Antelope Bitterbrush (Purshia tridentate)

A branch of a dense, hardy bush with skinny light green leaves

Antelope Bitterbrush (Purshia tridentate)

The antelope bitterbrush is a native plant species appearing throughout the western United States, including Grand Teton National Park (GTNP), at elevations between 4,000 ft and 8,500 ft. Because of its low water use, this plant has high drought tolerance and it does well in sandy soils. The semi-evergreen trident-shaped leaves are greyish-green—a lighter color that reflects lots of sunlight—and they curl up when there is little water. It typically grows to be 5 ft tall and 8 ft wide but can grow up to 10 ft tall in ideal conditions. Since this plant is quite large, small birds and mammals take shelter in their shade, like the sage grouse for example.

Antelope bitterbrush are well integrated into the GTNP ecosystem. They provide a great source of protein for moose and big game animals, including livestock. Even the seeds have lots of benefits for little animals such as small rodents, who plant the seeds by caching them and forgetting about their cache. Bitterbrush is insect pollinated and must be managed from overgrazing by reserving about 50% of annual growth from being eaten. Animals will usually travel to feed on the leaves in fall before everything becomes snow-covered in winter, and then return again in early spring before summer brings high heat. The best time for us humans to enjoy antelope bitterbrush, though, is in late spring to early summer when they blossom with beautiful little white or yellow flowers. However, the plant is quite harsh to us; the Northern Paiute natives used antelope bitterbrush to clear the contents of an aching stomach by drying and then boiling the leaves into an emetic and laxative tea. Other uses for the plant are erosion control, living snow fences, xeriscaping, and reclamation in mining areas.

Written by Celia Karim
PC: Thayne Tuason on Flickr