Photo courtesy of Dr. Roger Banner, USU Extension
Krascheninnikovia lanata (Pursh.) A.D.J. Meeuse & Smit
Scientific Name Synonyms:
Ceratoides lanata (Pursh.) J.T. Howell
Eurotia lanata (Pursh) Moq.
Life Span: Perennial
Growth Characteristics: Winterfat is a low-growing, long-lived (up to 130 yrs old) subshrub with a woody base and numerous annual branchlets, growing 1 to 3 feet tall. Herbage is hairy giving the plant a silvery white appearance. It flowers April to September and reproduces from seed and sprouting. Sprouting of the buds near the plants base occurs when the plant is browsed or damaged.
Flowers/Inflorescence: The flowers are inconspicuous with no petals and clustered in the leaf axils. They are wooly and white, with a green stripe. Male flowers are found in the axils of spikes, in clusters at the end of the branches. Female flowers are in a pair of silky bracts.
Fruits/Seeds: The fruit, growing to 0.2-inch long, is 4-angled, beaked, with 2 short horns covered with silky white hairs.
Leaves: Alternate or in fascicles (like pine needles). The blades are linear to narrow lance shaped. Margins are entire and rolled under. The surface is covered with dense red or white hairs and has a prominent midrib. This prominent midvein as well as the rolled edges, give the leaf the appearance of having three ridges on the underside. The leaves remain on the plant during winter and are shed when new leaves grow in the spring or when the plant is water stressed.
Stems: Twigs are gray to reddish-brown, stout, ascending, and covered with dense hairs. Trunk bark is gray-brown.
Winterfat occurs in dry valley bottoms, on flat mesas, and on hillsides, at elevations between 2,400 and 9,300 feet. It is drought resistant and intolerant of flooding, excess water, or acidic soils.
Seed production, especially in desert regions, is dependent on precipitation. Good seed years occur when there is appreciable summer precipitation and little browsing.
Soils: Winterfat occurs on well-drained, calcareous soils with low to moderate salt concentrations.
Associated Species: Needle-and-thread, western wheatgrass, shadscale.
Uses and Management:
Winterfat is good forage for sheep, pronghorn, elk, mule deer, and many small mammals and birds. It is fair forage for cattle. It is most valued as winter forage. It will decrease under heavy, continuous grazing. Grazing season can have more influence on winterfat than grazing intensity. Late winter or early spring grazing is most detrimental to winterfat. It can tolerate winter use of 50% if it is rested occasionally. Spring and summer use should not exceed 35%. Early winter grazing may actually be beneficial.
Blackfoot Indians soaked the leaves in warm water to make a hair wash. Other Indians used a decoction from the leaves to treat fevers.