Carnegiea gigantea, Giant Saguaro

Southwest Desert Flora

Home to the plants of the Sonoran, Chihuahuan and Mojave Deserts

Cirsium ochrocentrum, Yellowspine Thistle

Atriplex canescens, Four-wing Salt Bush

Four-wing Salt Bush occurs across a large portion of the United States west of the Mississippi River. It is so called because of the shape of its fruits which are 4 sided papery wings. Atriplex canescens Four-wing Salt Bush and its parts have been or are used by indigenous peoples for a variety of purposes including uses as soap for washing hair but also for soothing itches or rashes such as chickenpox or measles. Atriplex canescens Four-wing Salt Bush has silvery gray-green leaves covered on both sides in a fine pubescence. They are alternate, mostly evergreen and typically linear to lanceolate but they are variable and may also be oblong or obovate. The leaf margins are usually smooth. Atriplex canescens Four-wing Salt Bush or Fourwing as it is sometimes called provides excellent habitat for small ground birds, particularly quail and is a favorite browse for wildlife and livestock including goats and sheep. This species prefers sandy or saline soil but preferences vary across its large range. Atriplex canescensFour-wing Salt Bush is a large shrub that grows upward of 6 feet tall and as wide. The plants are not thorny or otherwise armed as many desert species are. The plants bloom from April through October. Atriplex canescens

Scientific Name: Atriplex canescens
Common Name: Four-wing Salt Bush

Also Called: Fourwing Saltbush, Four wing Saltbush, Four-wing Saltbush, Hoary Saltbush, Shadscale, Wing-scale; (Spanish Cenzio, Chamiso)

Family: Chenopodiaceae, Goosefoot Family (now as sub-family Chenopodioideae in the Amaranthaceae Family).

Synonyms: (Obione berlandieri, Obione canescens, Pterochiton occidentale)

Status: Native

Duration: Perennial

Size: Up to 6 feet or more (7') and as wide or wider.

Growth Form: Shrub; erect; plants not thorny or otherwise armed.

Leaves: Green; silver-gray-green; covered with a silvery pubescence leaves are mostly persistent; alternate; mostly sessile; leaf shape variable, linear to oblanceolate, oblong or obovate particularly by variety; leaf margins entire.

Flower Color: Inconspicuous, monecious; tiny yellow or brown; male flowers in terminal panicles; female flowers in short terminal spikes; mostly dioecious (male and female flowers on separate plants); fruits with 4 prominent papery wings.

Flowering Season: April to October; variable by variety.

Elevation: 100 to 6,500 feet; elevations variable by variety.

Habitat Preferences: Sandy, saline, non-saline soil, sand dunes; variable by variety.

Recorded Range: Four-wing Salt Bush is a common shrub west of the Mississippi River and extends to Alberta, Canada: AZ, CA, CO, ID, KS, MT, ND, NE, NM, NV, OK, OR, SD, TX, UT, WA, WY. It is also native to Baja California and northern and central Mexico.

North America & US County Distribution Map for Atriplex canescens.

U.S. Weed Information: No information available.
Invasive/Noxious Weed Information: No information available.
Wetland Indicator: No information available.

Threatened/Endangered Information: Atriplex canescens var. gigantea or Giant Four-wing Saltbush, is a rare variety of a common species. It is listed in the Center for Plant Conservation National Collection of Endangered Plants.

Genus Information: In North America there are over 107 species and 124 accepted taxa overall for Atriplex. Worldwide, The Plant List includes 258 accepted species names and a further 350 scientific names of infraspecific rank for the genus.

In the Southwestern United States: Arizona has 25 species of Atriplex, California has 51 species, Nevada has 27 species, New Mexico has 21 species, Texas has 21 species, Utah has 35 species. All data is approximate and subject to taxonomic changes.

There are 6 varieties in Atriplex canescens:
Atriplex canescens var. angustifolia, Fourwing Saltbush, (AZ, CA);
Atriplex canescens var. canescens, Fourwing Saltbush, (W½ US and AB Can.);
Atriplex canescens var. gigantea; Fourwing Saltbush, (UT);
Atriplex canescens var. laciniata, Fourwing Saltbush, (CA);
Atriplex canescens var. linearis, Thinleaf Fourwing Saltbush, (AZ, CA);
Atriplex canescens var. macilenta, Fourwing Saltbush, (CA).

Comments: Four-wing Salt Bush is highly variable with 6 varieties across its large western United States range. Additionally this species is known to hybridize with Atriplex confertifolia and Atriplex gardneri.

Importance to Wildlife
Atriplex canescens provides excellent habitat for small ground birds, particularly quail and is a favorite browse for wildlife and livestock including goats and sheep.

In Southwest Desert Flora also see: Australian Saltbush, Atriplex semibaccata, Desertholly, Atriplex hymenelytra, Griffiths Saltbush, Atriplex torreyi var. griffithsii, Quailbush, Atriplex lentiformis and Wheelscale Saltbush, Atriplex elegans.

The genus Atriplex originated in Latin (derived from the Greek name "atraphaxes" or atriplex. The name was applied to the "edible oraches" (the common name of Atriplex is saltbush and orache). The species epithet "canescens" is from the Latin verb "caneo" meaning "I am white, I become grey or hoary and (figuratively) I grow old), loosely translated means covered with short gray or white hairs.

Ethno-Herbalist: Southern California Ethnobotany; Ethnobotany of Southern California Native Plants: Four-wing Salt Bush, Atriplex canescens.

Atriplex canescens has been used for multiple purposes by southwestern United States indigenous peoples.

  • Diegueno Other, Soap; Leaves formerly used as soap.
  • Gosiute Food, Unspecified; Seeds used for food.
  • Havasupai Drug, Misc. Disease Remedy; Leaves made into a soapy lather and used to wash the hair and for itches or rashes, such as chickenpox or measles.
  • Hopi Drug, Ceremonial Medicine; Plant used for kiva fires.
  • Navajo Food, Pie & Pudding; Flowers used to make puddings
  • Shoshoni Drug, Cathartic; Decoction of fresh roots with salt taken as a physic.
  • Zuni Drug, Dermatological Aid; Poultice of fresh or dried flower used for ant bites.
  • Zuni Drug, Hunting Medicine; Twigs attached to prayer plumes and sacrificed to the cottontail rabbit to ensure good hunting.

  • See complete listing of ethno-botanical uses at Native American Ethnobotany, University of Michigan, Dearborn.

    Date Profile Completed: 04/09/2017, updated 09/01/2019
    Arizona Flora, Kearney, Thomas H., Peebles, Robert H., 1960, University of California Press, Berkley and Los Angeles, California.
    U.S. Dept. of Agriculture, Natural Resources Conservation Service on-line database and USGS ITIS search - (accessed 08/27/2019)
    The Plant List (2013). Version 1.1. Published on the Internet; (accessed 08/27/2019).
    Stanley L. WelshFNA FNA | Family List | FNA Vol. 4 | Chenopodiaceae | Atriplex; 61. Atriplex canescens (Pursh) Nuttall, Gen. N. Amer. Pl. 1: 197. 1818. Four-wing saltbush Flora of North America Editorial Committee, eds. 1993+. Flora of North America North of Mexico. 16+ vols. New York and Oxford.
    Elizabeth H. Zacharias 2013, Atriplex canescens var. canescens, in Jepson Flora Project (eds.) Jepson eFlora, Revision 1,, accessed on September 01, 2019.
    The Jepson Desert Manual; 2002; Baldwin, Bruce G., et. al.; The Jepson Desert Manual: Vascular Plants of Southeastern California; page Univ. of California Press, Berkeley and Los Angeles, California
    Center for Plant Conservation at San Diego Zoo Global.
    SEINet synonyms, scientific names, geographic locations, general information - (accessed 04/09/2017).
    Native Plant Information Network, NPIN (2013). Published on the Internet [accessed:04/09/2017 ]. Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center at The University of Texas, Austin, TX.
    Wikipedia contributors, 'Atriplex', Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 8 March 2017, 22:44 UTC, [accessed 10 April 2017]
    Wikipedia contributors, 'Atriplex', Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 25 June 2019, 04:44 UTC, [accessed 27 August 2019]
    Wiktionary contributors, 'canesco', Wiktionary, The Free Dictionary, 19 August 2019, 08:02 UTC, [accessed 27 August 2019]
    Aggie-Horticulture - Ornamental Plants - Atriplex canescens - (accessed: 04/09/2017)
    Utah State University Extension; Range Plants of Utah; Fourwing Saltbush, Atriplex canescens - (accessed: 04/09/2017)