Shrubs, dioecious or rarely monoecious, mainly 8-20 dm, as wide or wider, not especially armed. Leaves persistent, alternate, sessile or nearly so, blade linear to oblanceolate, oblong, or obovate, mainly 10-40 × 3-8 mm, margin entire, apex retuse to obtuse. Staminate flowers yellow (rarely brown), in clusters 2-3 mm wide, borne in panicles 3-15 cm. Pistillate flowers borne in panicles 5-40 cm. Fruiting bracteoles 8-25 mm, as wide, on stipes 1-8 mm, with 4 prominent wings extending the bract length, united throughout, wings dentate to entire, apex toothed, surface of wings and body smooth or reticulate. Seeds 1.5-2.5 mm wide. 2n = 18, 36+.
This species forms hybrids with Atriplex confertifolia and A. gardneri varieties (see var. bonnevillensis). Materials from the vicinity of the type locality of the species in South Dakota are low subherbaceous plants that differ from our shrubby tall material. However, the type area is presently covered with water from a dam on the Missouri River, and it is not possible to exclude the possibility of A. canescens as it has been interpreted for the past century to have existed at that site during the Lewis and Clark Expedition, if that is indeed where the lectotype was collected.
FNA 2003, Heil et al 2013
Common Name: fourwing saltbush Duration: Perennial Nativity: Native Lifeform: Shrub General: Shrub, frequently 1.5-2 m, moundlike, much branched and drought-deciduous. Leaves: Alternate, sessile, gray-green, entire, narrowly spatulate to narrowly oblong, 5 cm long or less, salty tasting. Flowers: Inconspicuous, tiny, with male and female flowers on separate plants; staminate flowers yellow (rarely brown), in clusters 2-3 mm wide, borne in panicles 3-15 cm; pistillate flowers lacking a perianth, borne in panicles 5-40 cm. Fruits: Small seeds enclosed by 4-winged bracts, often 1-2 cm long and nearly as wide. Ecology: Found on sandy or gravelly soils, from desert scrub to pinon-juniper communities from 300-6,500 ft (100-1981 m); flowers spring and summer. Distribution: Most of western N. Amer. from Alberta south to CA and east to TX (disjunct in Novia Scotia); south to s MEX; also in Australia. Notes: Common diecious shrub distinguished by the gray-green, often narrow leaves and distinctive 4-winged fruits. Browse for livestock, deer and antelope; seeds eaten by birds and rodents; very tolerant of saline soils. Traditionally placed in the goosefoot family (Chenopodiaceae), that entire family was recently lumped into Amaranthaceae. Ethnobotany: Seeds used for meal, yellow dye. Havasupai used it to make soap for washing hair and to treat itches and rashes. Hopi used the ashes as a substitute for baking soda. Navajo used it as an emetic, to treat ant bites, cough, and as a hair tonic. Etymology: Atriplex is the ancient Latin name for this plant, derived from the plant-s Greek name atraphaxes; canescens means covered with short gray or white hairs. Synonyms: None Editor: SBuckley 2010, FSCoburn 2015, AHazelton 2015