Salicornia bigelovii

Many thanks to Pete Veilleux (aka pete@eastbaywilds.com@Flickr) for this photo of Salicornia bigelovii! Pete took this photo of pickleweed (commonly known as annual glasswort, dwarf glasswort, dwarf saltwort, as well as sea asparagus) in Todos Santos, Baja California Sur, Mexico back in April, 2009 and uploaded it to the Botany Photo of the Day Flickr Pool.

Salicornia bigelovii, of the Amaranthaceae, is an annual halophyte. This succulent species has jointed stems that are initially green, age to yellowish-orange, and mature to dark red. Perfect flowers are sunken in cavities and are arranged in a three-flowered cymose pattern, with the middle flower being slightly elevated in comparison to the other two lateral flowers. The cymes are held in a terminal spike and later bear seeds that lack endosperm and contain a peripheral, bent embryo.

Pickleweed occurs on temperate, subtropical, and tropical coastlines of the New World. It ranges from coastal Nova Scotia, Canada, south to Florida and along the Gulf Coast to the Yucatan Peninsula to the Bahamas and West Indies. It also occurs along the Pacific coast in California, northern Baja California, and Sonora. Salicornia bigelovii tends to grow on saturated substrates of quartz sand, or sand and shell deposits and tolerates salinities up to 120 parts per thousand (to read more about how this species is able to grow in such saline environments, here is a link provided in a previous Botany Photo of the Day entry on Salicornia virginica and its parasite Cuscuta salina).

Salicornia bigelovii is a salt-tolerant terrestrial vascular plant with potential as a crop plant for arid, coastal, hyper-saline sites. It has been successfully cultivated, and can be irrigated with salt water. The seeds of this species contain 31% protein, 5-7% fibre, and 5-7% ash. The seeds also contain good-quality oil, and have up to 26-33% oil (exceeding oil seed levels of both cotton at 15-24%, and soybean at 17-21%). It is suggested that the seeds could be used for cooking oil, biofuels, and as supplements to poultry and fish diets. Each pickleweed plant can produce 250-640 seeds per plant, and when supplemental nitrogen was added to plots in a California salt marsh, seed production increased from 200000 seeds/m2 in unfertilized plots to 1 million seeds/m2. Some also note that the whole plant could be used for livestock forage, and as a biofilter for removing nutrients from saline aquaculture wastewater. Fresh and dried whole plants are also edible. Fresh shoots have been marketed in Europe and California as a garnish for salads, however the shoots only have a short shelf life of ~6 days (see: Falasca, S. Ulberich A. Acevedo, A. 2014. Identification of Argentinian saline drylands suitable for growing Salicornia bigelovii for bioenergy. International Journal of Hydrogen Energy. 39:8682-8689; Lonard, I. Judd, F., Stalter, R. 2012. The biological flora of coastal dunes and wetlands: Salicornia bigelovii J. Torrey. Journal of Coastal Research. 28(3):719-725).

Salicornia bigelovii

8 responses to “Salicornia bigelovii”

  1. Connie Hoge

    Gorgeous! What does it taste like?

  2. Lani Avocet

    It is common in the salt marshes of San Francisco Bay. I must say we do not consider ourselves to be “Southern California”! It tastes like a salty pickle, hence the name pickle weed.

  3. Barbara Rokeby

    Do some Salicornia spp also occur in alkaline ponds? I think I have seen some near Kamloops, BC?

  4. Steve Edler

    We have five to seven species of Salicornia (depending on who you talk to & the classification used) here on the Norfolk coast in England. They known as samphire & we eat them. They are different to the samphire mentioned in King Lear I believe.
    The name Glasswort is said to come from their ashes being used in glass manufacture in the past.

  5. Taisha

    Barbara, from what I can tell, Salicornia rubra occurs inland (see: Salicornia rubra in Flora of North America). Also, when doing a quick google search, there are multiple sites that mention what is known as red swampfire, red glasswort, or sometimes pickleweed, growing in alkaline ponds near Kamloops.

  6. Wendy Cutler

    Regarding the family, I’m reading that Chenopodiaceae has been assumed into Amaranthaceae, with pickleweed in the Salicornioideae subfamily. Is there newer news?

  7. Pat

    The missing link with the mathematics is the weight of each seed.

  8. Daniel Mosquin

    Correct, Wendy, this should have been in Amaranthaceae. Fixed.
    Also, I took out the part about southern California for Lani.

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