Sea-blites, Saltworts & Allies

Summer-cypress Prickly Saltwort Annual Sea-blite Shrubby Sea-blite

What are they?

The species on this page are closely related to the oraches and goosefoots and are in the family Amaranthaceae, a large assemblage of plants with similarly rather uninspiring, greenish flowers. They have evolved to survive in areas of high salt content and survive such extreme conditions by developing thick outer coatings and by storing water within their cells, resulting in a rather fleshy appearance to the leaves.

Where are they found?

Throughout their range, many of the plants in this family are salt-tolerant and occur naturally in coastal dunes and saltmarshes, or in the world's inland salt lakes and salt-laden soils. Over time, some have colonised human-altered habitats - perhaps due to their tolerance of water-stressed environments - and these plants are commonly found on bare ground along roadsides where salt is applied for ice prevention during the winter months.

Identification

These plants are mostly rather easy to identify, although Prickly Saltwort can be highly variable and is sometimes split into several different species. All have the typical flowers of the group, with five green, sepal-like tepals and five protruding stamens. Details of the leaves and the overall appearance of the plant should be noted but identification should be straightforward.



Shrubby Sea-blite      Suaeda vera

Native. Very rare on the Suffolk coast but common to abundant on coastal sands and saltmarshes in Norfolk from Blakeney to Snettisham. Flowers July to October. A fleshy-leaved, perennial shrub, growing to around one metre in height and often forming dense stands at the upper edge of saltmatshes. Small seedling plants may be confused with Annual Sea-blite but differ in their leaves.

Shrubby Sea-blite Shrubby Sea-blite Shrubby Sea-blite Shrubby Sea-blite
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Annual Sea-blite      Suaeda maritima

A native plant of intertidal mud and bare areas on saltmarsh along the coast and in coastal river estuaries. Flowers July to September. A small, annual plant, often forming dense stands of unbranched, upright plants to around 30cm in height, but plants may also be branched and slightly sprawling. The petalless flowers are carried in small whorls at the bases of the linear, blunt-tipped, succulent leaves.

Annual Sea-blite Annual Sea-blite Annual Sea-blite Annual Sea-blite
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Seed capsule


Prickly Saltwort      Salsola kali ssp. kali

A native plant of coastal sand dunes and sandy beaches, being most common at or close to the upper strandline. Flowers July to September. Plants change in appearance as they develop, starting as small, succulent plants with spine-tipped leaves and gradually branching to form bushy plants to 45cm or more in height. The leaves tend to fall during the course of the season, leaving the stubbier, spine-tipped bracts towards the tips of the branches. Petalless green flowers are followed by pink-tinged seed capsules that could be mistaken for pink flowers (see pictures under Russian-thistle, whose flowers and seed capsules are more or less identical to those of this species).

Prickly Saltwort Prickly Saltwort Prickly Saltwort Prickly Saltwort
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Russian-thistle      Salsola kali ssp. tragus

A very rare alien that has been recorded in East Anglia on just a handful of occasions and does not persist. It may occur more or less anywhere, probably originating from birdseed. Flowers July to October. More or less like a larger version of Prickly Saltwort, growing into a much-branched tangle of stems to almost a metre in height. Leaves long, linear and succulent, though usually falling later in the season. Seed capsules have winged edges and are often tinged pink or pale purple.

Russian-thistle Russian-thistle Russian-thistle Russian-thistle
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Stem and leaves
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Summer-cypress      Bassia scoparia

Introduced, both as a garden ornamental for its autumn colour and as a constituent of birdseed. Formerly rare, but gradually increasing in recent years as a salt-tolerant species along the margins of winter-salted roads. Flowers July to October or later. Unlike other species on this page, Summer-cypress has flattened, only slightly succulent leaves and hairy stems.

Summer-cypress Summer-cypress Summer-cypress Summer-cypress
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Seed capsules