Big sagebrush (Artemisia tridentata Nutt.) is one of the most successful plants in the Great Basin based on its abundance and wide distribution. The development of dimorphic leaves may be an important mechanism attributing to its adaptive and competitive abilities. Development, persistence, and proportions of ephemeral and perennial leaves on Wyoming big sagebrush (Artemisia tridentata Nutt. ssp. wyomingensis) were studied for two years. The large ephemeral leaves are the first to develop in early spring. As early developing ephemerals mature and stems elongate, new ephemeral and perennial leaves develop in the axes of these large ephemerals. Perennial leaves expanded in the summer of their first growing season, persisting on the shrub until their abscission during summer drought of the second growing season. Plants maintained 33% of their leaf weight through the winters of 1985 and 1986. Active leaf and stem growth occurred at soil water potentials above –0.2 MPa.
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