Oraches & Sea-purslanes

Babington's Orache Common Sea-purslane Common Orache Frosted Orache

What are they?

The oraches are closely related to the goosefoots 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.

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 oraches 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 flowers and their bracteoles (the slightly fleshy structures that surround them), for which a hand lens will be necessary. Oraches differ from goosefoots in having separate male and female flowers, although these flowers do appear together in the same tight clusters. The female flowers are enclosed in a pair of thick bracteoles and the details of these can be very important, including how far up the sides towards their tips they are fused to each other. Indeed, in very similar species, the bracteoles are usually the most reliable identifying feature.



Grass-leaved Orache      Atriplex littoralis

Native on the drier edge of saltmarshes and more recently spreading along the margins of major roads where winter salting has provided an ideal niche for this and other saltmarsh species. Flowers July to September. A relatively easy species to identify due to the narrowness of all of its leaves, even basal ones. Flowers often tinged purple in coastal populations but more often yellow-green inland on roadsides. Flower bracteoles with a broadly rounded, almost flat-bottomed, base. Sides smooth or with small teeth, but usually with two prominent teeth at the widest point towards the base. Bracteoles only fused together at the base, to the widest point.

Grass-leaved Orache Grass-leaved Orache Grass-leaved Orache Grass-leaved Orache
Habit
Flower spike
Leaves
Fruiting bracteoles


Common Orache      Atriplex patula

Native. Widespread and common in all types of disturbed ground but especially in enriched soils such as farmland, gardens and roadsides. Flowers July to September. Usually a low, creeping or spreading plant, with stems to a metre or so in length, but may also be partly erect with spreading lower branches. Leaves extremely variable, from spear-shaped to narrow and linear, usually becoming narrower towards the stem tips. Typically, even the broadest leaves have tapered bases, with the basal lobes directed forwards (compare with Spear-leaved Orache) but there is much overlap in leaf shape. Bracteoles have a relatively narrow, rounded base, often looking v-shaped in outline; the edges taper to a smooth-sided point, but for a prominent, pointed tooth at the widest point. The bracteoles are fused together to about half way up the side (ie to the widest point).

Common Orache Common Orache Common Orache Common Orache
Habit
Flower spike
Leaves
Fruiting bracteoles


Spear-leaved Orache      Atriplex prostrata

Native. Widespread and common in all types of disturbed ground but especially in enriched soils such as farmland, gardens and roadsides. Also common in coastal habitats in saltmarshes, dunes and reedbeds. Flowers July to September. May be either a creeping or spreading plant in open habitats, with stems to a metre or so in length, or upright, especially in reedbeds or among other tall plants. Typically, coastal plants are quite mealy and can be confused with Babington's Orache, while inland plants are smooth and confuseable with Common Orache. Leaves extremely variable, from spear-shaped to narrow and linear, usually becoming narrower towards the stem tips. Typically, the lower leaves have squared bases, with the basal lobes directed outwards (compare with Common Orache) and the margins may be smooth but are more often unevenly toothed. Bracteoles have a straight, broad base, tapering with smooth or toothed edges to a broadly triangular shape. The bracteoles are fused together only at the base (ie to the widest point).

Spear-leaved Orache Spear-leaved Orache Spear-leaved Orache Spear-leaved Orache
Habit
Leaf
Leaf
Fruiting bracteoles


Babington's Orache      Atriplex glabriuscula

Native. Uncommon but widely scattered around the region's coast, where it mainly occurs at the back of beaches and at the highest saltmarsh edges, where saltmarsh and shingle meet dry land. Flowers July to September. A sprawling species that has an obvious mealiness to the leaves and stems. Leaves triangular, broadest neat the base and usually with a few teeth along the outer edges. Very hard to tell apart from Spear-leaved Orache, except by the bracteoles surrounding the developing fruits. These are broadly triangular, widest at the base, but then slightly squared off with several teeth in the lower half of the sides, before tapering to a point. The sides are fused together to half way up - to the point that they start to taper to the tip.

Babington's Orache Babington's Orache Babington's Orache Babington's Orache
Habit
Habit
Leaf
Fruiting bracteoles


Frosted Orache      Atriplex laciniata

Native. A true beach plant, being found on open, sandy and shingle beaches, at or close to the strandline. Flowers July to September. Generally a smaller plant than most of the other oraches, growing to around 30-40cm in length and forming a low sprawl of branches. The entire plant looks like matt aluminium, being covered in whitish scales throughout. Bracteoles are broad, looking rather like a rectangle with a pointed tip added to one side. The two halves are fused at the base to half way up the sides, to the point where two teeth mark the start of the tapered tip.

Frosted Orache Frosted Orache Frosted Orache Frosted Orache
Habit
Habit
Leaf
Fruiting bracteoles


Shrubby Orache      Atriplex halimus

Introduced as a garden ornamental and occasionally persisting where planted as a salt-tolerant subshrub near the coast. Flowers August to September. A perennial shrub, growing to around two metres in height, the whole plant silvery in appearance and covered in whitish scales. The rough, disc-like fruiting bracteoles are distinctive but not often seen in the UK; howvever, the plant is readily recognised by its overall appearance./p>

Shrubby Orache Shrubby Orache Shrubby Orache Shrubby Orache
Habit
Habit
Leaves
Fruiting bracteoles


Garden Orache      Atriplex hortensis

Introduced as a garden ornamental, as a constituent of bird seed and rarely as a vegetable and occasionally appearing selfsown on distrubed ground, gardens or waste places. Flowers July to September. A very variable plant which may grow to two metres in height but is often much shorter. The entire plant us usually purple in colour but may also be green and is best told by its open spikes of rounded bracteoles which appear after flowering.

Garden Orache Garden Orache Garden Orache Garden Orache
Habit
Flower and leaf
Leaf
Fruiting bracteoles


Common Sea-purslane      Atriplex portulacoides

A low-growing, native shrub that is abundant on saltmarshes and other coastal sand and shingle habitats. Flowers Julyy to August. May grow as a low stand of short, creeping stems in open saltmarsh, but becomes a well-branched, spreading shrub to a metre in height along the levees of major saltmarsh creeks.

Common Sea-purslane Common Sea-purslane Common Sea-purslane Common Sea-purslane
Habit
Flower and leaf
Flowers
Leaf


Pedunculate Sea-purslane      Atriplex pedunculata

Native. Once known from several saltmarsh sites from Great Yarmouth south to the Thames Estuary but gradually declined and considered extinct in the UK from the 1930s. The species was rediscovered in south-east Essex in 1987, from where seed was collected and reintroduced into other sites (including Suffolk). However, reintroduction seems to have failed and the species remains critically endangered in the UK. Flowers July to August. Similar to Common Sea-purslane, but only an annual to 30cm or less in height. Leaves all alternate (lower leaves opposite on Common Sea-purslane) and easily told after flowering by the unusual bracteoles which elongate on long stems and have forked tips.

Pedunculate Sea-purslane Pedunculate Sea-purslane Pedunculate Sea-purslane Pedunculate Sea-purslane
Habit
Habit
Leaf
Fruiting bracteole