Northern Prairie Wildlife Research Center
A plant of western North Dakota, silverscale saltbush has been collected only as far east as Barnes County. Elsewhere, the plant ranges west to Alberta and Washington and south to Texas and Mexico at elevations under 8,000 ft.
Silverscale saltbush is an annual herb with a rounded shape. North Dakota specimens are usually only about a foot tall, but plants are up to two feet tall in more southerly areas. Stems are light-yellow and are much branched from the base. The triangular-shaped leaves are 1-2 inches long and gray from a dense covering of scaly hairs. The tiny yellowish-green flowers are inconspicuous. These plants are monoecious which means that male and female flowers are separate, but on the same plant. In silverscale saltbush, male flowers are in mostly in short spikes in the upper leaf axils. Female flowers are in clusters toward the middle of the plant where they may mix with male flowers. Fruits are bladder-like structures called utricles that contain single tiny brown seeds.
Look for silverscale saltbush from July to September on alkaline clay soils in native prairie or badlands. Grazing seems to have little effect on the abundance of this plant in the Great Plains. Some shrubby members of this genus in Africa and Australia are used as livestock feed. Amerindians in Utah eat the seeds of another Atriplex, and an annual species (orach) is occasionally cultivated and consumed as spinach, but I could find no references to economic uses for the species discussed here.
Silverscale saltbush is a member of the goosefoot family (Chenopodiaceae), the name from the Greek chen, "a goose", and pous, "foot," in allusion to the shape of the leaves in the genus Chenopodium. The family contains about 100 genera and 1200 species worldwide, and is especially well-represented in arid regions. Beet, Swiss chard, and spinach are members of the goosefoot family. There are about 150 species of Atriplex (the Latin name of orach) worldwide and 9 in North Dakota. The specific epithet is from the Latin argenteum, "silver." Silverscale saltbush was first described for science by the famous English-American naturalist Thomas Nuttall (1786-1859) in his Genera of North American Plants of 1818.