Allscale Saltbush
Cattle Spinach

Atriplex polycarpa

Pen & Ink drawing of allscale saltbush, Atriplex polycarpa, © by Michael Plagens

Drawn from a live specimen found near Lake Pleasant in Maricopa County, Arizona. A twig at lower left is shown with a gall caused by the feeding of minute gall midges (Asphondylia). They appear as compact mass of fluff. At the center may be found several yellow-orange larvae of the midge. An adult midge is shown enlarged near by. These galls are nearly always present and offer a good identification clue.

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Saltbush Casebearer moth, Coleophora atriplicivora, photo © by Mike Plagens

This moth was reared from the larva stage on leaves of Allscale Saltbush -- Atriplex polycarpa. More on this insect ...

FRUIT: Scale-shaped nutlet has fine crenulations along its margin and there is usu. a tubercle on the face. Fruit shown enlarged at right (a) in the illustration. The nutlets are often borne in great abundance along the branch ends.

LEAVES: Grayish-green leaves are small (usu. less than 2½ cm), oblong and more or less thickened and tough.

SHRUB: A medium to large shrub with dense, hard wood making up the lower branches and root crown. In a habitat dominated by this shrub all will be close to the same size, typically 1 to 2 m. Often bearing an abundance of seeds that weighs over the branch tips. Twigs have light gray bark and the wood is yellowish inside.

RANGE: Occurs on deep, variously flooded soils that are usually alkaline. Flood plains of rivers or areas near agriculture and irrigation systems also. Also known as Desert Saltbush or Alkaline Saltbush.

FLOWERS: Spikes of greenish-yellow male flowers are borne above the clusters of greenish female flowers which only become apparent once the seeds begin development. Pollen becomes airborne and may be of concern to hay fever sufferers.

UNARMED: Lacks thorns although the thin, tough twigs may act as spines.

gall midge on Atriplex polycarpa

Look for the fuzzy galls of Asphondylia midges on the twigs of Allscale Saltbush, Atriplex polycarpa. These galls are almost always present and offer a good identification clue.

Several small desert birds actively forage for insects in these bushes:

Verdin Black-tailed Gnatcatcher

Chenopodiaceae -- Goosefoot Family

More Information:

Sonoran Desert Field Guide
Sonoran Desert Places
Sonoran Desert Naturalist Home Page


Copyright Michael J. Plagens, 1999-2014