Fringed sage is a not a true sage, but an Artemisia (A. frigida). Low-growing, spreading, and perennial, fringed sage is found in many places of the world, from Mexico to Alaska and in the steppes of Asia. Its roots adapt to conditions, fingering out at the surface when water is abundant, reaching deep in dry conditions to seek subterranean water. Fringed sage competes well with other plants, survives drought, and tolerates overgrazing, although it does not grow where the soil is alkaline. When a stem comes in contact with soil, the plant may send down roots there. Tough, tolerant, and adaptable – I admire this plant!
Considered a good pioneer plant for restoring disturbed ecosystems, fringed sage stabilizes gullies and eroded areas. It responds to overgrazing by growing abundantly. For wildlife, it provides forage, habitat, and nesting materials; for humans, it offers medicine (disinfectant, antispasmodic, vermifuge) and fuel wood in places where no other woody plant will grow.
Fringed sage is small and silvery, has little yellow flowers, and after a rain it smells like camphor. This brave and giving plant thrives on much of the grazing range of northeastern Arizona, including my own forty acres – both a sign of and a healing response to the degraded condition of the land.
Much must (and can) be done to heal the land. This depends on people, individuals with heart, vision, and shovels. (Reducing our cultural addiction to eating meat will help.)
But right here today, brave little Artemisia frigida keeps on trying to save the world, all by itself, doing what it can where it is. I’d like to be like this little plant.