Fourwing Saltbush (Canescens)

The Fourwing Saltbush (Canescens) is generally described as a perennial shrub. This is native to the U.S. (United States) has its most active growth period in the spring and summer . The greatest bloom is usually observed in the late spring, with fruit and seed production starting in the summer and continuing until summer. Leaves are not retained year to year. The Fourwing Saltbush (Canescens) has a moderate life span relative to most other plant species and a slow growth rate. At maturity, the typical Fourwing Saltbush (Canescens) will reach up to 4 feet high, with a maximum height at 20 years of 4 feet.

The Fourwing Saltbush (Canescens) is easily found in nurseries, garden stores and other plant dealers and distributors. It can be propagated by bare root, container, seed. It has a slow ability to spread through seed production and the seedlings have high vigor. Note that cold stratification is not required for seed germination and the plant cannot survive exposure to temperatures below -38°F. has high tolerance to drought and restricted water conditions.

Uses of : Landscaping, Medicinal, Culinary, etc.

Rangeland/Grazing: fourwing saltbush is highly palatable browse for most livestock and big game. It is used primarily in the winter at which time it is high in carotene and averages about four percent digestible protein. The leaves may be as high as 18 percent total protein. It is grazed by all classes of livestock except horses.

Wildlife: fourwing saltbush provides excellent browse for deer season long. It is a good browse plant for bighorn sheep, antelope, and elk in fall and winter. It is also a food source and excellent cover for sharptail grouse, gray partridge (Huns), sage grouse, and other upland birds, rabbits, songbirds, and small mammals.

Erosion Control: fourwing saltbush makes excellent screens, hedges, and barriers. It is especially useful on saline-sodic soils. It has excellent drought tolerance. It has been planted in highway medians and on road shoulders, slopes, and other disturbed areas near roadways. Because it is a good wildlife browse species, caution is recommended in using it in plantings along roadways. Its extensive root system provides excellent erosion control.

Reclamation: fourwing saltbush is used extensively for reclamation of disturbed sites (mine lands, drill pads, exploration holes, etc,). It provides excellent species diversity for mine land reclamation projects.

Ethnobotanical: American Indians boiled fresh roots with a little salt and drank half-cupful doses for stomach pain and as a laxative. Roots were also ground and applied as a toothache remedy. Leaf or root tea was taken as an emetic for stomach pain and bad coughs. Soapy lather from leaves was used for itching and rashes from chickenpox or measles. Fresh leaf or a poultice of fresh or dried flowers was applied to ant bites. Leaves were used as a snuff for nasal problems. Smoke from burning leaves was used to revive someone who was injured, weak, or feeling faint. Hispanics use the plant for colds and flu.

General Characteristics

Fourwing saltbush is a polymorphic species varying from deciduous to evergreen, depending on climate. Its much-branched stems are stout with whitish bark. Mature plants range from 1 to over 8 feet in height, depending on ecotype and the soil and climate. Its leaves are simple, alternate, entire, linear-spatulate to narrowly oblong, canescent (covered with fine whitish hairs) and ½ to 2 inches long. Its root system is branched and commonly very deep (to 20 feet) when soil depth allows.

Fourwing saltbush is mostly dioecious, with male and female flowers on separate plants. Male flowers are red to yellow and form dense spikes at the ends of the branches. The female flowers are axillary and nondescript. However, some monecious plants may be found within a population. Fourwing saltbush plants can exhibit hermaphroditic characteristics (male and female parts in one flower). The seed is contained in utricles that turn a dull yellow when ripe and may remain attached to the plant throughout winter.

Fourwing saltbush derives its name from the four membranous ‘winged’ capsules, which encompass the seed. It is most commonly called fourwing saltbush, but is also known as chamise, chamize, chamiso, white greasewood, saltsage, fourwing shadscale, and bushy atriplex.

Required Growing Conditions

Fourwing saltbush (Atriplex canescens (Pursh) Nutt. is one of the most widely distributed and important native shrubs on rangelands in the western United States including the Intermountain, Great Basin, and Great Plains regions. Its natural range extends from below sea level to above 8,000 feet elevation. For current distribution, consult the Plant Profile page for this species on the PLANTS Web site.

Adaptation Fourwing saltbush is adapted to most soils but is best suited to deep, well drained; loamy to sandy to gravely soils. It is sometimes found growing in dense clay soils. It is very tolerant of saline soil conditions and somewhat tolerant of sodic soil conditions. Under saline conditions plants take up salts and accumulate it in the plants scurfy leaf coverings.

Fourwing saltbush has high tolerance to boron. It does not tolerate high water tables or late winter inundation. It is extremely drought tolerant and has fair shade tolerance. It is not very tolerant of fire, but may resprout to some degree if fire intensity is not too severe. Its ability to tolerate extreme cold conditions varies with ecotype.

Fourwing saltbush most commonly grows in areas that receive 8 to 14 inches annual precipitation. It can be found from sea level to 8,000 feet elevation. Depending on ecotype, fourwing saltbush grows in association with bluebunch wheatgrass, basin wildrye, bottlebrush squirreltail, Indian ricegrass, Sandberg bluegrass, sand dropseed, blue grama, galleta, black grama, alkali sacaton, inland saltgrass, globemallow, greasewood, rabbitbrush, shadscale, Nuttall or Gardner saltbush, winterfat, bud sagebrush, black sagebrush, low sagebrush, Wyoming big sagebrush, and basin big sagebrush.

Cultivation and Care

Planting: Fourwing saltbush begins growth in mid to late spring. Seed matures 3 to 4 months after flowering. It typically spreads via seed distribution, but may also root sprout following wildfire or layer if covered with sand. Stands typically take three to four years to establish, but once established the plants are fairly competitive with other species. Fourwing saltbush can be established by transplanting in early spring, direct seeding in late fall, early winter or very early spring. An adapted cultivar/release or local seed source should be used to ensure the ecotype is compatible with the site. Seed should be after-ripened for ten months and dewinged prior to planting. On moist fine soils, seed should be planted ½ inch deep. On sandy to coarse gravely soils, plant up to ¾ inch deep. Seeding rates of 0.25 to 0.50 pounds per acre is recommended for rangeland seeding mixtures (3 to 7 percent of the seeding mix). Dewinged seed is preferred because seed flow through a drill and planting depth can be controlled more easily. There is no prechilling requirement for fourwing saltbush seed. See Seed Production section for additional planting recommendations

Seedling vigor is generally outstanding and depending on ecotype, young plants may reach heights of 18 inches by the end of the first growing season.

General Upkeep and Control

ATLE"Atriplex lentiformis will defoliate under extreme drought conditions. They need to be under some form of water stress, salt stress, or drought stress. The salt they accumulate in their leaves allows them to extract water from the soil. They tolerate and remove the excess salts by bladders in their leaves that act as salt sinks, keeping the salt from the plant cells. "

Plant Basics
Growth Rate Slow
General Type Shrub
Growth Period Spring, Summer
Growth Duration Perennial
Lifespan Moderate
Plant Nativity Native to U.S.
Commercial Availability Routinely Available
Physical Characteristics
Bloom Period Late Spring
Displays Fall Colors No
Shape/Growth Form Multiple Stem
Drought Tolerance High
Shade Tolerance Intolerant
Height When Mature 4
Vegetative Spread Slow
Flower Color Yellow
Flower Conspicuousness No
Fruit/Seed Abundance Medium
Fruit/Seed Seasonality Summer Summer
Seed Spread Rate Slow
Gardening Characteristics
Propagations (Ways to Grow) Bare Root, Container, Seed
Moisture Requirements Medium
Cold Stratification Required No
Minimum Temperature -38
Soil Depth for Roots 20
Toxic to Nearby Plants No
Toxic to Livestock No
After-Harvest Resprout Ability Yes
Responds to Coppicing No
Growth Requirements
pH Range 6.5–9.5 pH
Precipitation Range 5–5 inches/yr
Planting Density 640–2700 indiv./acre
Soil Textures Coarse, Fine, Medium
Soil Depth for Roots 20
Minimum Frost-Free Days 90 day(s)
Salinity Tolerance High
CaCO3 Tolerance High
Sustainability & Use
Leaf Retention No
Palatability High
Fire Resistant No
Causes Livestock Bloating Low

Source: USDA, NRCS, PLANTS Database,
National Plant Data Center, Baton Rouge, LA 70874-4490 USA