Northern Prairie Wildlife Research Center
In early August, fringed sage usually blooms on the Dakota prairies. This is a widely distributed plant that naturally occurred at elevations up to 10,000 feet from Siberia and Alaska to Arizona and Texas but since has spread with land disturbances to occupy dry open sites eastward to Quebec and New England.
In our area fringed sage stands up to a foot tall. Each stem contains several dozen tiny flower heads which are yellow in bloom. Leaves are small and divided into very narrow segments giving them the appearance of a fringe of threads. This is a tufted plant; up to two dozen stems arise from fibrous perennial rootstocks. Fruits are tiny, subcylindrical achenes as in the sunflower.
This plant is one of our better examples of plants that increase under long-term overgrazing. In some instances entire pastures will take on a silvery-gray appearance because of the great abundance of fringed sage.
All the sages have been used for centuries for a large variety of flavorings condiments, and medicines. Fringed sage was used by the Hopi Indians for flavoring their sweet-corn.
The sages are members of the sunflower family (Asteraceae) which contains over 15,000 species. In this family many flowers are grouped into single heads often erroneously called flowers. Aster means "star" in Greek in reference to the radiate arrangement of the flowers in the heads. The generic name Artemisia is an ancient name for a European sage dedicated in memory of the wife of King Mausolus of Caria. The specific name frigida means "of cold regions" in botanical Latin. Fringed sage was first described for science in 1804 by German botanist and Director of the Berlin Botanical Garden, Carl Ludwig von Willdenow (1765-1812).