Skip to Content

Big Mountain Sagebrush: Creates its own Habitat

Big Mountain Sagebrush: Creates its own Habitat

Ubiquitous in the Rocky Mountain West, Big Mountain Sagebrush, Artemisia tridentata, covers vast swaths of the landscape. It thrives on south-facing slopes, wide basins, and on top of plateaus.

When I first drove west nine years ago, I noted just how much Big Mountain Sagebrush grew and immediately asked the nearest person what it was.

“Sage,” the man at the gas station answered.

Having grown to love cooking a few years prior, I asked if it was the same as the cooking spice. The gas station man laughed in my face and asked if I had ever been to Colorado before. Obviously, I had not.

Since then, I have learned to appreciate Big Mountain Sagebrush for its fragrant smell. Sometimes, while thru-hiking, I pick a few leaves and rub them into the sweaty, smelly straps of my backpack. It sure smells a lot better than thru-hiker stink!

While thru-hiking, walking through lots of Big Mountain Sagebrush reminds me that water probably does not flow near me, so I should conserve water. Because sagebrush thrives in arid environments, often the water table lies deep beneath the surface. Adapted to this scarcity, sagebrush grows deep taproots to grab that hard to find resource. They also possess a web of lateral roots to take advantage of any surface water that does fall during rain.

Last year's flowers on a sagebrush plant with some leaves showing.
Last year’s Sagebrush flowers and a few leaves


Big Mountain Sagebrush resides in the Asteraceae Family with the Dandelion and Arrowleaf Balsamroot.

General Characteristics:

  • Strong aromatic properties
  • Can grow up to six feet tall
  • Wintergreen, providing food sources year round
  • Many branches making the shrub large and wide
  • Bark has gray and brown tones, but more gray
  • Very large taproot and interlacing lateral roots making removal difficult


  • Three teeth at tip lending to the name “tri-dent-ata”
  • Narrow at the base and gets wider at teeth
  • Alternate
  • 1/2-1 inch long
  • Greenish-gray in color, but mostly green


  • Between mid-summer to early fall
  • Very small florets growing up in clusters
  • Yellow to brown tones


  • Achenes with few hairs (small one-seed fruits)

Big Mountain Sagebrush & The Journal

Two page journal spread examining Big Mountain Sagebrush including detailed text, a photo, and two sketches.

I wanted to add a two-page spread for Big Mountain Sagebrush early in the journal due to it’s prevalence in the Rocky Mountains. A whole ecological community itself, sagebrush dominates much of the western United States. Looking out a car window on most interstates that cross the Rocky Mountains, you will see it. Visiting many of the western National Parks, you will see it. Go for a hike on the famous Pacific Crest Trail, you will see it.

In the journal, I wanted to cover the basics of Big Mountain Sagebrush as an individual plant rather than a plant community. Identifying one plant is always the start to identifying the more complex organisms. For me, the leaves give away the plant’s identity first because of their three teeth and just how amazing they smell. For that reason, I can remember the scientific name better, Artemisia tri-dent-ata. Breaking down the word, it makes obvious sense.

For the photo, I chose a smaller plant mostly because it fit in the Fujfilm Photo. This Big Mountain Sagebrush reached about 3ft high and 3ft wide. I also chose this plant because it had some of last year’s withered flowers still attached and blowing in the wind.

I made two smaller sketches to depict the detail of the leaves and how they alternate on the stem as well as the older flowers. Since I drew the flowers from a side angle, their aster qualities do not show through completely. Thus, this two page spread represents Big Mountain Sagebrush in the springtime and a summer spread could happen later with more vibrant, alive flowers. If you’re scared to sketch check out my post of the Basics of Nature Journaling for a pep talk!

Sagebrush plant in profile with the bark, leaves, and flowers showing with a blue sky overhead.
Big Mountain Sagebrush in arid landscape
Pinterest Pin featuring a photo of the two page journal spread and the blog title.