Contributed by: USDA NRCS Idaho State Office, Montana State Office, Aberdeen Plant Materials Center, & Bridger Plant Materials Center
Adapted from the NRCS Plants Database. For the full article, complete references and other useful information, please visit: http://plants.usda.gov/
White sage, winter-sage, feather-sage, sweet sage, lambstail, Eurotia lanata, and Ceratoides lanata.
Uses Wildlife: – Winterfat is considered very good browse for wildlife and is extensively utilized by rodents, rabbits, antelope, deer, elk, and bighorn sheep.
Erosion Control: – Winterfat is a good erosion control plant when planted in a mixture to provide greater plant density. It has a deep taproot and an extensive fibrous root system near the soil surface, which helps stabilize soils. It germinates readily and provides fairly rapid growth under favorable growing conditions.
Reclamation: – Winterfat is an important pioneer species and establishes fairly easily on drastically disturbed sites or poorly developed soils such as those commonly found on mine lands.
Winterfat is an erect to spreading, low-growing, long-lived half-shrub native to the western United States. It is a cool season plant, typically with a central woody stem arising from a woody crown. Annual secondary stems, 8 inches to 4 feet and sometimes taller, are herbaceous on dwarf forms and herbaceous to woody throughout on taller forms, wooly and branched. Winterfat has an extensive fibrous root system and a deep penetrating taproot.
Leaves are simple, alternate, mostly linear, and revolutely margined (rolled back from the margin). The inflorescence is a spike. Plants are monoecious with staminate flowers above the pistillate ones or occasionally they are dioecious. Pollination usually occurs between plants, but self-pollination may occur on monecious plants. Wind is the principal mode of pollination. The seed is a utricle and the seed coat is thin and covered with fine white, silky pilose hairs to ½ inch long.
This plant is widely distributed from Saskatchewan and Manitoba, Canada to western Nebraska, Colorado, west Texas, California and Washington.
Winterfat is most common in the 7 to 16 inch annual precipitation zones, but has been found in areas with less than 6 inches of annual precipitation and in areas with greater than 20 inches annual precipitation. Winterfat is found from near sea level to 10,000 feet elevation. It occurs in salt desert shrub, pinyon juniper, sagebrush grass and near the edges of some forested plant communities.
Winterfat grows well on a wide range of soil textures, although it prefers more basic or limy soils. It tolerates moderate to highly saline conditions, but is not tolerant of acidic soils. It does not tolerate flooding or extended wet conditions. Refer to soil surveys and ecological site descriptions for additional guidance. It generally has good cold tolerance. Active growth begins in early to mid spring, flowering occurs from mid spring to early summer, and seed maturity is reached by mid to late fall.
Planting: Winterfat seed does not remain viable for extended periods and use of seed no older than two years is recommended. Winterfat seed may lose as much as 50 percent or more viability during the first year of storage. It is very important to have current germination test results for seed that is to be planted.
Dormant fall – winter or very early spring plantings result in the best stands. Studies indicate that winterfat seedlings can survive freezing temperatures and do well at cool temperatures, but growth is very slow during hot summer periods.
Winterfat utricles are covered with fine silky hairs that will not flow through a drill. . Debearded seed flows readily through a drill, but this seed (with hairs removed) may be viable for a shorter period of time than non-debearded seed.
Winterfat should be seeded on the soil surface to no deeper than ¼ inch. Broadcasting seed on snow or broadcasting on a moist firm soil surface followed by a packing operation results in the best stands. Drilling seed from 1/16 to 1/4 inch deep using a drill with good depth control and packer wheels into firm soil also results in satisfactory stands.
When drill seeded alone to reclaim winterfat monoculture plant communities, 15 Pure Live seeds (PLS) per square foot (5.0 pounds PLS per acre) is recommended. If broadcast seeded, the seeding rate should be increased to 21 PLS seeds per square foot or 7.0 pounds PLS per acre.
When seeded as a component of a mix, 0.025 to 0.5 pound PLS per acre drilled or 0.05 to 1.0 pound PLS per acre broadcast is recommended. Seeding in alternate or cross rows promotes optimum establishment of winterfat. A seeding rate of 1/40 (0.025) pound PLS per acre will result in approximately 400 plants per acre under favorable establishment and growing conditions.
If winterfat is seeded in areas where annual weeds such as cheatgrass, medusahead rye, and/or tumble mustard are prevalent, it should be seeded in a mixture of adapted, vigorous native grasses following control practices such as tillage or herbicide treatment for the annual weeds.
Winterfat has excellent tolerance to browsing during the winter. However, over-browsing has greatly reduced or eliminated it in some areas. No more than 25 percent of the annual season growth should be removed during the active growing period (less during active spring growth period) and no more than 50 percent of the annual season growth should be removed during dormant periods.
New plantings should be excluded from browsing by livestock and wildlife until plants are well established and producing seed.
Winterfat is native, long-lived, and spreads by seed distribution. It is not considered “weedy”, but could slowly spread into adjoining vegetative communities under ideal climatic and environmental conditions. This species is well documented as having beneficial qualities and no negative impacts on wild or domestic animals.