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Native Wildflowers of the North Dakota Grasslands

JPG -- species photo

Silky Wormwood (Artemisia dracunculus)


Definitely not a candidate for a flower show, silky wormwood occurs throughout our state, and also grows from the Great Lakes area to British Columbia, and south to Texas, at elevations up to 10,000 ft. The plant is also found in Asia. Other common names include "green sage," "dragon sagewort," and "tarragon."

Silky wormwood is a smooth, dark-green perennial from 2 to 5 feet tall. Stems are usually rust colored. The leaves are mostly short and very narrow, except for the lowest ones, which may be 4 inches long and divided into 3 narrow segments. Hundreds of tiny, greenish-yellow flower heads are crowded among the upper leaves. By late August or early September, many of the lower leaves have usually dried up and fallen off. Fruits are tiny, naked achenes.

More plants of silky wormwood will be found on heavily or moderately grazed native pastures. However, the plant will not be absent from lightly grazed or idle pastures, especially if soils are of drier types. The oily seeds of silky wormwood were eaten by Amerindians, and the leaves were often baked between hot stones. The plant is still used widely as a condiment in salads and pickles, and occasionally to alleviate toothache.

Sages are in the sunflower family (Asteraceae). Aster means "star" in Greek, in reference to the radiate arrangement of the flowers in the heads. 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 dracunculus means "little dragon" in botanical Latin. Silky wormwood was first described for science in 1753 by the famous Swedish naturalist and father of modern botany Carl von Linne (Linnaeus).


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