Salicornia rubra    A. Nels.

Red Saltwort 


MN Status:
threatened
Federal Status:
none
CITES:
none
USFS:
none

Group:
vascular plant
Class:
Dicotyledoneae
Order:
Caryophyllales
Family:
Chenopodiaceae
Life Form:
forb
Longevity:
annual
Leaf Duration:
deciduous
Water Regime:
wetland
Soils:
silt, clay
Light:
full sun
Habitats:

(Mouse over a habitat for definition)


Best time to see:

  Foliage   Flower   Fruit  
Jan spacer
spacer
spacer spacer
spacer
spacer spacer
spacer
spacer
Feb spacer
spacer
spacer spacer
spacer
spacer spacer
spacer
spacer
Mar spacer
spacer
spacer spacer
spacer
spacer spacer
spacer
spacer
Apr spacer
spacer
spacer spacer
spacer
spacer spacer
spacer
spacer
May spacer
spacer
spacer spacer
spacer
spacer spacer
spacer
spacer
Jun spacer
spacer
spacer spacer
spacer
spacer spacer
spacer
spacer
Jul spacer
spacer
spacer spacer
spacer
spacer spacer
spacer
spacer
Aug spacer
spacer
spacer spacer
spacer
spacer spacer
spacer
spacer
Sep spacer
spacer
spacer spacer
spacer
spacer spacer
spacer
spacer
Oct spacer
spacer
spacer spacer
spacer
spacer spacer
spacer
spacer
Nov spacer
spacer
spacer spacer
spacer
spacer spacer
spacer
spacer
Dec spacer
spacer
spacer spacer
spacer
spacer spacer
spacer
spacer

Salicornia rubra Salicornia rubra Salicornia rubra

Click to enlarge


Map Interpretation

Map Interpretation

  Synonyms

Salicornia europaea ssp. rubra

  Basis for Listing

This succulent halophyte is characteristic of salt flats and the margins of alkaline lakes in arid regions of the West. The range of Salicornia rubra is relatively widespread, but because of its specialized habitat its distribution is local and sporadic. The occurrence of S. rubra in Minnesota seems incongruous because its habitat is not widely known to occur in the state. Such habitats do exist at the western edge of Minnesota, but they have always been uncommon and have now been largely eliminated by agricultural activities.

There are only 8 documented records of S. rubra in Minnesota, of which 7 are from Kittson County. Kittson County is the only county in Minnesota where a significant amount of suitable habitat still exists. And yet, land clearing for agriculture continues to proceed at a rapid rate, and hundreds of acres of wild land are being lost every year. Much of this land was previously considered unsuitable for agriculture because of its low productivity and high susceptibility to erosion. But because of the high demand for tillable land, the conversion of marginal land is expected to continue and the loss of native habitat may soon become critical. For these reasons, S. rubra was listed as a threatened species in Minnesota in 1984.

There have recently been reports of S. rubra occurring on gravel shoulders of freeways in the Twin Cities Metro area. This is not surprising. The heavy use of salt on freeways in the winter and the periodic grading of the shoulders make ideal habitat. It is likely that seeds of this species were inadvertently carried to these habitats by road maintenance equipment that had previously been used in western portions of the country. These occurrences of S. rubra are clearly transitory and have no role to play in conservation. If S. rubra is to survive in Minnesota, it must be preserved in it's native habitat.

  Description

Among Minnesota's flora, S. rubra is distinguished by its pale green color, succulent jointed stem, and skeleton-like appearance. At maturity the stem turns ruby red, creating the look of a red carpet around pond margins where it occurs. However, positive identification relies on technical characters of the flowers, which are difficult to observe in the field and are not well preserved in dried specimens. Fruiting spikes occur in the upper joints and form slender cylinders that turn red at maturity. There are 3 flowers in a triangular arrangement at each joint of the fruiting spike. Flowers are minute and enclosed within the fleshy calyx that is sunk into a hollow of the fleshy stem. Scales are broadly triangular, blunt or subacute; the middle one is the highest and usually reaches the tip of the joint. Leaves are dark reddish-green, triangular, scale-like, appressed, opposite, and attached at each stem node. The fruit is a small, flattened seed covered with minute hairs and enclosed in the spongy calyx (Vance 1984; Nelson 1992).

Of note is some taxonomic confusion regarding this species. Some botanists combine S. rubra with S. europaea (common glasswort), which is typically a species of coastal salt marshes in North America and Eurasia. The accompanying map shows the range of S. rubra in the strict sense.

  Habitat

Salicornia rubra shows a preference for salt flats, alkaline depressions, exposed shores of alkaline lakes, and saline swales. These habitats are found in western Minnesota where the climate is more arid. When evaporation at a site exceeds inflow of water, soluble salts and exchangeable sodium may accumulate, resulting in alkaline or saline soils. These salts or sodium can be found naturally in the soil, in soluble fertilizer salts, in stream water, lake water, or irrigation water. Associated plant species that are also tolerant of these extreme conditions include Atriplex patula (spearscale), Distichlis spicata var. stricta (salt grass), Hordeum jubatum (foxtail barley), Puccinellia nuttalliana (Nuttall's alkali grass), and Suaeda calceoliformis (seablite). Suitable habitats receive full sunlight, and are sparsely vegetated.

  Biology / Life History

Salicornia rubra is an annual herb. It competes favorably on saline and alkaline soils. As a wetland dries or water levels recede, the seeds of this species will germinate in the exposed salt or alkali-encrusted silt.

The best time to search for S. rubra is when plants have matured and seeds have ripened. At this time, the stems will have turned scarlet, often carpeting the pond margins and dry lakebeds with bright red. This is generally late summer into autumn. Flowering occurs from late July into August (Vance 1984).

  Conservation / Management

Because native habitats on saline and alkaline soils that S. rubra prefers have been largely eliminated by agricultural activities, it is very important to protect any remaining habitats from degradation. Wetland protection laws that prevent draining or filling are vital in this regard. Further research is also needed on the habitat, life history, population trends, beneficial management practices, reproductive biology, ecology, and population demographics of this species.

  Conservation Efforts in Minnesota

Salicornia rubra was discovered at four locations in Kittson County between 1991 and 2004. The only verified record outside of Kittson County is from the Salt Lake Wildlife Management Area in Lac Qui Parle County. The population there is large, well protected, and presumably viable. Other than the public land protection afforded at this site, no specific conservation efforts have been undertaken on behalf of this rare species.

  References

Nelson, R. A. 1992. Handbook of Rocky Mountain plants. Fourth Edition. Roberts Rinehart Publishers, Niwot, Colorado. 444 pp. + illustrations + keys.

Vance, F. R., J. R. Jowsey, J. S. McLean, and F.A. Switzer. 1984. Wildflowers of the Northern Great Plains. University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis, Minnesota. 382 pp.