Wyoming Native Plants
Plant of the Month
Common Name: Winterfat
Scientific Name: Krascheninnikovia lanata
Winterfat (Krascheninnikovia lanata), a low-growing shrub native to the western US, is an important part of vegetation communities in Wyoming. Its high crude protein content makes it an important part of many species’ winter diets. This long-lived plant is easily identified in its habitat by its blue-grey color and the woolly hairs along its stem. It is found commonly throughout the dry rangeland of Wyoming, but prefers growth in basic, limy soils.
Winterfat has adapted to Wyoming’s cold temperatures; seedling survive freezing and grow at cool temperatures while little growth occurs during the hot summers. Although it generally has a high browsing tolerance during the winter, over-browsing has reduced, even eliminated, the population in areas. Winterfat can be useful for erosion control and reclamation efforts due to its extensive root structure. Its fibrous root system close to the surface stabilizes soils and the deep taproot allows it to establish in disturbed areas and poorly developed soils (Ogle et al 2012).
Ethnobotanically speaking, Native American tribes used a leaf extract to treat sore muscles and fevers (Moerman 2009) while the powdered root was used to heal skin issues such as burns and poison ivy (Ogle et al 2012).
Reference: Moerman, Daniel E. 2009. Native American Medicinal Plants: An Ethnobotanical Dictionary. Timber Press, Inc. 261p.
Native Plants of Wyoming
Wyoming is home to a diverse variety of native plants due to its wide range of weather, geography, and habitats. Many botanical species occur commonly throughout the state, while there are also many rare or threatened plants that only occur in a few areas. One of Wyoming’s most commonly known native plants is the state flower, Indian paintbrush (Castilleja linariifolia).
In the spring and early summer Castilleja species light up the sagebrush dominated rangelands with their bright red, yellow, pink and orange flowers. From the sego lily (Calochortus nuttallii) to the prickly pear cactus (Opuntia polyacantha), larkspur (Delphinium nuttallianum), and bitterroot (Lewisia rediviva) there are a wide variety of flowering plants in the Wyoming rangeland that thrive amongst the sagebrush.
Some of our native plants simply require the wind to disperse their seeds, but a majority of flowering plants rely on pollinating birds and insects to reproduce (see additional resources for more information on pollinators). Our native plant communities are threatened by many factors including changes in land use, invasion of non-native species, and overgrazing. The BLM manages the land through invasive species control, rehabilitation, and restoration to help support our native plant habitat.
Want to research a specific plant? Search the species in Wyoming.
Ethnobotany in Wyoming
Ever look out over our Wyoming landscape and wonder how people survived in this harsh land long ago? How did they make it through the frigid winters and dry summers in this windblown region without all of our modern comforts? In part, they survived by finding some ingenious ways to use our native plants. Plants were used as food, medicine and much, much more. This study of how people utilized plants is called ethnobotany.
To explore the ethnobotanical properties of many of our native plants, click on the link below:
Ethnobotany of the Middle Rockies