Northern Prairie Wildlife Research Center
Mostly found in the western third of North Dakota, moundscale has occasionally been collected as far east as Pembina and Barnes counties. Also called "salt sage", the plant occurs from Manitoba and Saskatchewan to Arizona and New Mexico.
Moundscale is termed a "dioecious suffruticose perennial" by botanists. That is a plant with male and female flowers on different plants that are woody at the base and herb-like above, and that live for three or more years. Plants are much branched and up to 20 inches tall. Stem and leaves are densely grayish scurfy. Leaves are up to two inches long and 3/4 inch wide. Clusters of female flowers are both axillary and terminal, whereas male clusters are mostly terminal. Flowers are tiny and green. The reddish-brown seeds are very small.
Look for moundscale on saline soils in the badlands. Some shrubby members of this genus in Africa and Australia are used as livestock feed, but grazing seems to have little effect on the abundance of moundscale in the Great Plains. An annual species (orach) is occasionally cultivated and consumed as spinach.
Moundscale 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.
Moundscale was described for science in 1874 by Sereno Watson (1826-1892), assistant curator of the Gray Herbarium at Harvard and critical student of western American plants. The specific epithet was dedicated to the early pioneer western naturalist Thomas Nuttall (1786-1859).