Woody Plants of Utah

Rubber Rabbitbrush
Ericameria nauseosa

Copyright © 2010 Lyle Bingham 

Big Sagebrush
Artemisia tridentata

Southwest Regional Gap Analysis Project Field Crew/life.nbii.gov 

Shadscale Saltbush
Atriplex confertifolia

Southwest Regional Gap Analysis Project Field Crew/life.nbii.gov 

Hi I’m Holly Strand.

If you ‘re a plant lover, I’ve got just the thing for your Christmas list! A new field guide is just now hitting the shelves. It’s called Woody Plants of Utah by Renee Van Buren, Janet Cooper, Leila Shultz and Kimball Harper.

You may already own the very excellent Guide to the Trees of Utah and Intermountain West by Michael Kuhns. This book will help you identify over 219 native and introduced trees. It’s very useful because trees are what people tend to notice and appreciate. But trees are the dominant plant form on only 15% of Utah’s land area. Elsewhere, frequent droughts and extreme temperatures make life too hard for them.

Shrublands however, cover over 50% of the state. And that—in my opinion—is why you would also want the book Woody Plants of Utah on your shelf or in your backpack, for its pictures and descriptions of shrubs are outstanding.

I was amazed to find that there are over 82 species of shrub in the sunflower family alone! Sagebrush is in this family so that helps push the number up. Every Utahn should be able to recognize the aromatic big sagebrush that occurs in virtually every Utah county. As its common name implies it is larger than other kind of sagebrush. It can grow over 3 meters high! Other common species are Bigelow, sand, silver, and Wyoming sagebrush. In all there are over 19 different sagebrush species in the state.

Rabbitbrush is the common name for a number of shrub species distributed within 3 genera of the sunflower family. One of the most common forms, ericameria nauseosa, sounds like it might make you ill. Yet as the name suggests this yellow-flowered shrub is consumed by rabbits as well as by deer, elk, and pronghorn.

Where evaporation exceeds precipitation there’s a build-up of salts in the soil. This is common around the Great Salt Lake where water leaches into surrounding lands and then evaporates, concentrating salts near the surface. A number of shrubs are specifically adapted to saline conditions. Shadcale is one of the more common salt-tolerant amaranths. You many not recognize the name but undoubtedly you’ve driven or walked by this shrub innumerable times.

There are so many other shrubs to get to know: manzanitas, ephedras, mesquite, mountain mahogany, wild rose and wild raspberry just to name a few. Woody Plants of Utah will help you explore this fascinating but often underappreciated life form that blankets so much of our state.

Order the book through Utah State University Press or find it at your local bookstore.

For pictures and links go to www.Wildaboututah.org

For Wild About Utah, I’m Holly Strand.


Images: Courtesy and Copyright Lyle Bingham
and Courtesy the NBII LIFE, https://life.nbii.gov
Text: Holly Strand

Sources & Additional Reading:
Van Buren, Renee, Janet Cooper, Leila Shultz and Kimball Harper. 2011.
Woody Plants of Utah: A Field Guide with Identification Keys to Native and Naturalized Trees, Shrubs, Cacti, and Vines. Utah State University Press.

Kuhns, Michael. 1998. Guide to the Trees of Utah and Intermountain West Utah State University Press.