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Q. Who is Mr. Smarty Plants?

A: There are those who suspect Wildflower Center volunteers are the culpable and capable culprits. Yet, others think staff members play some, albeit small, role. You can torture us with your plant questions, but we will never reveal the Green Guru's secret identity.

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Ask Mr. Smarty Plants is a free service provided by the staff and volunteers at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.

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Wednesday - March 02, 2011

From: Van Nuys, CA
Region: California
Topic: Plant Identification
Title: Identification of spiny plant in Yucca Mesa, CA
Answered by: Nan Hampton


I have a very prickly bush on my property near Yucca Mesa, CA, (high desert). 2 to 3 feet high. Branches mostly starting from the center near ground. Lots of 1 to 2 inch spines on branches. Dormant in winter, and very dry and white looking. Just now producing small grayish leaves near each spine. Bundles of flowers at the end of each branch starting to emerge, yellow I think. Elevation is 3000+ feet, and sandy soil. Wish I could attach a photo. What could it be? I can't find it in any books or on-line sites. Grateful for help.


This sounds to me like Atriplex confertifolia (Shadscale).  Other common names for it are spiny saltbush and hop sage.  If you click on California on the map on the USDA Plants Database, you will see it does occur in San Bernadino County.

Here is more information and photos from Utah State University, Southwest Colorado Wildflowers and photos from University of California-Berkeley CalPhotos database. 

Mr. Smarty Plants would be very interested to know if this is your plant.  If not, let me know and I'll suggest some other possibilities for identifying it. 

Here are some photos from our Image Gallery:

Atriplex confertifolia

Atriplex confertifolia

Atriplex confertifolia

Atriplex confertifolia



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