Goosefoots

Maple-leaved Goosefoot Nettle-leaved Goosefoot Fat-hen Red Goosefoot

What are they?

The goosefoots are closely related to the oraches and the two groups used to form the major part of the family Chenopodiaceae. These days, modern taxonomists place them into a much larger family - the Amaranthaceae - along with a large assemblage of other plants with similarly rather uninspiring, greenish flowers. At one time, all of the goosefoots were in the genus Chenopodium, which will be seen from older flower books, but this larger genus is now split into several smaller ones, as indicated in the scientific names below.

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, many have colonised human-altered habitats - perhaps due to their tolerance of water-stressed environments - and these plants are commonly found on disturbed ground in farmland, gardens and allotments, as well as turning up in profusion on sites such as road-building projects and housing developments.

Identification

There are few short cuts with this family and goosefoots and their allies can be difficult plants to identify. Most species show great variation in leaf shape and growth style, though general trends may be observed and can be useful. Great care should be taken to consider typical leaf shape, growth style (upright or prostrate) and - most importantly - detail of the tiny flowers, for which a hand lens will be necessary. Goosefoots differ from oraches in having flowers that have both male and female parts (stamens and stigmas); the flowers have no petals, but have greenish tepals (two to five depending on species). In some of the rarer, non-native species, it may be necessary to check the colour and detail of the seed coating!



Fat-hen      Chenopodium album

A native or perhaps very early introduction as a food crop. Now an abundant plant throughout lowland Britain in any and all disturbed habitats. Flowers July to October or later. Overwhelmingly the commonest goosefoot and a yardstick to compare other species to. A highly variable plant which may be low-growing (some flowering when just a few cms tall) to over three metres tall if growing on enriched soil such as muck heaps. Leaves very variable but usually narrowly spear-shaped, becoming linear towards the flowering spikes. Features that help to tell it from similar species include the rather long, upright flower spikes without leafy bracts, the blunt-toothed leaves and the fine teeth on the tepal margins (hand lens). Some very similar but rare, non-native species require examination of the seeds to confirm identification.

Fat-hen Fat-hen Fat-hen Fat-hen
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Young plant
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Grey Goosefoot      Chenopodium opulifolium

Introduced via birdseed or, in the past, in wool waste. Very rare with just one or two old records from our region. Flowers July to September. Whole plant overall dull grey-green with relatively small leaves that are often barely longer than wide.

Grey Goosefoot Grey Goosefoot Grey Goosefoot Grey Goosefoot
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Fig-leaved Goosefoot      Chenopodium ficifolium

Introduced. Mostly occurs as an arable or allotment weed, typically on the heavier soils of the Fens, mid-Suffolk and south Norfolk. Flowers July to September. Often found growing with other goosefoots, especially Fat-hen. The whole plant typically has a pale, yellow-green look (not blue-green like Fat-hen) and the leaves are lobed at the base then parallel at the sides before narrowing at the tip.

Fig-leaved Goosefoot Fig-leaved Goosefoot
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Quinoa      Chenopodium quinoa

A recent introduction and currently popular as a constituent of game cover strips on farmland, from where plants may occasionally self-sow onto neighbouring land. Flowers July to September. Leaves very like those of Fat-hen but larger and more strongly toothed. Plants grow to around 180-200cm in height and upon maturity, the fruiting heads may turn yellowish or red in colour.

Quinoa Quinoa Quinoa Quinoa
Young plant
Flower spike
Fruiting spike
Fruiting spike


Tree Spinach      Chenopodium giganteum

A recent introduction as a novel vegetable which may occasionally self-sow onto neighbouring land. Flowers July to September. Leaves very like those of Fat-hen but larger and more strongly toothed. Plants may grow to around 180-200cm in height but are often much less. Young growths are flushed pinkish-purple and the leaves typically grow to at least 14cm in length, with even small plants having leaves of at least 6cm in length. Flower spikes tend to be more branched and more narrowly fingered than those of Quinoa.

Tree Spinach Tree Spinach Tree Spinach Tree Spinach
Young plant
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Seed capsules


Stinking Goosefoot      Chenopodium vulvaria

An ancient introduction that was once more common than today but is now only persistent in three places in the UK, one of them being Landguard Point in Suffolk. Flowers July to September. A creeping plant, often only reaching a few centimetres in height or spread but sometimes to 30cm. The whole plant is covered in a grey mealiness and can feel clammy to the touch. The smell of the plant is often likened to rotting fish, though to me it is reminiscent of the distinctive smell of bicycle inner tubes!

Stinking Goosefoot Stinking Goosefoot Stinking Goosefoot
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Flowers and leaf


Maple-leaved Goosefoot      Chenopodiastrum hybridum

Generally a rare, non-persistent introduction of gardens and waste ground, but small populations are established in Breckland and The Fens. Flowers July to September. A distinctive goosefoot growing to 1.5 meters in height with broad, maple-like leaves and open-branched flower spikes.

Maple-leaved Goosefoot Maple-leaved Goosefoot Maple-leaved Goosefoot Maple-leaved Goosefoot
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Nettle-leaved Goosefoot      Chenopodiastrum murale

Generally a rare, non-persistent introduction of gardens and waste ground that has been declining in recent years. Flowers July to September. Leaves are coarsely edged with pointed teeth and differ from Fat-hen by being noticeably shiny. Rather similar to Red Goosefoot but much rarer and the leaves are larger and broader, with teeth of more or less equal size along the margins.

Nettle-leaved Goosefoot Nettle-leaved Goosefoot Nettle-leaved Goosefoot Nettle-leaved Goosefoot
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Red Goosefoot      Oxybasis rubra

Native. Common and widespread as both an arable weed and as a plant of wetland margins on bare areas of soil or disturbed ground. Commonly found in great abundance on muck heaps. Flowers July to September. Leaves are coarsely edged with pointed teeth and differ from Fat-hen by being noticeably shiny. Rather similar to Nettle-leaved Goosefoot but with smaller and narrower leaves, with teeth that are obvioulsy larger towards the base.

Red Goosefoot Red Goosefoot Red Goosefoot Red Goosefoot
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Saltmarsh Goosefoot      Oxybasis chenopodioides

A very rare, native species of seasonally wet ground at the upper edge of saltmarshes and in coastal grazing lands. In the UK, this species is largely confined to the Thames Estuary but it was found on the Suffolk coast in 2004 and more recently in north-east Norfolk, so may occur in suitable habitat elsewhere. Flowers July to September. A small, often sprawling species that looks very similar to Red Goosefoot but differs in its less lobed leaves but is told for certain by its fruiting tepals, which are fused together almost to the tip (tepals of Red Goosefoot are fused to less than half way).

Saltmarsh Goosefoot Saltmarsh Goosefoot Saltmarsh Goosefoot Saltmarsh Goosefoot
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Oak-leaved Goosefoot      Oxybasis glauca

Introduced and once more frequent as an alien of disturbed and bare ground but now rare as a non-persistent casual or from birdseed in gardens. Flowers July to September. Leaves vaguely oak-like with shallow lobes along the margins. A variable plant which may be creeping, or sprawling wuth upright stems.

Oak-leaved Goosefoot Oak-leaved Goosefoot Oak-leaved Goosefoot Oak-leaved Goosefoot
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Many-seeded Goosefoot      Lipandra polysperma

An ancient introduction that can be common on bare soil throughout the Suffolk boulder clay areas but becoming rarer north of south Norfolk. Flowers July to September. A distinctive species that has reddish bases to the flowers, which blacken as the seeds develop. There is typically an obvious reddish margin to the untoothed leaves.

Many-seeded Goosefoot Many-seeded Goosefoot Many-seeded Goosefoot Many-seeded Goosefoot
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Good-King-Henry      Blitum bonus-henricus

An ancient introduction, perhaps being brought by the Romans as a culinary plant. Now a rare species, occasionally found in grassy areas near or on the site of old buildings. Flowers May to July. The only perennial species of goosefoot likely to be found in our region, which forms creeping colonies of upright stems to 80cm in height. The leaves are slightly rough to the touch and have wavy, not toothed margins.

Good-King-Henry Good-King-Henry Good-King-Henry Good-King-Henry
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Mexican-tea      Dysphania ambrosioides

Absent from most of the region, but a rare introduction reported in the past from Cambridgeshire. Flowers July to September. An upright species, growing to around a metre in height and smelling very distinctly of bleach!

Mexican-tea Mexican-tea Mexican-tea Mexican-tea
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