Shrubs, dioecious or sub-monoecious, mainly 10-20 dm. Leaves tardily deciduous, alternate, sessile or nearly so; blade spatulate to obovate or oblong, 3-15(-2.) × 2-4 mm, margin entire, apex typically acute. Staminate flowers appearing silvery, in clusters 1.5-3 mm wide, borne in paniculate, naked spikes 5-25 cm; anthers yellow. Pistillate flowers with fruiting bracteoles sessile, cuneate-orbicular to semicircular, 1.5-2.5 × 2-3 mm, united to near middle, margin deeply laciniate-dentate, tuberculate or sometimes smooth dorsally. Seeds pale brown, 1-1.5 mm. 2n = 18, 36.
Flowering spring-fall. Warm desert shrub communities (creosote bush, ambrosia, shadscale, mesquite, saltgrass, etc.), mainly in fine-textured saline substrates; 60-1500 m; Ariz., Calif., Nev., Utah; n Mexico (Baja California to Sonora).
Atriplex polycarpa consists of two or more chromosomal races based on different polyploid levels. The races form hybrids with Atriplex canescens in south California, resulting in partially stabilized entities known as varieties laciniata and macilenta. The plants evidently form hybrids with A. lentiformis.
Benson and Darrow 1981, Zacharias 2014 (Jepson), Kearny and Peebles 1979, FNA 2003
Common Name: cattle saltbush Duration: Perennial Nativity: Native Lifeform: Shrub Wetland Status: FACU General: Intricately branched shrub, 50-200 cm tall, with slender twigs and gray-green whitish leaves, becoming leafless in drought. Leaves: Alternate, sessile or nearly so, and clustered in fascicles, the blades mostly small, oblong, less than 1 cm long and 3 mm wide, and often highly variable. Flowers: Male and female flowers on separate plants; flowers inconspicuous, in dense terminal panicles, the male flowers appearing silvery; fruiting bracts 4-6 mm wide, somewhat round to triangular, often with 7-17 finger-like blunt teeth, often obscured by dense scurfy white hairs. Fruits: Utricles 2-4 mm long with dentate margins and, usually, tuberculate faces. Ecology: Found on sandy to rocky soils of flats, washes and slopes below 3,500 ft (1067 m); flowers spring-fall. Distribution: AZ, CA, s NV, sw UT; south to n MEX (Baja California, Sonora). Notes: Notable for its symmetry and its tolerance of moderately saline soils. Look for the toothed margins on the fruiting bracteoles. Commonly seen with characteristic pink galls in the upper branches and inflorescences. It is quite common in the alkaline flats of the hot, low deserts of Arizona and California, and grows in pure stands or associated with creosote bush. The plant evidently hybridizes with A. lentiformis. Ethnobotany: Seri used the wood for fuel and used the leaves and twigs to make shampoo and laundry soap. Etymology: Atriplex is old Latin name for this plant, while polycarpa means having many seeds or fruit. Synonyms: None Editor: SBuckley 2010, AHazelton 2015