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   In the high desert of the Four Corners area, there are a number of heat and salt tolerant Amaranth species of the Atriplex and Chenopodium genera.

    Some of these species, such as Atriplex canescens, (Four-winged Saltbush) are fairly easy to identify, but most have such similar overall appearance that they take some practice to separate. Below are key points to observe:
Are the plants annual herbs and monoecious or perennial woody shrubs and dioecious?
What is the shape, size, and color of the leaves?
Are the leaves sessile?
What is the shape and texture of the bracteoles? (Bracteoles are attached to the utricle, the seed pod, and are most obvious and well-known in Atriplex canescens.)

    Hybridization (fairly common in the two species below) makes identification even more complex.

    The two Atriplex shown on this page are low growing symmetrical shrubs with many elongated flower stems of numerous 1 millimeter flowers.

    As the photograph immediately below shows, Atriplex corrugata often grows in wide-spread masses. The very similar-looking Atriplex gardneri also is found in masses.

    Click to see the even more common Amaranths, Atriplex canescens and Atriplex confertifolia.

    Atriplex is an ancient Latin name for a now unknown plant; the name was applied to this genus in modern times by Linnaeus in 1753.

Atriplex corrugata
Atriplex corrugata

Atriplex corrugata (Matted Saltbush)
Amaranthaceae (Amaranth Family)
(formerly Chenopodiaceae, Goosefoot Family)

Semi-desert. Shrublands, openings. Spring.
Above and left: Southeast of Aneth, Utah, March 24, 2017.

Atriplex corrugata and Atriplex gardneri (see below) are quite similar and do hybridize. Several characteristics can help distinguish between species:

A. corrugata fruit bracteoles (what appear to be the pods around the seeds) are sessile or nearly so. The bracteoles are 3-5 mm long and 3-6 mm wide.
A. gardneri fruit bracteoles are sessile or on stipes to 9 mm long. The bracteoles are 2-9 mm long and wide.

(All Atriplex fruits have diagnostic bracteoles of various sizes and textures. The bracteoles are attached to the seed pod, the "utricle", a small, stiff-walled, somewhat inflated, one-seeded fruit.)

Leaves of Atriplex corrugata are sessile. Leaves are 2-6 millimeters wide and 3-18 millimeters long.
Leaves of A. gardneri have petioles 2-12 mm long (although Intermountain Flora indicates the leaves may be sessile). Leaves are 5-25 mm wide and 10-50 mm long.

Flowering stems of both A. corrugata and A. gardneri stand above the mass of leaves, although A. gardneri tend to be slightly longer and are quite conspicuous even in the winter.

A. corrugata grows 3-15 cm tall; A. gardneri grows 10-45 cm tall. Both grow up to two meters wide.

Alice Eastwood was the first to collect Atriplex corrugata for science. She found it in the Grand Junction area in May of 1891 and later that year Sereno Watson described and named her new species.

"Corrugata" is Latin for "with folds or wrinkles".

Atriplex corrugata  Atriplex corrugata

Atriplex corrugata (Matted Saltbush)
Amaranthaceae (Amaranth Family)
(formerly Chenopodiaceae, Goosefoot Family)

Semi-desert. Shrublands, openings. Spring.
Southeast of Aneth, Utah, March 24, 2017.

At the top of the inflorescence in the left photograph you can see the tight massed ball of newly growing flowers. Lower on the flowering stem in that photograph you can see the yellow of the flowers gradually opening and in the right photograph at the arrows you can see the fully opened female flowers.

Both species shown on this page are most often dioecious and it is difficult, especially at the early stages of flowering such as are shown on this page, to tell if the flower is male or female. Once seeds begin to develop it is, of course, obvious which are female and which are male flowers.

Atriplex gardneri var. cuneata

Atriplex gardneri var. cuneata

Atriplex gardneri var. cuneata. Synonym: Atriplex cuneata. (Gardner's Saltbush)
Amaranthaceae (Amaranth Family)
(formerly Chenopodiaceae, Goosefoot Family)

Semi-desert. Shrublands, openings. Spring.
Above and left: McElmo Canyon, Canyons of the Ancients National Monument, March 22, 2017.

Both this species and A. corrugata (shown above) like the hot, barren-appearing soils of Mancos Shale and the soils washed out of the Morrison Formation. It is easy to pass by these subshrubs until you finally get them in your mind's eye and then you commonly find them in the the Four Corners area. See A. corrugata for details about A. gardneri.

Atriplex gardneri was first collected by Alexander Gordon along the Platte River in eastern Wyoming or western Nebraska in 1843, and it was named Obione gardneri by Moquin in 1849. Moquin misread Gordon's handwriting and honored Gordon with the name of "Gardneri"! According to botanical rules, the spelling of the name cannot be corrected. Dietrich renamed the species Atriplex gardneri in 1852.

Atriplex gardneri var. cuneata was first collected by Marcus Jones in 1894 and was named Atriplex cuneata by Aven Nelson in 1902. Stanley Welsh renamed the plant Atriplex gardneri var. cuneata in 1984.

The Flora of North America and other floras covering the Four Corners region now accept the name Atriplex gardneri var. cuneata. BONAP indicates that it is properly called Atriplex cuneata subspecies cuneata.

Atriplex gardneri var. cuneata (Gardner's Saltbush) 

Atriplex gardneri var. cuneata. Synonym: Atriplex cuneata. (Gardner's Saltbush)
Amaranthaceae (Amaranth Family)
(formerly Chenopodiaceae, Goosefoot Family)

Semi-desert. Shrublands, openings. Spring.
Cross Canyon, March 25, 2017.

Clusters of tiny flower buds are just beginning to grow on this young plant.

Range map © John Kartesz,
Floristic Synthesis of North America

State Color Key

Species present in state and native
Species present in state and exotic
Species not present in state

County Color Key

Species present and not rare
Species present and rare
Species extirpated (historic)
Species extinct
Species noxious
Species exotic and present
Native species, but adventive in state
Eradicated
Questionable presence

Atriplex corrugata

Range map for Atriplex corrugata

Atriplex gardneri var. cuneata

Range map for Atriplex gardneri var. cuneata