 500 years is probably more common [60,67]. Long fire return intervals in the tundra are probably related to the prevalence of cold, humid summers, saturated peat profiles, and the absence of continuous vegetation cover. Distribution of vegetation in the tundra is characterized by a patchy occurrence of dense vegetation, sparse vegetation, and bare ground which results in an "interrupted fuel bed" [16]. Fires in tundra ecosystems are generally characterized by low- to moderate-severity surface fires that kill all aboveground plant parts but seldom destroy underground parts [9]. Revegetation following fire is generally rapid and occurs primarily from vegetative sprouting of grasses and sedges, with some colonization of other species from windblown seed. Generally, tundra fires tend to be small in size, <120 acres (50 ha), but in exceptionally dry years tundra fires may cover 250,000 acres (101,000 ha) or more [60]. These larger fire events are usually the result of fire spreading from nearby timber stands [63]. Fires that occur on the forest-tundra edge may result in the loss of tree cover for long periods of time. The burned forest may be replaced by tundra for many decades because of the harsh environment and heavy regrowth of sedges and grasses that prevent establishment of conifers [62]. Tundra fires ignite as soon as the snow melts and the vegetation dries. In the higher latitudes, this can be as early as mid-May or as late as the end of August. The long summer day length at these latitudes is conducive to melting snow and drying the vegetation. The possibility of fires starting late in the season is small because of the higher humidities associated with the shorter day length [64].

The high elevation Engelmann spruce-subalpine fir (Picea engelmannii-Abies lasiocarpa) ecosystems in which boreal sagebrush may occur are usually so cold and wet that they seldom burn except during extreme drought years [36]. The fire regime is characterized by stand-replacement fires, generally at intervals of 100 to 400 years. Insect- and disease-related mortality and windthrow can result in heavy loadings of large woody fuels, which will support stand-replacement fires [2]. In the Rocky Mountains these ecosystems often make up the forest component of the forest-alpine edge. Large fires that start in the spruce-fir forest can spread into the adjacent alpine zone, as discussed in the previous paragraph.

Fire regimes in Rocky Mountain lodgepole pine ecosystems can be quite variable. Boreal sagebrush is most likely to occur in openings or edges of the higher-elevation, cooler, wetter lodgepole stands, which typically have a regime of infrequent stand-replacing fires. The mean fire return intervals in these high-elevation stands generally range from 140 to 340 years [6]. Dead wood decays slowly in these cool climates, resulting in a gradual accumulation of large fuels. However, it may require hundreds of years to accumulate enough fuel to sustain a spreading fire [3].

Fire regimes in California red fir (Abies magnifica) forests are dominated by low-and moderate-severity fires. Low-severity fires consume surface fuels and thin seedlings and saplings [56,57], and they commonly spread slowly [36]. These low-severity fires may be frequent, but they tend to be small. The small fire size is probably attributable to a low overall vegetative productivity, a short fire season, and generally cool, moist conditions [2]. It is estimated that the natural fire frequency in California red fir stands ranges from 21 to 65 years, but longer intervals of 126 years or more are possible. Moderate- and high-severity fires that initiate stand replacement do occur but are rare [56,57].

As of this writing (2006), fire ecology studies are lacking for boreal sagebrush. The following table provides fire return intervals for plant communities and ecosystems where boreal sagebrush occurs. For further information, see the FEIS review of the dominant species listed below.

Community or Ecosystem Dominant Species Fire Return Interval Range (years)
California red fir Abies magnifica 21 to 126 [56,57]
tundra ecosystems Deschampsia caespitosa, Carex bigelowii, Carex macrochaeta, Chamerion latifolium, Festuca altaica, Potentilla nana, Sibbaldia procumbens, Saxifraga spp., Trifolium dasphyllum, Vaccinium vitis-idaea >100 to 500 [16,60,67]
Engelmann spruce-subalpine fir Picea engelmannii-Abies lasiocarpa 35 to >200 [2]
Rocky Mountain lodgepole pine* Pinus contorta var. latifolia 25-340 [5,6,55]
*fire return interval varies widely; trends in variation are noted in the species review

Initial off-site colonizer (off-site, initial community)
Secondary colonizer (on-site or off-site seed sources)


SPECIES: Artemisia norvegica

The effect of fire on boreal sagebrush is not well documented. Presumably the plant is killed when aboveground vegetation is killed by fire.

No additional information is available on this topic.

Information is lacking on the response of boreal sagebrush to fire. Further research is needed.

There is no evidence that boreal sagebrush is capable of vegetative reproduction after fire. Although the plant occasionally produces stolons [38,44], the role stolons may play following fire is unknown. Presumably, reestablishment of boreal sagebrush occurs through establishment from windblown seed [10]. Postfire recovery time has not been documented. Further research is needed.

Information on boreal sagebrush and fire management is lacking. Further research is needed.


SPECIES: Artemisia norvegica
Boreal sagebrush is one of the preferred summer forages of mountain goats in the Kenai Mountains, Alaska [31]. Sitka black-tailed deer on Coronation Island, Alaska, feed on boreal sagebrush in alpine meadows, although the animals do not use the alpine zone as a major source of forage [37]. Boreal sagebrush is fed upon by hoary marmots on the Kenai Peninsula, Alaska, but does not comprise a major percentage of their diet [21].

Palatability/nutritional value: Forage analysis of boreal sagebrush on Coronation Island, Alaska, was as follows [37]:


 2.83-3.74 %

Protein  17.7-23.4 %
Fat  2.7-3.3 %
Fiber  14.8-18.8 %
Ash  8.8-9.9 %
Calcium  0.87-0.98 %
Phosphorus  0.34-0.59 %

Cover value: No information is available on this topic.

Boreal sagebrush was successfully used to rehabilitate disturbed areas following the construction of Trail Ridge Road in Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado. Establishment was accomplished by seeding [25]. Boreal sagebrush naturally recolonized borrow pits and vehicle tracks 48 years after pipeline construction in Northwest Territories, Canada [24].

No information is available on this topic.

No information is available on this topic.

Artemisia norvegica: REFERENCES

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