“that fag end of vegetable creation”

Thus Mark Twain, in a letter, describing the “sage-brush”, Artemisia tridentata. I respond to this effrontery, quite belatedly, by including a picture of same, which I took without bothering to focus. Point-and-shoot, indeed.

Of course our beloved author was merely posturing as an Eastern snob who was conditioned to think that if plants are not green, they are worthless. Never having lived in a place with regular summer rainfall, I feel just the opposite.

Technically, of course, the sagebrush is green, though the green is concealed by silvery hairs which reflect sunlight and possibly reduce evapotranspiration. Sagebrush is strongly mycorrhizal, meaning, to gardeners anyway, that soil amendments, fertilizers, etc., work against the plant. It wants to be grown in dirt.

There are several varieties, and also smaller species with the same look to them: Artemisia arbuscula and A. nova are two examples that are sometimes available in nurseries.

There is an excellent discussion of the plant in Hugh Mozingo’s Shrubs of the Great Basin: A Natural History, whence I lifted the Mark Twain quote. And this website with a bunch of sagebrush information.

The plant has a characteristic smell that Twain described as “not quite magnolia, and not quite polecat”. It is one of the most evocative smells I know, though it only reminds me of sagebrush.

Most gardeners living in rain-drenched parts of the world would give their eye teeth to have silver such as this in their garden, but here, in a climate perfectly in accord with its own, the plant is despised. There is a moral to this.

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