California Mugwort

California Mugwort © DSchiel

Douglas sagewort
Artemisia douglasiana
NATIVE

Description (Jepson, PlantID.net)

  • Eudicotyledon
    • Eudicots are a major lineage of flowering plants; see family for general characteristics
  • Sunflower Family (Asteraceae)
  • Perennial herb
    • Grows from rhizomes
    • Highly aromatic
  • Stems are many, erect, and hairy
  • Leaves
    • Alternate (1 leaf at each junction with stem)
    • Elliptic to oblanceolate
      • May have 3-5 lateral lobes
    • Hairy, gray-green upper surface, and densely white-hairy below
  • Flowers
    • Inflorescence (flower arrangement) is a long terminal stalk with clusters of small, inconspicuous flowerheads
      • Flowerheads often nodding
    • Each disciform head (see Sunflower family) is tightly packed with tiny, pale-yellow flowers
      • 5-9 female (pistillate) peripheral flowers with reduced or missing rays
      • 6-25 bisexual central disk flowers
      • Phyllaries (vase-like floral bracts, collectively called the involucre), in several series (rows), gray and hairy, and almost entirely concealing the flowers
    • Ovary inferior (attached below other flower parts)
  • Fruit is an achene (a single-seeded, dry fruit that does not split open)
  • Height to 8 ft.

Distribution

  • Native to California
    • Grows in open to shady areas, in drainages and riparian corridors
    • See Calflora for statewide observations of this plant
  • Outside California, grows in Idaho, Washington, and south into Baja California, Mexico
  • Grows at elevations to 7,220 ft.
Flower © KKorbholz

Uses (San Mateo County Parks prohibits removal of any natural material)

  • Wildlife
    • Seeds are eaten by birds, e.g. song sparrow (Melospiza melodia) and spotted towhee (Pipilo maculatus)
    • Plant provides cover and protection for small animals and birds
    • Native bees use plant material for making nests (Giuliano-Monroy 2022)
    • Host (food source for the larval stage) for several butterfly and moth species, e.g. American lady (Vanessa virginiensis), painted lady (V. cardui), and painted tiger moth (Arachnis picta)
  • Native people
    • One of their most medicinally valuable plants
      • Decoction of plant used to treat wounds, urinary problems, and dysentery
      • Poultice of leaves used to treat rheumatism and arthritis
      • Compress of leaves to treat headaches
      • Fresh leaves used as a liniment and rubbed on the body to ward off ghosts
      • Infusion of plant used as a hair wash to prevent hair loss
      • Plant used to treat poison oak rash (Tutka 2015)
    • Other Uses
      • Plant used in ceremonies, as an insect repellent in granaries (Anderson 2005), and to perfume baths
      • Branches burned to use as torches for night fishing and to smoke bees from nests
      • Dried leaves used as a tobacco
  • CAUTION: California mugwort tinctures (alcohol-based extracts) are toxic to human cells (Tutka 2015)
    • Contain thujone, a neurotoxin, which can induce hallucinations and convulsions
David Douglas

Name Derivation

  • Artemisia (ar-tem-IS-ee-a) – from the Greek Artemis, for the goddess connected with the healing arts and childbirth and/or for Artemisia, Queen of Caria (in Turkey) in the 4th-century BCE, whom ancient authorities credit with discovering the medicinal value of plants in this genus (Irving 2015)
  • douglasii (DUG-las-ee-eye) – named for David Douglas (1798-1834), Scottish botanist and collector
    • Over 80 scientific names of plants and animals honor Douglas, more than any other person
    • At Edgewood, 9 scientific plant names honor Douglas, e.g. blue oak (Quercus douglasii) and purple mouse-ears (Diplacus douglasii), as well as several common names, e.g. Douglas-fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii var. menziesii) and Douglas” microseris (Microseris douglasii ssp. douglasii)
  • Mugwort – from “mug,” another name for the small flying insect “midge,” and the suffix “-wort,” from the Middle English wort, “plant”
    • The suffix “-wort” was commonly used for medicinal herbs; the word that precedes the suffix usually refers to the treated ailment
    • Refers here to the use of the Old World mugwort A. vulgaris as an insect repellant

Notes

  • Wind pollinated
    • California sagebrush (A. californica), oaks, and grasses are other examples of Edgewood plants that are wind pollinated
    • About 12% of flowering plants and most conifers are wind pollinated (US Forest Service)
    • These plants do not waste energy on flower features that attract animal pollinators; instead, their flowers generally have these characteristics
      • Small, petalless, and unscented, with muted colors
      • No nectar
      • Stamen (male flower part) and stigma (pollen-receiving structure of female flower part) are exposed to air currents
      • Male flowers produce a great deal of pollen, which is very small, dry, and easily airborne, as all allergy sufferers know!
  • Artemisia species have a long history of use in traditional medicine (Dogra 2021)
    • Essential oils of Artemisia species and their aromatic compounds have been extensively studied for their antimicrobial, insecticidal, and antioxidant properties (Pandey 2017)
    • The 2015 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine was shared by Tu Youyou for her work in developing the drug Artemisinin, derived from A. annua, sweet wormwood, a traditional Chinese medicinal herb and now the worldwide standard for the treatment of malaria (Su 2015)
  • Artemisia is one of the largest genera in the Sunflower family, with around 400 species, many in North America
    • Well-known Artemisia species include
      • California sagebrush (A. californica) – medicinal herb, also at Edgewood
      • Tarragon (A. dracunculus) – culinary herb
      • Wormwood (A. absinthium) – medicinal herb and an ingredient in the notorious alcoholic drink absinthe

At Edgewood

  • Found in chaparral and woodlands
  • Flowers June – November

See General References

Specific References

Anderson, M.K. 2005. Tending the Wild. University of California, Berkeley.

David Douglas. 1836. Frontispiece illustration to Vol. 2 of the Companion to the Botanical Magazine. Public Domain.

Dogra, S., J. Singh, and H.R. Vashist. 2021. Anthology of pharmacological activities from folklore medicine Artemisia. NVEO (Natural Volatiles and Essential Oils) 8: 3678 – 3693.

Giuliano-Monroy, K. 2022, Feb. 7. Mugwort (Artemisia douglasiana). Coastal Watershed Council.

Irving, J.C. 2015, Oct. 10. The Greek Epigraphic Evidence for Healer Women in the Greek World. Doctoral Thesis. Department of Ancient History, Macquarie University, Sydney, Australia.

Pandey, A. and P. Singh. 2017, Sep. 17. The genus Artemisia: A 2012–2017 literature review on chemical composition, antimicrobial, insecticidal and antioxidant activities of essential oils. Medicines 4. Semantic Scholar.

Prigge, B.A. and A.C. Gibson. 2013. Artemisia douglasiana Besser, mugwort. A Naturalist’s Flora of the Santa Monica Mountains and Simi Hills, California. Web version, hosted at Wildflowers of the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area. United States Department of Interior, National Park Service.

Su, X. and L.H. Miller. 2015. The discovery of artemisinin and the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine. Science China: Life Sciences 58: 1175–1179.

Tutka, M. 2015. Douglas’ sagewort Artemisia douglasiana Bess. Plant Guide. United States Department of Agriculture, Natural Resources Conservation Service, Plant Materials Center, Lockeford, California.

U.S. Forest Service. Wind and water pollination. Forest Service. United States Department of Agriculture.