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Silverscale saltbush

Scientific Name:
Atriplex argentea
Native Name(s):
  1. Northern Paiute: suuhuu (Couture et al. 1896)


Atriplex argentea is a small woody shrub with branching stems that grows low to the ground up to a height of 1 m. Leaves are triangular to roughly oval in shape and 1 to 4 cm in length. Seeds are brown and 1.5 to 2 mm in length. This species blooms from June to September.

Identification Tips

Atriplex argentea can be distinguished by its small size, relative to other species of Atriplex. Its leaf shape is triangular to roughly oval which differs from Atriplex canescens that has elongated leaves.

Starch granules

Atriplex spp. starch granules are very small, ranging in size from 1-3 microns. At this size, they are difficult to detect without staining, thus there are no images included in this database. Starch granules are monomorphic, irregular spheres, sometimes faceted with clear bright crosses. When heated, granules tend to clump together, forming small aggregates.

Atriplex argentea grows in moist alkaline regions from 600 to 1800 m.


This species is distributed across the western United States.


The Northern Paiute consumed several species of Atriplex seeds. They were harvested in late summer, ground and boiled to be consumed. 

As food

Northern Paiute: “[In regards to the seeds of sunu (saltbush, Atriplex argentea)] suno grows along lakes and in the valley.  It is a greyish plant, and grows like a big tumbleweed, in a cluster.  [Fixed in the same way: parched, ground into flour and made into mush.]  It is the hardest one to clean because the seeds are very small.  The seeds are grey." (Fowler 1989:47)

Northern Paiute: “[In regards to the seeds of sunu (saltbush, Atriplex argentea)] sunogrows near the small lake and is like tumbleweeds, but has no stickers.  The entire weed is gathered into a basket.  It is taken home and dried.  The plant is put on the metate and ground gently.  The leaves are blown away and the fine fan-shaped winnowing basket (samund) is used.  The seeds are ground on the metate. They are boiled into a mush.  The sunuare gathered in August." (Fowler 1989:47)

Northern Paiute: "The concentration of resources at Malheur Lake fostered social gatherings.  Our consultants among the Burns Paiute confirm Whiting's (1950) statements that large numbers of people congregated there in late summer to harvest waadaseeds, to fish, and to hunt migratory fowl.  Other seeds also were harvested there, including saltbrush, giant wild rye, Indian rice grass, and blazing star." (Couture et al. 1986:154)

Distribution Map: