Northern Prairie Wildlife Research Center
Found throughout North Dakota, western sagewort occurs from eastern Canada to Florida westward to Saskatchewan and Texas at elevations up to 9,000 ft. The plant described here is the subspecies caudata. The full species is circumboreal in distribution.
Western sagewort is likely a biennial although some specimens seem to have lived more than two years. Stems are usually single from a thick taproot. Plants can be three feet tall, but most North Dakota specimens are about two feet tall. Basal leaves are numerous in first-year plants, but may be absent the second year. The usually dark green and hairless leaves, including their petioles (stalks), are up to six inches long. Leaf blades are divided two or three times into thread-like segments. Upper leaves are much smaller and may be undivided. Unlike many of the sages, western sagewort has no odor. Hundreds of tiny, yellowish-green flower heads form on the narrow upper half of the plant. Flowers in the centers of the heads are sterile, but the outermost flowers produce tiny, nearly cylindrical achenes ("seeds").
Look for western sagewort from August through September on dry sites in native grassland. Cattle seem to avoid these plants, so more are often found where grazing pressure is heavy or moderate. The seeds, leaves, and roots of the sages are used worldwide as medicines, flavorings, perfumes, and foods. However, I found no references to economic uses for the species discussed here.
Sages are members of the sunflower family (Asteraceae). Aster means "star" in Greek, in reference to the radiate arrangement of flowers in the flower heads. The generic name Artemisia is an ancient name for a European sage, the name dedicated in memory of the wife of King Mausolus of Caria. The specific epithet campestris means "pertaining to the plains" in botanical Latin. The species was first described for science in 1753 by the Swedish father of modern botany, Carl Linnaeus (1707-1778).