Dick Cheney inspired my choice of native plants from his own state of Wyoming. Atriplex canescens or four wing saltbush is not only visually similar (i.e. greyish white and hoary) but also able to survive where few others can’t or would not want to (in cold deserts and other similarly under populated stark landscapes).
The name ‘saltbush’ refers to the alkaline soil habitats where it thrives and it’s salty flavor. Researchers believe that the salts act like antifreeze, enabling the plant to continue to photosynthesize longer in winter cold and darkness. Saltbushes have many branches; some are spiny, and stems and leaves are sometimes covered with white scales which help protect it’s self.
Like Cheney, the four-wing saltbush is important for the protection and benefit of it’s associates. Many wildlife depend on the plant for food as well as providing cover for their burrows. Saltbush is a member of the ‘goosefoot’ family – many others in the family are considered weeds (Russian Thistle, pigweed, arrow weed, and kochia) – but a few relatives are cultivated. A few cultivated varieties include spinach, swiss chard, and sugar beets.
Oh – and another interesting trait… saltbush benefits from and requires a fungus-y undergrowth to survive. For the saltbush, the large papery wings of the seed facilitate dispersion by the wind. A fungus forms a beneficial association with the roots of the seedlings at germination that provides access to essential nutrients that the plant’s roots may not be able to take up on their own.
Not an attractive or well loved landscape plant; it’s popularity ratings are low. It does however serve a purpose and is very relevant to those few areas that it serves and protects.