AskDefine | Define greasewood

Dictionary Definition

greasewood n : low hardy much-branched spiny shrub common in alkaline soils of western America [syn: black greasewood, Sarcobatus vermiculatus]

User Contributed Dictionary



From grease + wood.




  1. Any of several spiny shrubs containing oil, of the genus Sarcobatus, native to the United States.
    • 2006, Thomas Pynchon, Against the Day, Vintage 2007, p. 445:
      He worked his way north among the tall cactuses and greasewood, staying just out of sight of the railroad

Extensive Definition

Greasewood (Sarcobatus) is a genus of one or two species of flowering plants. Traditionally it has been treated in the family Chenopodiaceae, but the APG II system, of 2003, places it in the family Sarcobataceae.
The plants are deciduous shrubs growing to 0.5-3 m tall with spiny branches and succulent leaves, 10-40 mm long and 1-2 mm broad. The leaves are green, in contrast to the grey-green color of most of the other shrubs within its range.
Their area of distribution is western North America, from southeastern British Columbia and southwest Alberta, Canada, south through the drier regions of the United States (east to North Dakota and west Texas, west to central Washington and eastern California) to northern Mexico (Coahuila).
Greasewood is a halophyte, and is commonly found around the margins of playas. It is replaced by Iodine bush in extremely saline environments, such as hummocks within the playa itself. Greasewood does not grow exclusively in highly saline areas, but is most common on fine-grained soils in areas with a relatively high water table.


The two species are not accepted as distinct by all authors; see the Flora of North America for further details.
  • Sarcobatus baileyi Coville (syn. Sarcobatus vermiculatus var. baileyi (Coville) Jepson). Nevada, endemic. Low shrub 0.5-1 m tall. Leaves hairy, 10-16 mm long.
  • Sarcobatus vermiculatus (Hook.) Torr.. Throughout the range of the genus. Shrub 1-5 m tall. Leaves hairless or only slightly hairy, 15-40 mm long.
The name Sarcobatus comes from Greek sarko (meaning flesh) and batos (meaning bramble), referring to the species' spiny branches and succulent leaves.
Although it can be grazed by animals that are adapted, grazing of greasewood by sheep and cattle can result in oxalate poisoning resulting in kidney failure The active agent can be either sodium oxalate or potassium oxalate. Sheep are the most vulnerable. Greasewood was commonly used for firewood by Native Americans and early settlers.
greasewood in Portuguese: Sarcobatus
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