Atriplex gardneri is a widely distributed complex of intergrading genotypes of great phenotypic plasticity. Diploids, triploids, tetraploids, and hexaploids (and higher polyploids, all multiples of the base number 9) are known within the complex, and hybrids are known not only between the constituents but with the other woody species which they contact, i.e., Atriplex canescens, Atriples confertifolia, and Atriplex corrugata. Indeed, a case can be made for treating both Atriplex gardneri and Atriplex canescens within an expanded Atriplex canescens. They are regarded here as forming two intergrading complexes, with some of the constituent varieties placed equally well within either of the species aggregations[
Atriplex acanthocarpa cuneata (A.Nelson) M.E.Jones
Atriplex aptera A.Nelson
Atriplex bonnevillensis C.A.Hanson
Atriplex buxifolia Rydb.
Atriplex canescens aptera (A.Nelson) H.M.Hall & Clements
Atriplex cuneata A.Nelson
Atriplex cuneata introgressa C.A.Hanson
Atriplex falcata (M.E.Jones) Standl.
Atriplex nuttallii anomala M.E.Jones
Atriplex nuttallii cuneata (A.Nelson) H.M.Hall & Clements
Atriplex nuttallii falcata M.E.Jones
Atriplex nuttallii gardneri (Moq.) H.M.Hall & Clements
Atriplex nuttallii utahensis M.E.Jones
Atriplex oblanceolata Rydb.
Atriplex welshii C.A.Hanson
Obione gardneri Moq.
Common Name: Nuttall's Saltbush
Flowering plant in native habitat
Photograph by: Matt Lavin
Atriplex gardneri is a more or less evergreen plant with prostrate to ascending, occasionally erect branches that become more or less woody, at least at the base; it grows 10 - 100cm tall[
The plant is harvested from the wild for local use as a food. It is sometimes used in soil reclamation and stabilization projects.
No member of this genus contains any toxins, all have more or less edible leaves. However, if grown with artificial fertilizers, they may concentrate harmful amounts of nitrates in their leaves.
Western N. America - Washington and Alberta to Manitoba, south to California and New Mexico
Strongly saline and dry soils[
]. Greasewood shadscale and saltbush communities in valley bottoms and playas; mainly on fine-textured saline substrates; at elevations from 400 - 2,300 metres[
Requires a light or medium well-drained but not too fertile soil in a sunny position[
]. Tolerates saline and very alkaline soils[
]. Prefers a pH in the range 7.8 - 8.6[
]. Succeeds in a hot dry position. Established plants are drought tolerant[
The plant has several different forms, each adapted to different environmental conditions. In addition, there are variousploidy levels - as well as diploids, there are triploids, tetrapoids etc. Although ploidy levels can only be shown by testing samples of the plant, they are adapted in particular to different moisture levels and elevations. It is important, therefore, when choosing plants for a specific location to ensure that you obtain seed/plant material from a similar site[
The plant is highly tolerant of fire. The chemical composition of the leaves and stems renders it 'fire resistant', and it burns very slowly when ignited. The top-growth can be killed but the plant then resprouts freely from the base[
A usually dioecious species - both male and female forms must be grown if fruit and seed are required. Some plants are monoecious[
Leaves and stems - cooked[
]. It is usually cooked with wheat[
]. The leaves and stems can be used to add a salty flavour to other cooked foods[
Seed - cooked. Used in piñole or ground into a meal and used as a thickener in making bread or mixed with flour in making bread.
The plant has an extensive, highly branched root system, and tolerates poor site conditions. It is used to stabilize soils and to reclaim disturbed sites. It had one of the highest survival rates of all shrubs planted on processed oil shale in the Uinta Basin of Utah. Processed oil shale is low in available phosphorous, nitrogen, and potassium[
It was one of only two species to establish on coal mine spoils in Wyoming[
Seed - sow mid spring in a cold frame in a compost of peat and sand. The seed usually germinates in 1 - 3 weeks at 13°c[
]. Pot up the seedlings when still small into individual pots, grow on in a greenhouse for the first winter and plant out in late spring or early summer after the last expected frosts.
Under laboratory conditions, seeds required a combination of stratification, scarification, afterripening, and washing to completely overcome dormancy[
Cuttings of half-ripe wood, mid summer in a frame. Very easy. Pot up as soon as they start to root (about 3 weeks) and plant out in their permanent positions late in the following spring[
Cuttings of mature wood of the current season's growth, late autumn in a frame. Very easy. Pot up in early spring and plant out in their permanent position in early summer[