This system is composed of dwarf sagebrush shrubland and shrub-steppe that forms matrix vegetation and large patches on the margins of high-elevation basins. It occurs in southwest and south-central Montana on sites that are gently to moderately sloping, particularly on dry, windswept hills and ridges that may be oriented to any aspect. Elevation ranges from 1,143 meters (3,750 feet) in the Pryor Mountains and 1,219 meters (4,000 feet in) the Canyon Ferry area and up to 2,195 meters (7,200 feet) in southwestern Montana. Typical sites are gently rolling hills and long, gently sloping pediments and fans. These sites are very windy and have shallow, often rocky soils. Rock and gravel cover much of the unvegetated ground surface, with some bare ground and litter. In Montana, soils are typically silts or clays, shallow to moderately deep, and derived from limestone parent material. The distinguishing feature of this system is a short-shrub stratum in which dwarf-shrubs (<30 centimeters tall) contribute at least two-thirds of the woody canopy. Black sage (Artemisia nova) is usually dominant in this system. In southwestern Montana, little sagebrush (Artemisia arbuscula ssp. arbuscula and ssp. longiloba) is dominant, found on restrictive clay soils that inhibit root depth and create a perched water table. Wyoming big sagebrush (Artemisia tridentata ssp. wyomingensis) can be present within this system.The herbaceous component includes both rhizomatous and bunchgrasses, cushion plants, and other low-growing forbs. This system is characterized as steppe vegetation, occurring in areas where precipitation is limiting for tree growth.
steppe,shrub dominated, lowland and foothill elevations, hills, sideslopes, ridge/summit/upperslope, silt and clay soil texture, shallow aridic soils, low (less than 30 cm tall) xeromorphic shrub heights, low-growing Artemisia species
This system is characterized as steppe vegetation, occurring in areas where precipitation is limiting for tree growth. Vegetation is characterized by a low-shrub canopy dominated by black sage. In Montana, the black sage dominated steppe system grades into the Rocky Mountain Limber Pine-Juniper Woodland system in central and southern Montana.
Other shrubs are generally present, although with very low cover, including green rabbitbrush (Chrysothamnus viscidiflorus), little sagebrush (Artemisia arbuscula ssp. longiloba), spiny hopsage (Grayia spinosa), snowberry (Symphoricarpos longiflorus), and broom snakeweed (Gutierrezia sarothrae). In southwestern Montana, little sagebrush is the dominant low shrub. Wyoming big sagebrush can be present within this system on some occurrences. In these cases, this system can grade into or be interpreted as Big Sagebrush Shrubland.
Graminoids usually dominate the diverse herbaceous layer, with bluebunch wheatgrass (Pseudoroegneria spicata) being the most common. Other species present can include Indian ricegrass (Achnatherum hymenoides), threadleaf sedge (Carex filifolia), slender wheatgrass (Elymus trachycaulus), needle and thread (Hesperostipa comata), prairie junegrass (Koeleria macrantha), western wheatgrass (Pascopyrum smithii) and Sandberg’s bluegrass (Poa secunda). The invasive cheatgrass (Bromus tectorum) frequently invades this system. Forb cover is generally low and includes cushion species and other low forbs such as Hood’s phlox (Phlox hoodii), tapertip hawksbeard (Crepis acuminata), milkvetch (Astragalus species), stemless mock goldenweed (Stenotus acaulis), spreading phlox (Phlox diffusa), boreal sagewort (Artemisia frigida), and mariposa lily (Calochortus species).
Click to download offline versions of our field guide.