I collected sagebrush seeds today. I'm sharing photos. I think that these are Artemisia tridentata, aka big sagebrush or Great Basin sagebrush. It's the most common type around here. In many parts of it's range, I believe that it acts as the climax "tree" species.
My technique was to carry a bucket into the field. Take a handful of seed-heads, and shake them inside the bucket, banging against the sides. All the chaff fell into the bucket. Threshed with my hands. Screened through a 2 mm screen. Seeds fell through, leaving behind a lot of chaff. Winnowed. Same procedure that I use to harvest most dry seeds. The only differences are that sage is very smelly, and the smell infused my clothes, my truck, my body, and my bedroom. And there was a lot of chaff for a few seeds. Perhaps I was late to the party, and most of them already fell onto the ground, or got eaten by seed-predators. The seeds are very small. Took a long time for me to learn to recognize them amid the chaff. They are from the aster family, so it shouldn't have surprized me that the seeds look akin to miniature sunflower seeds.
Do any of you grow sagebrush from seeds? Any hints about germination or cultivation?
Anyone using sagebrush intentionally as part of your permaculture practices? Any best practices? Do any other species work well as guild members that can provide human food?
About 10 years ago I dug up 4 small (6") sagebrush plants, leaving a coffee can sized ball of soil around the roots. I took them home and planted them on the bank of the irrigation ditch in front of the house.
They really took off and within 4 or 5 years they were bushy and taller that me. Small sagebrush were popping up around the original plants and everything was going great. the neighbor's hired a "lawn care" outfit to tend their yard and the sagebrush got sprayed through the chainlink fence that separates our yards. The plants were about 3' from the fence but were sprayed anyway. All the plants but one tiny one died. I complained to the neighbors about it and the "lawn care" people denied everything. The survivor continues to grow but isn't thriving, I think it is being shaded out by trees now.
I dug up 2 small sagebrush from southern Utah and planted them in the middle of our yard 3 years ago and they are doing pretty well. They are definitely a different type than the ones that are naturally occurring around here.
According to Judith Phillips in her invaluable book, Southwestern Landscaping with Native Plants, p.96:
"Germination is best at cool temperatures (60 F)....Take stem cuttings February-April. 2.0% IBA talc necessary for acceptable rooting percentages....Artemesias will fix nitrogen when soil contains a proper microorganism balance."
Though my personal experience is related to the threadleaf sage (Artemesia filifolia), I have success transplanting small plants from my rock driveway if I include the debris that collects under my large established sage plants. There is some kind of fine dryland web-like microbiota that grows under the sage. Harvesting a little of this delicate microbial system seems to help the sage thrive. Or maybe this webby topsoil facilitates the nitrogen fixing system. I'm not sure what's happening but if you look under a healthy plant you will see this unusual phenomenon.
I have noticed crews of sagebrush seed harvesters along the highway south of our town in the fall. They harvest in an area where the sagebrush seem to be especially large and bushy.
They have large cloth bags which they hold the seed heads over and then beat on the heads with tennis rackets. Towards the end of the day their pickup trucks are piled high with these bags that resemble giant pillows. I don't know how they separate the chaff from the seed.
There was a huge fire (90,000 acres) in the hills and mountains near our town this past summer. Much of the burned area is now being seeded with a mixture of sagebrush, bitterbrush, and other native plants. This is important winter range for Mule Deer and they are going to be in trouble, especially if it is a harsh winter.
For my next trick, I'll need the help of a tiny ad ...