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Lesser saltscale
Atriplex minuscula

Status

Not listed

Life History

Lesser saltscale is an annual plant belonging to the goosefoot family. It has many upright, reddish stems with spreading, brittle branches. The leaves are egg-shaped, white-scaly below and green above, with entire (smooth) margins. Typical leaf arrangement is opposite on the upper branches and alternate on the lower part of the stem. The individual flowers of all Atriplex species are inconspicuous because they are tiny and have no petals; moreover, the male and female structures are produced in separate flowers. In lesser saltscale, both flower genders occur in the leaf axils (the point where the leaves are attached to the stem), with the male flowers on the upper part of the stem and females near the base of the same plant. Each fruit consists of a single reddish seed that is enclosed by two egg- to diamond-shaped bracts (leaf-like structures) that are covered with tubercles (wart-like projections). Lesser saltscale flowers from May to October.

Lesser saltscale grows on sandy soils in alkaline areas at elevations of less than 100 m, often in association with slough systems and river floodplains. However, it is found only in microhabitats that are not inundated year-round. This species has been found in the Valley Sink Scrub, Valley Sacaton Grassland, and Non-native Grassland natural communities. Lesser saltscale grows with other halophytes (plants which grow in salty or alkaline soils), including alkali sacaton (Sporobolus airoides), brittlescale (Atriplex despressa), heartscale (A. cordulata), and seepweed (Suaeda moquinii).

Distribution

Historical occurrences of lesser saltscale are known only from specimens collected from Goshen (Tulare County) in 1905 and El Nido (Merced County) in 1936. Neither of the historical sites has been checked to determine if lesser saltscale remains extant, though no significant patch of natural land exists in either area. In 1993, lesser saltscale was discovered at 5 new localities in the San Joaquin and Sacramento valleys. The southernmost report was from Kern County, near the intersection of Interstate 5 and state Highway 58, and the northernmost was at Gray Lodge Wildlife Area in Butte County. The remaining reports were from the Kerman Ecological Reserve in Fresno County, San Luis Island in Merced County, and along the Fresno River in Madera County.

The lack of historical information about lesser saltscale prohibits a determination of whether or not it has declined. However, the conversion of alkali sinks to agriculture undoubtedly has reduced potential habitats. The extant population in Kern County is on land that is zoned for commercial development and which is for sale. The Madera County site is threatened by installation of a pipeline. Sites on state Wildlife Management Areas are threatened by flooding for waterfowl management.

Classification

Order CARYOPHYLLALES, Family CHEONPODIACEAE, Genus Atriplex, Species minuscula

Subspecies

None.

Recent Synonyms

Atriplex parishii (in part).

Other Common Names

Lesser saltbush.

References

California Natural Diversity Database, Sacramento; Skinner, M.W., and B.M. Pavlik, eds. 1994. Inventory of rare and endangered vascular plants of California. Fifth edition. Spec. Publ. No. 1, California Native Plant Society, Sacramento, 338 pp.

Size

Stem height:
< 40 cm (< 16 inches)

Identification

The closely-related species brittlescale (Atriplex depressa) and Parish's brittlescale (A. parishii) have stems and branches that lie close to the ground, unlike the erect stems of lesser saltscale, and differ in bract characters.

Authors of Profile

T.M. Sandoval and E.A. Cypher

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