One of the most common prairie plants in North Dakota, white sage, is also sometimes called "pasture sage" or "western mugwort." The plant is widely distributed in several varieties from southern Ontario and New England to British Columbia southward to Arkansas, California, and northern Mexico at elevations up to 10,000 ft.
White sage is a perennial from rhizomes (underground stems that root from the nodes). This aromatic plant may be over 3 feet tall, but North Dakota specimens usually are much shorter. Stems and leaves are usually white from the presence of fine hairs. The lance-shaped leaves are mostly about 1-3 inches long and can be entire, irregularly toothed, or lobed. Hundreds of tiny yellowish flower heads form on the upper branches. Fruits are tiny achenes with no bristles.
Look for white sage after mid-July on native prairie. Where soil is cool and moist, white sage is more abundant where grazing is intense, but where soil is warm and dry, more plants will be found where grazing is light or moderate. White sage is used by Amerindians as a medicine for colds, sore throat, and intestinal worms.
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 ludoviciana means "of St. Louis" in botanical Latin. White sage was described for science by the famous British-American naturalist Thomas Nuttall (1786-1859) in his The Genera of North American Plants of 1818. He visited the Mandan villages in what now is North Dakota in 1810-1811.
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