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Vegetation

Shrub Grassland

Plants in this ecosystem are able to grow in this dry climate of extreme temperatures and fragile soils. The woody shrubs that do grow here thrive in poor soils, have specialized leaves that help prevent water loss, and are able to collect available ground moisture through specialized roots.

Shrub Grassland Trees & Shrubs

Big Sagebrush

Big Sagebrush Rubber Rabbitbush

Big sagebrush (Artemisia tridentata) is estimated to cover 65 percent of the ecosystem. This plant forms a " canopy" that benefits many wildlife species. The leaves of the big sagebrush are highly nutritious in the winter and eaten by a variety of wildlife including antelope, mule deer, bighorn sheep, elk, sage grouse, and pygmy rabbits. These plants have an extensive taproot to seek out soil moisture. They help collect snow which adds moisture to the soil.

Rubber Rabbitbrush

Rubber Rabbitbrush

Rubber Rabbitbrush (Ericameria nauseosa) is a low growing plant that reaches heights of 2' to 3' and can be found in dry grasslands up to the montane forest. It produces a flowerhead that contains 5 tiny yellow flowers. Rabbits and ungulates eat the seeds of this plant.

Fringed Sagewort

Fringed Sagewort

Fringed Sagewort (Artemisia frigida) is a strongly aromatic member of the sage family. This mat-forming plant grows stems from a woody root; it grows 4" to 16" tall. It is found in dry, open sites from the plains to the subalpine.

Broom Snakeweed

Broom Snakeweed

Broom Snakeweed (Gutierrezia sarothrae) is a member of the Asteraceae plant family. It is a low growing shrubby plant that grows from a woody crown and taproot. This plant produces many small yellow flowers.

Rocky Mountain Juniper

Rocky Mountain Juniper

Rocky Mountain Juniper (Juniperus scopulorum) is a conifer that grows on dry slopes in the form of a shrub or small tree. The leaves are scale like and female trees produce cones that are berry-like bluish cones. Birds use these trees for shelter and feed on the small cones.

Shrub Grassland Forbs

Milkvetch

Milkvetch Milkvetch

Milkvetch (Astragalus spp.) are part of the pea family (Fabaceae) as they produce a bean like seedpod called a legume. Over 50 species of vetch are found in Montana. These plants flower throughout the month of August. The lavender or bluish-purple flowers are about 1/2" long and arranged in a dense cluster. The main taproot is thick and has many roots growing off of it.

Hairy Goldenaster

Hairy Goldenaster

Hairy Goldenaster (Heterotheca villosa) is also called prairie golden-aster. This plant is found in sandy or gravelly soils. Leaves are longer than wide and are haired. Cone-shaped flower heads form at the ends of stems resulting in yellow flowers. Plants are 6" to 16" tall.

Fleabane

Fleabane

Fleabane (Erigeron spp.) plants flower earlier in the summer season than asters. They grow in dry to moist soil in open or wooded areas. Stems are 25" tall and may produce a dozen flowerheads; each flowerhead produces 70 to 140 slender whitish to bluish ray flowers.

Phlox

Phlox

Phlox (Phlox spp.) is found in sagebrush communities in sandy and gravelly soils. This small forb has needle like leaves and pink or purple colored flowers.

Shrub Grassland Grasses

Prairie Junegrass

Prairie Junegrass

Prairie Junegrass (Koeleria macrantha) is a densly tufted perennial grass that is found in dry, well-drained open sites from the plains to subalpine. It is a good grass for grazing ungulates.

Needle & Thread

Needle & Thread

Needle & Thread (Hesperostipa comata) is a perennial cool season bunchgrass that grows in moist, coarse and medium textured soils. It reaches heights of 1' to 3'. Seeds are contained on hair-like spikes that fall to the ground.

Sandberg Bluegrass

Curly Bluegrass

Sandberg Bluegrass (Poa secunda) is a cool season perennial bunchgrass that grows from 6" to 12" in height and provides new growth early in the spring. This grass is one of the earliest grasses to green-up in the spring and remains green as long as there is moisture. Many birds choose Sandberg bluegrass for nesting because of the cover the leaves provide. It has a remarkable ability to produce roots which effectively suppress weed growth. Sandberg bluegrass is one of the native bluegrasses and is an important component of the shrub grassland vegetation; it thrives on a variety of soils from moderately coarse sands to fine clays.

Bluebunch Wheatgrass

Bluebunch Wheatgrass

Bluebunch Wheatgrass (Agropyron spicatum) is the state grass of Montana. It is the most widely spread major forage grass in Montana. It is the dominant grass on all upland sites within the 10 to 14 inch precipitation zone. It is also the dominant grass on sites with sandy soils.