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Native Plant of the Month: Mugwort

With a name like “Mugwort”, one may not really expect much from our native Artemisia douglasiana. And although it has bright yellow flowers, the tiny flower heads are not really showy being somewhat sparsely distributed along thin upright spikes and often obscured by the bluish green/grey sepals, leaves, and stems. In a large robust Mugwort, these flowering clusters emerge from a 3-4 foot high multi-stemmed shrub found along riparian corridors at lower altitudes (below 6,000 feet). It is distributed throughout most of California and is fairly common along Putah Creek where it grows in moist or dry soils of sunny forested or grassland areas.

The Mugwort can be a nice addition as a drought tolerant native landscape shrub as it is fairly easy to grow from seed or from rhizomes and it can spread to fill space. It is a good plant for wildlife where as a shrub it can provide cover, nectar for pollinators, seeds for birds, and its leaves are food for a number of butterfly and moth species.

And don’t let the lackluster name Mugwort be misleading because the indigenous people found the essential oils in its fragrant leaves helpful to repel insects and there were many medicinal uses. In fact, beyond our borders, our native Mugwort is in good company because the genus Artemisia is well known with hundreds of species found world-wide. It has a variety of uses including for decorative garden plants, consumption in teas, producing the alcoholic beverage absinthe, used against intestinal worms, and notably has become a standard treatment against malaria.

Header photo ©2006 Stonebird CC BY-SA 2.0

Body photo ©2002 Lynn Watson

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