Artemisia pygmaea is a distinctive, faintly aromatic shrublet, often mistaken for something other than a sagebrush. In early spring its stiff, bright green, deeply pinnatifid leaves are reminiscent of some prickly member of Polemoniaceae. After flowering, its heads and narrow panicles easily identify it as a member of Artemisia; it is unlike other members of the subgenus (which typically have 3-lobed leaves in fascicled lateral shoots). The molecular analysis by L. E. Watson et al. (2002) supported its phylogenetic alignment within subg. Tridentatae.