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    Grayia honors famed 19th Century botanist, Asa Gray. Atriplex is an ancient Latin name for a now unknown plant; the name was applied to this genus in modern times by Linnaeus in 1753. Zuckia honors Myrtle Zuck Hough (1880?-1940?) of Holbrook, Arizona and author of "Plant Names of the Southwestern United States".

     Grayia brandegeei occurs in all Four Corners states (and Wyoming) in rocky to sandy loose soils, primarily in the canyons of the Colorado and San Juan Rivers.  It is common to find it growing in the shade of tall shrubs and Oaks.

Field studies by Pendleton et al. of the U.S. Forest Service Rocky Mountain Research Station indicates that the plants are primarily, perhaps exclusively, monoecious.  The research further indicates that Grayia exhibits an unusual flowering technique that promotes cross pollination: each plant matures its male and female flowers at different times.  About half the Grayia brandegeei shrubs in a given area initially open all their male flowers.  At the same time, other nearby Grayia brandegeei shrubs open only their female flowers.  After this flowering, the roles are reversed: the female flowers on the first shrubs open and the male flowers on the other shrubs open.  (For further details see "Gender specialization in heterodichogamous Grayia brandegeei (Chenopodiaceae): evidence for an alternative pathway to dioecy".)  

Townshend Brandegee collected this species in 1875 on the Hayden Expedition that explored Southwest Colorado.  The plant was collected, in Brandegee's words, "at the most western topographical station, San Juan Valley, 3,200 feet". (This information is in Brandegee's 1876 Hayden Survey Report entitled, "The Flora of Southwestern Colorado".  The elevation of "3,200 feet" is probably in error since the San Juan River joins the Colorado at about 3,700 feet in south-central Utah.  More than likely Brandegee collected the plant in eastern Utah at about 4,500 feet.)  (More biographical information about Brandegee.)

In 1876 Asa Gray named this species Grayia brandegeei but, according to Stanley Welsh, Gray was not convinced that the genus (named for him by Hooker and Arnott) designation was correct.  In 1984 Welsh placed the plant in the Zuckia genus which had been named by Paul Standley, famed early 20th century Smithsonian and Chicago Field Museum botanist, to honor Myrtle Zuck Hough (1880s?-1940s?) of Holbrook, Arizona and author of "Plant Names of the Southwestern United States".

Grayia brandgeei
Grayia brandegei

Grayia brandgeei. Synonym: Atriplex brandegeei, Zuckia brandegeei.(Siltbush)
Amaranthaceae (Amaranth Family)
(formerly Chenopodiaceae, Goosefoot Family)

Semi-desert. Woodlands, openings. Spring.
Above and left: Behind the Rocks, Utah, April 3, 2006.

Grayia brandegei

Grayia brandgeei. Synonym: Atriplex brandegeei, Zuckia brandegeei.(Siltbush)
Amaranthaceae (Amaranth Family)
(formerly Chenopodiaceae, Goosefoot Family)

Semi-desert. Woodlands, openings. Spring.
Behind the Rocks, Utah, April 3, 2006.

Welsh's A Utah Flora describes the leaves as "scurfy".

 

Grayia brandegei Grayia brandegei

          Grayia brandegei

Grayia brandgeei. Synonym: Atriplex brandegeei, Zuckia brandegeei.(Siltbush)
Amaranthaceae (Amaranth Family)
(formerly Chenopodiaceae, Goosefoot Family)

Semi-desert. Woodlands, openings. Spring.
Behind the Rocks, Utah, April 3, 2006 and April 15, 2008.

In the top left photograph male flowers have shed their pollen and in the next two photographs we see developing seeds, both orbicular and flattened.

 

 

Grayia spinosa

Grayia spinosa. Synonym: Atriplex grayi. (Spiny Hopsage)
Amaranthaceae (Amaranth Family)
(formerly Chenopodiaceae, Goosefoot Family)

Semi-desert. Rocks, openings. Spring.
Hidden Valley Trail, Utah, May 10, 2007.

At first glance this shrub might be taken for its close cousin, Four-Winged Saltbush.  But a careful look shows leaves, seeds pods, and stems to be quite different. Grayia spinosa also is far less common than the ubiquitous Atriplex canescens.  When it does occur, however, Grayia spinosa is showy and can, as the photograph at the bottom of this page shows, be abundant.

The plant was first named Chenopodium spinosum by William Hooker in 1834; Christian Moquin-Tandon renamed it Grayia spinosa in 1849; and Collotzi renamed it Atriplex grayi.  Asa Gray, along with his teacher, John Torrey, and his pupil, Sereno Watson, dominated 19th century botany.  (More biographical information about Gray.)

Grayia spinosa

Grayia spinosa

Grayia spinosa. Synonym: Atriplex grayi. (Spiny Hopsage)
Amaranthaceae (Amaranth Family)
(formerly Chenopodiaceae, Goosefoot Family)

Semi-desert. Rocks, openings. Spring.
Hidden Valley Trail, Utah, May 10, 2007 and Lower Cross Canyon, Utah, May 12, 2013.

Maturing seed pods are green, yellow, and pink.

Leaves are typically oval and about twice as long as wide.  But notice the new growth in the top photograph at left next to the ruler.  These spring leaves are three or four times as long as they are wide and are two or three times as long as last year's leaves.  Moisture in the winter and spring of 2006-2007 was actually below normal but was very heavy in the early fall and then was evenly spaced through the winter.  These conditions produced excellent growth for many plants, including Atriplex grayi which had grown six to ten inches by early May.  In some cases this growth exceeded the growth of the previous ten years. 

Grayia spinosa

Grayia spinosa

Grayia spinosa

Grayia spinosa. Synonym: Atriplex grayi. (Spiny Hopsage)
Amaranthaceae (Amaranth Family)
(formerly Chenopodiaceae, Goosefoot Family)

Semi-desert. Rocks, openings. Spring.
Left: Hidden Valley Trail, Utah, May 10, 2007 and October 6, 200.
Below: Canyons of the Ancients National Monument, April 28, 2022.

Seed coverings and wings can be yellow to pink.

The middle photograph at left shows the lush green leaves of Atriplex grayi. The white edging to some leaves might at first appear to be small hairs, but a hand lens and a taste on the tip of your tongue will reveal salt. 

Although spiny stems show through here and there in the leafy shrubs (middle photograph at left and immediately below), it takes a leafless shrub (lower left) to really show how spiny Atriplex grayi truly is.

                                                            Grayia spinosa

Grayia spinosa

Grayia spinosa

Grayia spinosa. Synonym: Atriplex grayi. (Spiny Hopsage)
Amaranthaceae (Amaranth Family)
(formerly Chenopodiaceae, Goosefoot Family)

Semi-desert. Rocks, openings. Spring.
Hidden Valley Trail, Utah, May 10, 2007 and
Lower Cross Canyon, Utah, May 12, 2013.

Range map © John Kartesz,
Floristic Synthesis of North America

State Color Key

Species present in state and native
Species present in state and exotic
Species not present in state

County Color Key

Species present and not rare
Species present and rare
Species extirpated (historic)
Species extinct
Species noxious
Species exotic and present
Native species, but adventive in state
Eradicated
Questionable presence

Range map for Grayia spinosa