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Plants That Live in the Semi-Desert Scrub

By Karen Carter ; Updated September 21, 2017
Semi-desert scrub supports a surprising amount of plant life,

Semi-desert scrub is a region short on moisture with plenty of sunlight. This area is open shrubland with clumps of grass. The soil is fine-textured, alkaline and salty. The plants must endure hot summers and cold winters and annual rainfall is usually 7 to 16 inches--commonly falling as snow. Rainfall also can flood the area with up to 3 feet of water. The growing season in semi-desert scrub is marked by drought. Most plants that grow in this area must be tolerant to fire and large mammal grazing.

Big Sagebrush

Big sagebrush (Artemisia tridentate) is an upright perennial shrub. This evergreen branches off a short trunk to create a round shape. Big sagebrush can reach 16 feet tall. Tiny flowers form dense clusters in the fall. Three-lobed, gray green leaves are covered with silver hairs. This bush typically grows at 2,500 to 10,000 feet elevation in dry, good-draining, gravelly or rocky soil. Wildlife graze on big sagebrush throughout the year.

Four-Wing Saltbush

Four-wing saltbush (Atriplex canescens) is an evergreen shrub reaching 15 feet high. The narrow, oblong leaves are 1/2 to 2 inches long. The gray green foliage sparsely covers the multitude of branches. Four-wing saltbush produces dull yellow brown flowers in the summer. Light green fruit follows the blossoms and turns light brown in the fall when ripe. Papery bracts create four wings around the fruit and stays on the bush for two years.

Indian Ricegrass

Indian ricegrass (Achnatherum hymenoides) is an erect perennial that grows 1 to 2 1/2 feet tall. This grass begins growing in the early spring while temperatures are still cool. Loose seed spikes are produced in the late spring. Green narrow blades attach to Indian ricegrass at the base. This grass thrives at 3,000 to 10,000 feet in elevation. Indian ricegrass is adapted to arid conditions and does not grow well in poor-draining soil. This plant is an important spring and summer food source for large mammals.


Winterfat (Krascheninnikovia lanata) is a cool season perennial that lives up to 130 years. This low-growing, woody shrub reaches 1 to 3 feet in height. The hairs covering the branches give the bush a silvery-white look. Small blossoms appear in April to September. The white flowers do not have any petals and form blossom clusters. Winterfat is found in dry valley bottoms, flat mesas and hillsides. It does not grow well in wet conditions. Winterfat provides winter grazing for sheep, pronghorn, elk and mule deer.

Yellow Rabbitbrush

Yellow rabbitbrush (Chrysothamnus viscidiflorus) is a 1- to 4-foot evergreen shrub. Brittle branches sprout from the base of the plant. Small, grass-like leaves are light green in color. Small, yellow blossoms appear in the late summer. These sticky flowers form round clusters. Yellow rabbitbrush prefers dry, good-draining soil and tolerates salty soil. This bush quickly invades areas disturbed by construction and agriculture.


About the Author


Karen Carter spent three years as a technology specialist in the public school system and her writing has appeared in the "Willapa Harbor Herald" and the "Rogue College Byline." She has an Associate of Arts from Rogue Community College with a certificate in computer information systems.