Habit: this medium size, freely-branched shrub has gray or brown multiple stems which are densely covered with hairs. Its leaves are wedge-shaped and three-toothed at the tip, an attractive feature that rendered its descriptive name tridentata. Each leaf is about one inch long, solid bright green on the top and below, grayish and covered with matted woolly hairs. Bitterbush flowers are solitary, pale yellow or creamy and small, about 1-2 inch-wide. Each flower has five oblong petals bursting out of a center shallow bowl at the end of the stems. In late spring, blooming flowers attract the eye to this usually unnoticed shrub, with an abundant display of color and a strong, sweet and spicy fragrance.
Ecology: found in the arid regions of Western North America, Purshia tridentata is common throughout the Great Basin and in dry, open, south-facing sides of mountain ridges. It also grows prolifically in the understory of mixed coniferous forests in elevations up to 9000 feet.
Growing Conditions: bitterbrush generally prefers sandy or rocky, well-drained soils. It spreads over dry areas of the western states, ranging from Washington and Oregon in the west through Colorado and Nevada in the east and British Columbia in the north.
Bitterbrush gets its name from the sharp, pungent taste of its leaves, but despite of it, it is an important source of food for deer, and other browsers. The seeds are favored by chipmunks, squirrels and deer mice. During the winters, the shrub grows on windy, relatively snow-free slopes and becomes stunted due to excessive browsing. This species is also called antelope bush, quinine bush and black sage.