Garden Oracle / Drought and Heat Tolerant Gardening / Tucson - Phoenix - Arizona - California

Growing Atriplex canescens:
Fourwing Saltbush

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Form: A shrub with a highly variable shape.
Leaf retention: Evergreen but drought deciduous.
Growth rate: Moderate.
Mature Size: 5' high and 8' wide.
Flowers: The tiny, clustered, green male flowers and tiny, yellow female flowers are found on separate plants, but the plant can change sex after an unusually cold, dry, or heavy-bearing year.
Bloom: Spring to summer.
Fruit: Showy clusters of brown, four-winged seeds on female plants in the fall. The seeds are edible and can be ground into a meal.
Leaves: Small, gray-green, linear leaves covered with silvery, scale-like particles instead of hairs. The leaves contain specialized salt bladders that concentrate salt. The plant rids itself of salt by shedding its leaves during extreme drought.
Stems: Thornless, covered with silvery scale-like particles.
Roots: Wide and deep, with a taproot.
Wildlife: The flowers attract bees and butterflies, the seed attracts birds. It is browsed by mammals, so the plant must be caged until it is 4' high. It is also a caterpillar food plant for various species of butterflies. One caterpillar requires a species of ant to attend to it. If insecticide has been sprayed on the plant or at its base to kill ants, it will be absorbed by the plant and affect the plant's aroma. Butterflies will then not lay their eggs on it, reducing the number of butterflies. This plant also attracts lacewings and ladybugs which feed on the scale insects and mealybugs which may attack the plant.
Toxic / Danger: This plant may accumulate minerals such as selenium from the soil in its leaves and become toxic to livestock. In normal soils, the plant is good fodder.
Origin: Western North America.

Cultivation and Uses
USDA hardiness zones: 3-11.
Heat tolerant: Yes.
Drought tolerant: Yes.
Sun: Full sun to part shade.
Water once established: Monthly during drought.
Soil: Dry, pH 6.6-9.0 (neutral to highly alkaline). This plant is tolerant of arid western soils including those laden with salt. Moderate to high salinity levels in the soil improve this plant's growth rate and its ability to photosynthesize.
Prune: In late winter, prune to shape or cut back by one-third to re-invigorate.
Litter: Low.
Propagation: Seed, stored for a year, outer wings removed, and soaked.
Uses: Erosion control, bird garden.

This plant is a member of the Amaranth family (Amaranthaceae). Another common name is Saltbush. This plant is fire resistant and tolerates tough conditions. Botanists consider this the most rapidly evolving plant in North America due to cross-breeding with related species. This is an excellent wildlife plant and can grow where most other plants cannot.

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Atriplex canescens: Fourwing Saltbush - seed pods
The immature, four-winged seeds are light green.

Atriplex canescens: Fourwing Saltbush - leaves

Atriplex canescens: Fourwing Saltbush
The clustered seeds are visible among the foliage.

Latest update: February, 2019
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