Chenopodiaceae (Goosefoot or Saltbush Family)
A family well represented throughout the range by herbs and shrubs, many of which tolerate alkaline conditions unfavorable to other species. Most of them are grayish and the leaf surfaces farinose (mealy) or scurfy. Many species, especially the shrubs, bear staminate (male) and pistillate (female) flowers on different plants, and some are polygamous, meaning that they bear unisexual and bisexual flowers on the same plant. Other species bear perfect flowers, having both staminate and pistillate parts. Flowers in this family lack corollas and are small and inconspicuous, so no flower
colors are mentioned in this section. The fruits are more interesting, especially those with foliaceous bracts, which are distinctive for each species. Some species are difficult to determine, so only a few are listed.
Atriplex canescens(Pursh) Nutt. Fourwing Saltbush. A much-branched, somewhat rounded shrub, 1 1/2–5 ft (0.5–1.6 m) high, grayish and scurfy. Leaves are narrowly linear, 1/2–1 1/2 in (13–38 mm) long. Staminate flower clusters are in terminal spikes. Pistillate flowers are also terminal, on different plants. They develop into four-winged fruit, mostly about 1/2 in (13 mm) broad. No other saltbush has such narrow leaves, and no other has fruit with wings on all four sides. The dry fruit, commonly persistent on the bush, is said to resemble popcorn.
Distribution. Common along roadsides and wash borders, where there is a little extra moisture; Desert Scrub to Pinyon-juniper Woodland, below 7,000 ft (2,134 m).
Atriplex confertifolia(Torr. & Fremont) Watson. Shadscale. (Plate 6.67) A rigidly branched, spiny shrub, 1–3 ft (3–9 dm) high. The branches are somewhat straw-colored and the foliage scurfy gray. Branchlets of the previous year become rigid spines. Leaf blades are mostly round-ovate, 1/4–3/4 in (6–20 mm) long. Staminate flowers are clustered on the short branchlets. Pistillate flowers, on different plants, develop into two-bracted fruit; that is, they have two oblong or roundish wings flaring above the seed cover, 1/4–3/8 in (6–10 mm) long.
Distribution. A dominant shrub over vast areas of the dry lower slopes of the range; Desert Scrub, below 7,000 ft (2,134 m).
Atriplex polycarpa(Torr.) Watson. Allscale. An intricately branched, pale scurfy-gray shrub, 2–6 ft (0.6–2 m) high. It has a rounded outline, and the upper twigs and branchlets are very fine. Leaves are small, 1/8–1/2 in (6–13 mm) long, with rosettes of tiny leaves bundled in their axils. Staminate and pistillate flowers are on separate plants. Bracts on the fruit are joined to well above the middle, the free upper edges shallowly toothed, and have various protrusions on the surface. They are somewhat triangular in outline, or rounded on the sides, and are about 1/8 in (6 mm) long. Everything about the shrub except its size is on a small scale. No other saltbush in the range has such small leaves.
Distribution. Dry, moderately alkaline soils; Desert Scrub, below 6,000 ft (1,829 m).
Atriplex torreyi(Watson) Watson. Nevada Saltbush. (Plate 6.68) A rather stiffly erect, scurfy, metallic-gray shrub, 2–5 ft (0.6–1.6 m) tall. The twigs are lined and angled longitudinally, and they become stiff and spiny as they lose their leaves. Leaf shape varies from ovate to bluntly arrow-shaped or triangular, 1/2–1 in long. Like the preceding saltbushes, the staminate and pistillate flowers are on separate plants. The fruiting bracts are roundish in outline but flattish at the base, with the upper margins free, finely scalloped, and about 1/8 in (3 mm) across.
Distribution. Alkaline places with high roundwater or other reliable water source; Desert Scrub, below 6,000 ft (1,829 m).
Ceratoides lanataPursh. Winter Fat, Lamb's Tail.(Eurotia lanata) (Plate 6.69) An erect shrub 1–3 ft (0.3–1 m) high, the entire plant is whitish with a dense coat of silky hairs, commonly becoming rusty with age. The leaves are 1/2–1 1/2 in (13–38 mm) long and narrowly linear, with the margins strongly rolled under. Staminate and pistillate flowers are usually on separate plants, but not uncommonly they appear on the same one. They are on the upper part of the branches, the staminate flowers relatively inconspicuous. Pistillate bracts and the fruit are covered with long, white hairs and stand out well in a shrub community. It is the white-hairy fruiting stalks that give the plant its common name, Lamb's Tail . The name Winter Fat refers to its nutritional value for livestock.
Distribution. It has a wide range and can tolerate some alkali; Desert Scrub and Pinyon-juniper Woodland, 3,500–9,400 ft (1,067–2,866 m).
Chenopodium atrovirensRydb. Pinyon Goosefoot. An erect annual usually 4–20 in (1–5 dm) high, although extremely dwarfed plants occur at high elevations. Foliage is green and the leaves ovate to triangular oblong, normally 1/2–1 in long on somewhat shorter stems (petioles). Flower glomerules are farinose, in terminal spikes. The minute seeds are horizontal and enclosed by sharply ridged calyx lobes.
Distribution. Relatively common in dry, open places; Desert Scrub to Subalpine Zone, 5,500–10,200 ft (1,677–3, 110 m).
Chenopodium fremontiiWatson. Fremont Goosefoot. An erect annual, 6–36 in (1–9 dm) high, commonly branched. Leaves are bright green above and pale beneath, mostly 1/2–1 in (13–25 mm) long, predominantly arrow-shaped, on slender stems shorter than the blades. Flowers are in small glomerules on terminal spikes. The minute seeds are horizontal and completely enclosed by the calyx lobes. Along with C. atrovirens, the most common of a number of Chenopodium species that occur in the range.
Distribution. Common in the pinyon belt; Desert Scrub and Pinyon-juniper Woodland, 5,000–8,000 ft (1,524–2,439 m).
Grayia spinosa(Hook.) Maguire. Hopsage. (Plate 6.70) A much-branched, evergreen shrub, 1–3 ft (3–9 dm) high. Branches are finely longitudinally lined, but this characteristic is lost in older wood. Its branchlets are commonly spinose-tipped. Leaves are small, 1/3–1 in (8–25 mm) long, linear to obovate, and rather fleshy. They are most attractive in the spring, when they are gray-tipped as if dipped in powder. Staminate and pistillate flowers are inconspicuous and borne on the same plant or separate ones. It is the dense terminal clusters of fruiting bracts that attract attention. They are roundish and flattened, 1/4–1/2 in (6–13 mm) across, and variously colored from flesh tones to deep rose red.
Distribution. Common and widespread on flats and slopes, commonly a dominant member of the scrub community; Desert Scrub to Pinyon-juniper Woodland, 3,500–8,000 ft (1,067–2,439 m). Stunted shrubs occur as high as 9,350 ft (2,851 m) in the Inyo Mountains.
Sarcobatus vermiculatus(Hook.) Torr. Greasewood. (Plate 6.71) A spiny, much-branched, deciduous shrub, 3–6 ft (1–2 m) high. Its leaves are linear, yellow-green, 1/2–1 1/2 in (13–38 mm) long. Staminate and pistillate flowers are borne on the same or different plants. Staminate ones are in a terminal catkinlike spike 1/2–1 in (13–25 mm) long. Pistillate flowers are in the upper leaf axils. In fruit the seed capsule is surrounded by a disklike wing about 1/2 in (13 mm) across in all.
Distribution. Alkaline places where it is watered by groundwater, or around springs and seepage areas; Desert Scrub, below 7,000 ft (2,134 m).