Winter Wormwood

Wormwood. Pȟežíȟota swúla. Artemisia absinthium.

This plant, introduced here from Eurasia, is one of the hardiest members of the sage (Artemisia) family. I took this picture in late winter, when the snow was starting to melt, but no other plants had emerged yet. It must have a lot of antifreeze in its leaves, because the temperatures were still below freezing a lot of the time.

I have seen wormwood growing in the dead of winter many times. I remember once, during the winter when we had Očhéthi Šakówiŋ Camp, I needed this medicine. It was one of the harshest winters we’ve had for a long time. But in February, when there was 2 feet of snow on the ground almost everywhere, I found a few tiny wormwood plants growing up around a propane tank.

Since then, I have seen small wormwood plants growing in the shadow of propane tanks in the dead of winter in lots of other places. It seems that the large stalks of the plant die off during the early freezes of autumn. But then, as the season wears on, small leaflets of new growth start to appear around the base of the plant. While they don’t seem to be able to get too big in the winter, the harsh temperatures don’t seem to deter it from growing.

These pictures were  taken in December. This plant is very resilient, always coming back even after many frosts!

There’s only one other plant that I’ve seen growing green during this time of year, when everything not blanketed in white snow and ice is showing the brown and yellow hues of dead leaves. The other winter-survivalist plant is Wormwood’s cousin, another Artemisia: pȟežíhota waštémna (Artemisia frigida, women’s sage, or fringed sage). The form that plant takes in the winter is small, tight little green balls. The Artemisia family winter survival strategy seems to grow small and close to the ground.

The brushier Artemisia family members, such as pȟežíȟota apé blaská (Artemisia ludoviciana, ceremonial sage) seem to stay dormant during the winter Perhaps their characteristics are not conducive to winter survival. So during this season, when no other plants can brave the elements to grow, these two Artemisia cousins are the only living green that I see around, besides the evergreen trees. What an amazing survival adaptation!

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