The sagebrush tree, which is the type of plant usually depicted in a miniature train village display, makes an excellent plant for rock gardens and dry sunny areas. They're members of the aster family (Asteraceae) and have stiff, straight stems and ragged leaves. When grown close together, sagebrushes appear green, although individual trees are actually silvery-gray. Although this tree isn't on an endangered species list, they're not found in many regions anymore because they're unable to come back after a fire, unlike other plants.
Geography and Types
Roughly 21 sagebrush varieties are found growing on North American slopes and semiarid plains, according to SagebrushSea.org. Big sagebrush is the most widespread variety found throughout western America. This type grows in both cold deserts and woodlands. Stiff sagebrush grows in the Columbia River Basin of eastern Washington and Oregon, besides western Idaho and Montana. Fuzzy or Owyhee sagebrush is found in a few areas of Nevada, Idaho and Oregon and bud sagebrush is in the Southwest, as well as Idaho, Utah and Montana.
Size and Time Frame
The sagebrush is a small somewhat round tree, with the tallest ones only reaching seven feet high, according to Monolake.org. They grow slowly and bloom in the summer. These trees have small white flowers called florets and numerous side branches that grow in an upward direction. Some big sagebrush trees live up to 100 years.
Historically, many Native Americans used big sagebrush for burning fuel or in constructing dwellings. The leaves were also used for medicinal purposes because they contained camphor for treating colds, coughs, headaches and other ailments. The poultices of wet leaves were applied to bruises for reducing swelling. Navajo weavers used the leaves for dying wood and the Ute Indians wove the tree's bark into wicks to make candles. Interestingly, Paiutes hung the tree's leaves outside their homes to ward off evil spirits.
Sagebrush trees need fertile well-drained soil and full sun. They also need soil that is not overly moist as over watering this tree can be fatal. Most types can tolerate hard pruning which keeps them compact. Another consideration is to plant them around colorful plants as a counterpoint or contrast for extremely bright and bold colors.
Diseases and Problems
Common diseases are leaf and stem fungal problems such as are powdery mildew, downy mildew and white rust. The greatest threat to sagebrush is cheatgrass, which gets its name because it cheats livestock out of valuable forage, besides stealing water and nutrients from sagebrush. It also affect wildlife animals that depend on sagebrush vegetation for food. Cheatgrass is normally worse at lower elevations.