Salicornia rubra (Red Saltwort)
|Also known as:||Red Glasswort, Western Glasswort, Red Swampfire, Red Samphire|
|Habitat:||sun; seasonally wet, saline soil; salt flats, shores of alkaline lakes and ponds, swales|
|Bloom season:||July - August|
|Plant height:||1 to 8 inches|
|Wetland Indicator Status:||GP: OBL MW: OBL NCNE: OBL|
|MN county distribution (click map to enlarge):|
|National distribution (click map to enlarge):|
Pick an image for a larger view. See the glossary for icon descriptions.
Numerous cylindrical spikes 3/8 to 2 inches long of tiny, indistinct flowers, mostly hidden by scale-like bracts, with opposite 3-flowered clusters at each node, the pairs at right angles to the pair above and below. The central flower in a cluster of 3 is the largest, rounded at the tip, rising above the tip of the triangular bract nearly to the next node. The lateral flowers are somewhat smaller and have a more blunt point at the tip.
Leaves and stems:
Leaves are scale-like and indistinct. Stems are hairless, jointed, sometimes unbranched except for the flower spikes, more often many branched with the main stem erect and branches widely spreading to ascending and becoming shorter as they ascend the stem.
The entire plant typically turns red when mature. Fruit is a dry, hairy seed about 1 mm long.
Red Saltwort reaches the eastern fringe of its range in Minnesota. Where it is more common to our west it is typically found in salt marshes and salt flats, habitat that is rare in Minnesota. According to the DNR, this species is only known from a handful of locations in Kittson County and one in Lac Qui Parle County, but the Kittson County populations are at risk from land conversion to agriculture. Even though such land is poor for farming, crop insurance makes the destruction of such habitats a no-lose situation for farmers. But sadly we really all lose in the end. Red Saltwort was listed as a Threatened species in 1984. The jointed stems and spikes are similar to a cedar branch and make it a pretty distinctive species, especially during late summer into fall when it can create large, red carpets in favorable habitat. It has been reported to pop up along highway shoulders in the Twin Cities and Duluth areas, the seed likely transported on road maintenance equipment and the heavy use of winter salts making suitable habitat, but this is a fleeting condition and no substitute for true native habitat.
Please visit our sponsors
Native Plant Nurseries, Restoration and Landscaping Services ↓
- Red Saltwort plant
- Red Saltwort plants
- a colony of green Red Saltwort
- a colony of mature Red Saltwort
Photos courtesy Peter M. Dziuk taken in Lac Qui Parle County and in North Dakota.
Have you seen this plant in Minnesota, or have any other comments about it?