17. Artemisia tridentata Nuttall, Trans. Amer. Philos. Soc., n. s. 7: 398. 1841.
Seriphidium tridentatum (Nuttall) W. A. Weber
Shrubs, 40–200(–300) cm (herbage gray-haired), aromatic; not root-sprouting (trunks relatively thick). Stems gray-brown, glabrate (bark gray, exfoliating in strips). Leaves persistent, gray-green; blades usually cuneate, (0.4–)0. 5–3.5 × 0.1–0.7 cm, 3-lobed (lobes to 1/3 blade lengths, 1.5+ mm wide, rounded), faces densely hairy. Heads (usually erect, on slender peduncles) in paniculiform arrays 5–30 × 1–6 cm. Involucres lanceolate, (1–)1.5–4 × 1–3 mm. Phyllaries oblanceolate to widely obovate, densely tomentose. Florets 3–8; corollas 1.5–2.5 mm, glabrous. Cypselae 1–2 mm, hairy or glabrous, glandular.
Subspecies 4 (4 in the flora): w North America, nw Mexico.
Artemisia tridentata has undergone considerable taxonomic revision in the past century and circumscription of subspecies remains a topic of considerable controversy. Workers in the field should be aware of the morphologic variation within the subspecies across the range of the species (i.e., approximately from the Sierra Nevada in the west to the plains of the Rocky Mountains in the east). Because rangeland managers and conservationists can often identify local morphologic and chemical races based on grazing or habitat preferences of wildlife and domestic animals, some impetus exists to further subdivide the subspecies within A. tridentata at the varietal level. This treatment of the species complex remains conservative in light of the need for further study. As to chemical differences among the subspecies, aroma is often used to distinguish subspecies in the field. Volatile resins in the plants are strongly aromatic and, when crushed, leaves have very distinctive (although not easily described) aromas.
McArthur, E. D. 1984. Natural and artificial hybridization among Artemisia tridentata populations. [Abstract.] Amer. J. Bot. 71(suppl.): 105. McArthur, E. D., B. L. Welch, and S. C. Sanderson. 1988. Natural and artificial hybridization between big sagebrush (Artemisia tridentata) subspecies. J. Heredity 79: 268–276.