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What is a California Sagebrush?

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  • Written By: J.M. Densing
  • Edited By: Jenn Walker
  • Last Modified Date: 15 June 2018
  • Copyright Protected:
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California sagebrush is a common shrub found growing in coastal areas of California, and its scientific name is Artemisia californica. It is a grayish green color, and its flowers are usually yellow or red. It is occasionally used in gardens and landscaping since it doesn't require much care. California sagebrush has a pleasant scent and several uses outside the garden as well; it is often used a cooking spice and for making tea.

California sagebrush commonly grows to a height of approximately five to eight feet (1.5 to 2.5 m), and it's narrow at the bottom, branching out and growing much wider near the top. The stems are woody and slim, with significant flexibility, and the silvery grayish green leaves are long and narrow with a needle-like appearance. It blooms with small flowers from late summer until winter, and the blossoms are usually white or yellowish in color, although occasionally red is seen. When crushed, the leaves give off a scent that many people find pleasant, due to chemicals called terpenes that are present in the leaf.

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The native area of the California sagebrush is the US state of California, particularly the southern and central areas. It typically grows near the coast, in plant communities called the Coastal Sage Scrub or soft chaparral, and on the hard chaparral, on dry hillsides. They grow best in a hot dry climate, and survive drought conditions extremely well. It is one of the tallest plants in the coastal sage scrub community and provides a habitat for small animals and birds, such as the endangered California Gnatcatcher.

When used in landscaping or gardens, California sagebrush is often planted in banks of plants and is useful as a windbreak. It grows very quickly, needing only sunshine and very little water to thrive; natural rainfall is usually enough. It can be planted in any type of soil, and does not require fertilization. The total lack of maintenance makes it an attractive plant for gardeners. Other traits that make it desirable are the pleasant scent and its tendency to attract butterflies.

A unique feature of the California sagebrush is its ability to grow again after fire, called crown-sprouting, with new growth from the burned remains of the original plant. In addition, it actually uses the heat from a wildfire to assist seed germination. It is also is allelopathic, meaning it can release chemicals into the ground that prevent the growth of other plants near it.

One of several uses for California sagebrush is as a spice for cooking, or it can also be used to make a tea. Native American people used it medicinally to treat headaches, menstrual pain, colds, and other respiratory issues. It was also used by early settlers to treat wounds and swelling, and to repel fleas in bedding.

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