Artemisia californica Less.  


Asteraceae (Sunflower Family)




Coastal Sagebrush   


California Sagebrush                       

                                              December Photo 


Plant Characteristics:  Grayish shrub 6-16 dm. high, the lvs. numerous, strigulose, the lower 1-5 cm. long, palmately once or twice parted into linear-filiform segms. less than 1 mm. wide, the upper sometimes entire and fascicled; heads many, in long racemose panicles; invol. 2-3 mm. long; fls. rather numerous, the rays 6-10 and disk 15-30; phyllaries dry, imbricate; aks. with a minute squamellate crown.


Habitat:  Lower slopes and fans below 2500 ft.; Coastal Sage Scrub, Coastal Strand, etc.; cismontane, L. Calif. n. to cent. Calif.; San Clemente, Santa Catalina, Santa Cruz, San Miguel and Santa Rosa Ids.  Aug.-Dec.


Name:  Artemisia, wife of Mausolus, king of Caria.  (Munz, Flora So. Calif. 116).  The Greek goddess Artemis (Diana in Roman mythology) is said to have benefited so much from a plant of this family that she gave it her own name of Artemis.  (Dale 52).  Californica, indicates where the plant was first found.  (Dale 13).


General:  Very common in the study area.  Photographed specimens are from Big Canyon and Santa Ana Heights. (my comments).      This was a very important plant to the Cahuilla Indians, the inhabitants of the Colorado Desert, the San Bernardino and San Jacinto Mountains. Products made from the plant were considered essential for proper maturation of girls into women.  Beginning with the onset of menstruation, young girls were given a tea made of the boiled plant and provided elaborate instructions concerning womanly arts.  The decoction was taken just before the commencement of each menstrual period throughout a woman's life.  This use was accompanied by various menstrual restrictions: for example, no salt, grease, or meat could be eaten for several days after drinking of the tea.  The Cahuilla also used the leaves to relieve colds.  (Bean and Saubel 42).       Indians used the seeds of A. tridentata for flour.  They made a bitter tea from the leaves to use as a treatment for sore eyes and colds, as a hair tonic and to alleviate stomach disorders. (Clarke 134).      The leaves of Coastal Sagebrush have a clean, bitter, pleasantly aromatic fragrance.  The Spanish Californians called the plant "Romerillo" and regarded it as a panacea for all ills.  They drank a tea of it for bronchial troubles and used a strong wash of it for wounds and swellings.  Early miners are reported to have spread sprays of it on their beds to drive away fleas.  Even though it smells like sage and has the common name of sage, it is not a true sage or Salvia.  (Dale 52) (Parsons 383).       Dale quotes almost exactly from Parsons in the part concerning the  Spanish-Americans.  Parsons was published in 1909.  (my comments).      A number of drought-deciduous shrubs are metabolically active at low water tensions (measured in units of mega Pascals MPa and indicates the water tension or negative pressure in the xylem column of plants; the more the negative number, he lower the water tensions; a water tension or negative pressure of -8.5 MPa is equivalent to a pressure of more than 1200 pounds per square inch).  A good example of this can be seen in black sage, Salvia mellifera, which exhibits a seasonal dimorphism in leaf morphology, with large and relatively mesophytic leaves with no obvious drought-tolerating characteristics in spring and a limited number of smaller, more sclerophyllous leaves in summer.  Although a few terminal leaves represent only a small part of the seasonal leaf area of the plants, they are capable of maintaining low levels of net photosynthesis at very low water tensions.  While it has not been investigated physiologically, seasonal leaf dimorphism has been observed in a large number of other drought-deciduous subshrubs in California.  Examples include California sage, (Artemisia californica), Encelia californica, Isomeris arborea, Eriophyllum confertiflorum, Brickellia californica, and Haplopappus squarrosus.  Most all of these species with white sage (Salvia apiana), S. leucophylla, sticky monkey (Diplacus sp.), exhibit seasonal leaf dimorphism and lose all of their leaves (and often much of their above-ground stems) with full levels of summer drought.  Only a few species, such as black sage, will maintain some xerophytic leaves that last all summer into the next growing season.  (Rundel, Philip W. "Structure and Function in California Chaparral. " Fremontia, A Journal of the California Native Plant Society." October 1986.  p. 7).  See Encelia californica, for additional information on drought-deciduous communities.  (my comment).   Delfina Cuero, a Kumeyaay or Southern Diegueno Indian, made the following comments about Artemisia californica in her autobiography:  "Grind the leaves and use fresh as poultice on ant bites or boil and use for tea when ill; boil and bathe in it for measles.  It was dried and used as a tobacco for smoking also." (Shipek 85).       The Chumash, Indians of the Santa Barbara region, used Heteromeles arbutifolia and Artemisia californica as foreshafts on cane arrows. Cane arrows were made of a light material with a hardwood foreshaft.  The cane arrow was light, fast and well suited to the simpler, less powerful bows of the southern California Indians.  (Campbell 283).         Over 100 species, of North America and South America.  (Munz, Flora So. Calif. 116).


Text Ref:  Hickman, Ed. 203; Munz. Calif. Flora 1236; Munz, Flora So. Calif. 117.

Photo Ref:  Dec 1 82 # 12A,13A; Sept 1 83 # 11; Oct-Nov 83 # 18.

Identity: by R. De Ruff.

First Found:  December 1982.


Computer Ref:  Plant Data 145

Have plant specimen.

Last edit 7/14/05.


                          December Photo                                               October Photo