Carnegiea gigantea, Giant Saguaro

Southwest Desert Flora

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

Cirsium ochrocentrum, Yellowspine Thistle

Atriplex elegans, Wheelscale Saltbush

Wheelscale Saltbush have male and female flowers on the same plant (monoecious); the male flowers have 3 to 5 petals and sepals while the female flowers completely lack petals and sepals. The flowers are small and inconspicuous. Atriplex elegansWheelscale Saltbush have small inconspicuous fruits. Atriplex elegansWheelscale Saltbush flower, depending on variety, from April to May or March to July. Atriplex elegansWheelscale Saltbush leaves are green, relatively small and either sub-sessile or shortly petiolate. The shape varies on variety from smooth edged to irregularly dentate. Atriplex elegans

Scientific Name: Atriplex elegans
Common Name: Wheelscale Saltbush

Also Called: Wheelscale, Wheelscale Orach, White-scale Saltbush; (Spanish; Chamizo Cenizo)

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

Synonyms: (Atriplex elegans var. thornberi, Atriplex thornberi)

Status: Native

Duration: Annual, perennial

Size: Up to 1 ½ feet (.5 m) tall or more.

Growth Form: Sub-shrub or forb/herb; stems ascending or procumbent to erect; stramineous or whitish, simple or much branched at base; scurfy to glabrate.

Leaves: Green; many; sub-sessile or shortly petiolate; blades variable depending on variety, entire to irregularly dentate, elliptic to spatulate, oblanceolate, oblong or obovate; margins entire or irregularly dentate.

Flower Color: Green; monecious; staminate; flowers with 3 to 5 parted perianth; pistillate flowers intermixed with staminate in small axillary clusters; fruiting bracteoles sub-sessile or short stipulate; orbiculate, strongly compressed; terminal teeth often prominent.

Flowering Season: Depending on variety; April to May or March to July

Elevation: In California below 2,500 feet; in Arizona below 3,500 feet.

Habitat Preferences: Roadsides, waste land; Saline soil or alkaline soil, dry lakes, creosote-bush scrub.

Recorded Range: Atriplex elegans in found in the southwestern United States in AZ, CA, NM, NV, TX, UT. It is also found southward into central Mexico.

North America & US County Distribution Map for Atriplex elegans.

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

Genus Information: In North America there are over 110 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 3 varieties in Atriplex elegans:
Atriplex elegans var. elegans, Wheelscale Saltbush, (AZ, CA, NM, TX, UT);
Atriplex elegans var. fasciculata, Wheelscale Saltbush, (AZ, CA, NV),
Atriplex elegans var. thornberi, Wheelscale Saltbush, (AZ, NM).

Comments: A weedy looking plant, mostly green; very common at roadsides and in waste land; freely grazed by cattle.

In Southwest Desert Flora also see: Australian Saltbush, Atriplex semibaccata, Desertholly, Atriplex hymenelytra, Four-wing Salt Bush, Atriplex canescens, Griffiths Saltbush, Atriplex torreyi var. griffithsii and Quailbush, Atriplex lentiformis.

The genus Atriplex is from ancient Latin and was applied to the edible oraches (plants in the Chenopodiaceae family). The common name for the genus, "Saltbush" is derived from the plants ability to retain salt in their leaves making them able to thrive in saline soil or alkaline soils. The species epithet elegans means elegant.

Atriplex elegans, Wheelscale Saltbush has been boiled and roasted for a variety of purposes by southwestern United States indigenous peoples.
  • Pima Food, Cooking Agent; Boiled with dried cane cactus to counteract its acidic flavor.
  • Pima Food, Spice; Plants boiled with other foods for their salty flavor.
  • Pima Food, Unspecified; Plants roasted in pits with cactus fruits and eaten.
  • Pima, Gila River Food, Unspecified; Leaves boiled and eaten.

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

    Date Profile Completed: 04/07/2018; updated 09/01/2019
    Kearney, Thomas H., Peebles, Robert H., 1960, Arizona Flora, 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 08/28/2019)
    The Plant List (2013). Version 1.1. Published on the Internet; (accessed 08/28/2019).
    Elizabeth H. Zacharias 2013, Atriplex elegans var. elegans, in Jepson Flora Project (eds.) Jepson eFlora, Revision 1,, accessed on September 01, 2019.
    Stanley L. Welsh, FNA | Family List | FNA Vol. 4 | Chenopodiaceae | Atriplex | 42. Atriplex elegans (Moquin-Tandon) D. Dietrich, Syn. Pl. 5: 537. 1852. Flora of North America Editorial Committee, eds. 1993+. Flora of North America North of Mexico. 16+ vols. New York and Oxford.
    SEINet synonyms, scientific names, geographic locations, general information, (accessed 03/27/2018).