SPECIES: Artemisia pygmaea

Table of Contents


INTRODUCTORY


 
  Pygmy sagebrush habitat on the clay hills of White Pine County, NV
 

Photos courtesy of Jan Nachlinger

AUTHORSHIP AND CITATION:
Ulev, Elena D. 2005. Artemisia pygmaea. 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/ [].

FEIS ABBREVIATION:
ARTPYG

SYNONYMS:
Seriphidium pygmaeum (Gray) W.A.Weber [54]

NRCS PLANT CODE [50]:
ARPY2

COMMON NAMES:
pygmy sagebrush

TAXONOMY:
The scientific name of pygmy sagebrush is Artemisia pygmaea Gray (Asteraceae) [8,17,18,19,56] .

Based on specialized morphology, pygmy sagebrush was formerly placed in the monotypic section Pygmaeae, in subgenus Seriphidium by Rydberg (1916) [3,21]. Later systematists have placed it in section Tridentatae based on its completely woody nature, North American distribution, molecular genetics, chemistry, and fertile, homogamous perfect disc flowers [3,20,21,28,29,34,35]. Despite numerous investigations, the origin and relationship of Tridentatae remains unresolved. Pygmy sagebrush is probably the most difficult Artemisia species to place taxonomically because it is morphologically, anatomically and chemically distinct from all other species of section Tridentatae [3,12,29].

LIFE FORM:
Shrub

FEDERAL LEGAL STATUS:
None

OTHER STATUS:
In Nevada, the pygmy sagebrush/bottlebrush squirreltail-Indian ricegrass (Elymus elymoides-Achnatherum hymenoides) shrubland community is listed as rare and local throughout its range, with very restricted range or otherwise vulnerable to extinction. Pygmy sagebrush is listed as secure though frequently quite rare in parts of its range, being especially rare at the periphery of its range [36].

DISTRIBUTION AND OCCURRENCE

SPECIES: Artemisia pygmaea
GENERAL DISTRIBUTION:
Pygmy sagebrush's distribution is limited to interior deserts and plateaus of the southwestern United States. Its distribution is limited to approximately 20 miles² (54k m²) in western Nevada, Utah, northern Arizona, and northwestern Colorado [3,6,53]. Pygmy sagebrush is rare in Colorado and Arizona [17], and it is uncommon but locally abundant in the Great Basin of east-central and eastern Nevada [8,12,17,21,26,45,53,55] and the Uinta Basin of western, central, and northeastern Utah [8,12,15,18,21,25,26,45,47,53,55]. It occurs irregularly in extreme western Rio Blanco County, Colorado [54], northwestern Coconino County, Arizona [8,18,19,56], and in New Mexico [17,50]. A state distributional map of pygmy sagebrush can be accessed through Plants database.

ECOSYSTEMS [28]:
FRES21 Ponderosa pine
FRES29 Sagebrush
FRES30 Desert shrub
FRES35 Pinyon-juniper

STATES/PROVINCES: (key to state/province abbreviations)
UNITED STATES
AZ CO NV NM UT

BLM PHYSIOGRAPHIC REGIONS [4]:
6 Upper Basin and Range
7 Lower Basin and Range
10 Wyoming Basin
12 Colorado Plateau

KUCHLER [22] PLANT ASSOCIATIONS:
K023 Juniper-pinyon woodland
K038 Great Basin sagebrush
K039 Blackbrush
K040 Saltbush-greasewood
K055 Sagebrush steppe

SAF COVER TYPES [10]:
237 Interior ponderosa pine
239 Pinyon-juniper

SRM (RANGELAND) COVER TYPES [46]:
212 Blackbrush
401 Basin big sagebrush
403 Wyoming big sagebrush
405 Black sagebrush
406 Low sagebrush
408 Other sagebrush types
414 Salt desert shrub
501 Saltbush-greasewood
504 Juniper-pinyon pine

HABITAT TYPES AND PLANT COMMUNITIES:
Pygmy sagebrush grows in specific, limited habitats [26] and is a component of communities with rare plant species [56]. It  occurs primarily in desert grassland, salt desert shrub, pinyon-juniper (Pinus-Juniperus spp.), and interior ponderosa pine (Pinus ponderosa var. scopulorum) communities of the Great Basin and Uinta Basin [56].

In Utah, pygmy sagebrush occurs in black sagebrush  (Artemisia nova) [6,16,31,32,33,56], rabbitbrush (Chrysothamnus spp.), shadscale (Atriplex confertifolia), greasebush (Glossopetalon spp.), juniper, pinyon-juniper, and ponderosa pine communities [56].

In Nevada, it occurs with halophytic threadleaf rubber rabbitbrush (C. nauseosus ssp. consimilis) [6,12,16,31,32,33] and is also associated with saltbush (Atriplex spp.) [18].

BOTANICAL AND ECOLOGICAL CHARACTERISTICS

SPECIES: Artemisia pygmaea
GENERAL BOTANICAL CHARACTERISTICS:
This description provides characteristics that may be relevant to fire ecology, and is not meant for identification. Keys for identification are available [3,6,7,8,12,15,18,19,53,54,55,56].

Pygmy sagebrush is a dwarf, cushionlike, evergreen, perennial native shrub. This desert species exhibits numerous morphological adaptations that enable it to live in very xeric sites. It grows no taller than 8 inches (20 cm). Leaves on the vegetative stems are nearly glabrous, between 0.08 to 0.16 inch (2-4 mm) wide, 0.08 to 0.32 inch (2-8 mm) long, and are pinnatifid with 3 to 11 lobes, or sometimes may be only toothed [8,18,56]. Leaves on the flowering branches are usually reduced and may be entire [6,27,31,32,33]. The flower head contains 3 to 5 disc flowers arranged into spikelike inflorescences. Ray flowers are lacking. Fruits are glabrous or resinous-glandular achenes [8,56]. Seeds are large for Artemisia species [6,27]; however, quantitative seed measurements are not available. Pygmy sagebrush has a taproot [56].

RAUNKIAER [42] LIFE FORM:
Chamaephyte

REGENERATION PROCESSES:
Breeding system: Pygmy sagebrush is dioecious [3].

Pollination: Artemisia species are wind- and self pollinated [3].

Seed production: Pygmy sagebrush is reportedly capable of producing large quantities of seed [49], but quantitative counts are not available.

Seed dispersal: Artemisia seeds have very poor dispersal due to a lack of appendages for airborne transport. Most seed falls beneath the parent plant, and populations expand 3 feet (0.9 m) or less per generation [45].

Seed banking: No information is available on this topic.

Germination: Specific information on the germination of pygmy sagebrush is unavailable. Artemisia seeds may germinate within 48 hours and produce cotyledons in 4 days [3].

Seedling establishment/growth: Artemisia seed falls too late to germinate that fall. No evidence has shown that fall-dispersed seed surviving through summer can germinate in its 2nd fall. Survival of seed is related to the litter layer. The less the litter, the more likelihood of seed survival [3].

Asexual regeneration: There have been no reports of pygmy sagebrush reproducing asexually in the wild.

SITE CHARACTERISTICS:
Pygmy sagebrush occurs in extremely xeric conditions [21,47] and can be found in specific, limited habitats [26,49] such as valley bottoms and shallow slopes below the mountains [45]. It is restricted to shale barrens at low elevations [47].

Elevations where pygmy sagebrush occurs range from 4,500 feet (1,400 m) to 11,000 feet (3,300 m). Elevational ranges by state are shown below.

Arizona 4,500 feet ( 1,400 m) [19]
Nevada 5,000-11,000 feet (1,500-3,300 m) [18]
Utah 5,200-7,500 feet (1,600-2,300 m) [56]

Soil: Pygmy sagebrush is restricted to desert calcareous soils in the Great Basin and Uinta Basin [3,6,14,15,18,20,21,25,26,33,45,53,55]. It prefers alkaline soils [8,12,40] with a high clay content [45]. Pygmy sagebrush reportedly grows on white gypsum outcrops in northern and central Nevada [7]. In Arizona it grows on Green River shale, clay soils forming the matrix in igneous gravels, calcareous gravels, dolomitic outcrops, and gravels [56].

Climate: Mean annual precipitation within the range of pygmy sagebrush is approximately 7.9 to 11.8 inches (200-300 mm) [33].

SUCCESSIONAL STATUS:
Pygmy sagebrush's place in succession is unclear and requires further study. Beetle [3] suggests topographic and edaphic "climax" for all species within Artemisia.

SEASONAL DEVELOPMENT:
Pygmy sagebrush flowers in August and September [6,8,16,18,27,31,32,33], and its seed matures in October [6,27].

FIRE ECOLOGY

SPECIES: Artemisia pygmaea
FIRE ECOLOGY OR ADAPTATIONS:
Fire adaptations: Pygmy sagebrush does not sprout after a disturbance such as fire [52]. As of this writing (2005), little is known of the fire ecology of pygmy sagebrush. Pygmy sagebrush may be similar to other woody sagebrush taxa, establishing primarily from on-site seed sources after fire. Much research is needed to understand the life history, successional status, and fire ecology of this species.

Fire regimes: Habitats of dwarf sagebrush species such as pygmy sagebrush seldom support enough vegetation to carry a fire [6]; however, invasive annuals such as cheatgrass (Bromus tectorum) can increase fire frequency in sagebrush communities [25].

The following table provides fire return intervals for plant communities and ecosystems where pygmy sagebrush may be important. For further information, see the FEIS review of the dominant species listed below.

Community or Ecosystem Dominant Species Fire Return Interval Range (years)
silver sagebrush steppe Artemisia cana 5-45 [13,41,58]
sagebrush steppe A. tridentata/Pseudoroegneria spicata 20-70 [37]
basin big sagebrush A. tridentata var. tridentata 12-43 [43]
Wyoming big sagebrush A. tridentata var. wyomingensis 10-70 (40**) [51,59]
saltbush-greasewood Atriplex confertifolia-Sarcobatus vermiculatus <35 to <100
desert grasslands Bouteloua eriopoda and/or Pleuraphis mutica <35 to <100
blackbrush Coleogyne ramosissima <35 to <100
pinyon-juniper Pinus-Juniperus spp. <35 [37]
interior ponderosa pine* Pinus ponderosa var. scopulorum 2-30 [1,2,23]
*fire return interval varies widely; trends in variation are noted in the species review

POSTFIRE REGENERATION STRATEGY [48]:
Ground residual colonizer (on-site, initial community)
Secondary colonizer (on-site or off-site seed sources)

FIRE EFFECTS

SPECIES: Artemisia pygmaea
IMMEDIATE FIRE EFFECT ON PLANT:
Fire kills pygmy sagebrush. The aboveground woody parts are often completely consumed by fire [6].

DISCUSSION AND QUALIFICATION OF FIRE EFFECT:
No additional information is available on this topic.

PLANT RESPONSE TO FIRE:
Pygmy sagebrush does not sprout [6].

DISCUSSION AND QUALIFICATION OF PLANT RESPONSE:
No additional information is available on this topic.

FIRE MANAGEMENT CONSIDERATIONS:
Additional information on the response of pygmy sagebrush to fire is necessary before management considerations are proposed.

MANAGEMENT CONSIDERATIONS

SPECIES: Artemisia pygmaea
IMPORTANCE TO LIVESTOCK AND WILDLIFE:
Pygmy sagebrush provides little value to livestock and large mammals due to its scarcity and small size [7,14,16,27,31,32]. It is important to small animals on some sites (see Cover value).

Palatability/nutritional value: The overall browse value of pygmy sagebrush is low [14]. The palatability of pygmy sagebrush in Utah is rated as follows [9]:

Cattle Poor
Domestic Sheep Fair
Horses Poor
Pronghorn Fair
Elk Poor
Mule Deer Poor
Small mammals Fair
Small nongame birds Poor
Upland game birds Fair
Waterfowl Poor

The composition and concentration of volatile oils in plants may influence the selection of food plants by ruminants such as pronghorn and mule deer. The following table represents the average utilization of pygmy sagebrush by mule deer and relative percent concentration of 3 major volatile compounds in pygmy sagebrush in Utah [44]:

Utilization Methacrolein Alpha-pinene Arthole
54% 0.35% 28.42% 1.62%

Cover value: Pygmy sagebrush provides important ground cover for small animals in dry, alkaline areas where it is difficult for other plants to grow [16,27,31,32,33].

VALUE FOR REHABILITATION OF DISTURBED SITES:
Pygmy sagebrush is a good candidate for heavy soils plantings, and may be planted on mine and roadway disturbances [16,32,33]. It establishes readily by transplanting divided plants. As of this writing (2005), artificial seed regeneration has not been successful [16,27,31,32,33].

OTHER USES:
The small size of pygmy sagebrush and its limited distribution preclude commercial uses [12].

OTHER MANAGEMENT CONSIDERATIONS:
Very little is known about pygmy sagebrush, and more research is needed on this species.

REFERENCES

SPECIES: Artemisia pygmaea
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