What are the adaptations for sage brush?
Sagebrush is a common plant throughout the Western part of the
United States and is not related in any way to the herb known as
sage. When it is wet, it does smell somewhat like the herb, a
probable source of the name.
Because it grows in hot, dry climates, sagebrush has adapted to
minimal water requirements. It stores water in its small leaves and
does not give up that water easily. So one adaptation is that its
root system is able to obtain water when available. Its small waxy
leaves close up their stomata (little openings on the bottom of the
leaves) so as to hold on to water even during the hot, dry
Another adaptation is the formation of bitter tasting oils found
in the leaves and stems which protects it from being grazed down by
herbivores (rabbits, sheep, deer). Pronghorn antelope, also native
to the same regions, can tolerate grazing on sagebrush to some
The final adaptation is of a dual adaptation.
First, sagebrush reproduces primarily through underground
rhizomes. "Shoots" come off the main plant and then form a new
plant some distance away. This is an adaptation to the environment
because the new little plant can rely on water and nutrients from
the mother plant until it develops its own root system.
Second, because sagebrush does not tolerate fire and cannot come
back from roots or rhizomes after a fire, it also produces seeds on
a high stalk which are wind borne when mature. Seeds from plants
not affected by the fire can be blown into the area which was
burned off. As soon as water is available, usually from rain, the
seeds can germinate and get started in the nutrient-rich ash left
behind from the fire.