Looking for a silver leafed, cold hardy, low growing, shrubby native perennial for the low water garden? It is hard to beat the Arizona wormwood. Trying to only plant useful plants? Arizona wormwood has a long history of use and is valuable in the herb garden.
Because it is hard to get the exact plant, bear with this discussion of scientific names. Arizona wormwood was once it’s own species, Artemisia mexicana, but is now considered Artemisia ludoviciana subspecies mexicana. If you are planting in the Southwest, be sure to get this one and not plain wormwood. Our local native is best genetically adapted for our alkaline soils and low humidity. There are around 300 species of Artemisia and many are not native, or get fairly large. European wormwood (Artemisia absinthium) is not ideal here and Artemisia tridentata is a large sage brush (and the State Flower of Nevada).
The silvery foliage of Arizona wormwood is charming in fresh bouquets and can be dried for crafts. It has a distinctive sage-like fragrance which lingers. I have made silver holiday wreaths from the foliage. The primary herbal use of Arizona wormwood is as a bitter tonic to settle the stomach and to stimulate digestion. A mild tea is used to treat diarrhea. Do not use other species of Artemisia because some are toxic to human. Dried Arizona wormwood is also used to repel moths and mosquitoes.
Planting and Care.
This small (1 to 3 feet tall) silvery semi-woody herb is drought tolerant and makes an attractive addition to the xeriscape. Full sun, reflected sun, part shade, all are options, but not clay soil. Be sure soil drains well, like most desert soils. Arizona wormwood can spread by rhizomes, and thus it might be best to plant it where it can’t take over, perhaps between sidewalk and street. If you don’t overwater, excessive growth is not an issue. Arizona wormwood is silvery in color because stems and foliage are covered in woolly gray or white hairs. Small yellow florets appear in late summer, and are visited by butterflies. Lesser goldfinch adore the seed in autumn.
Like many unassuming native plants, it is tough to find this species in traditional nurseries. Ask your native plant society, they may know someone who is growing some. The straight species Artemisia ludoviciana (as opposed to our local subspecies) has become a popular garden plant, called variously gray sagewort, prairie sage, and white sagebrush.
Harvesting and Use.
Harvest leaves, stems and flowers at peak appearance, just as plants begin their bloom period. This will encourage branching and further bloom. Spread on screens or hang to dry. Place dried material in sachets to lend a clean fresh fragrance to closets, and to help repel moths. It also makes a refreshingly different air freshener for the automobile. Branches look good in dried arrangements, or you can harvest fresh material for a charming addition to bouquets, nosegays and herbal wreaths.
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