Mule Deer & Greasewood

It doesn't sound very appetizing, but to a hungry mule deer in the winter, greasewood is the equivalent of a late-night burger (veggie burger, that is).

Growing to approximately the same size as nearby sagebrush, greasewood has succulent, deciduous leaves, sometimes with a crust of salt covering them. Although it is frequently a monoculture in extreme alkalinity, on Columbia NWR other alkaline-tolerant species, such as saltgrass, grey rabbitbrush, spiny hopsage, and Great Basin wildrye, are present.

Greasewood is a valuable browse for wildlife, particularly during the fall and winter. Mule deer, Ord's kangaroo rats and jackrabbits seek out greasewood because it is rich in carotene (vitamin A) and phosphorus. However, not all animals can eat greasewood. Poisonous oxalates, found in the leaves, can poison sheep.

Of additional value, greasewood is capable of vegetative regeneration, typically sprouting after fire, application of herbicides, and other types of disturbance, so it can recolonize an area relatively quickly, unlike sagebrush. Unfortunately, it is also highly vulnerable to invasion and replacement by invasive weedy plants following those same disturbances, as well as from changes in alkali soil types, which has occurred in response to hydrologic changes associated with the Columbia Basin Project.