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Salicornia is a genus of succulent, halophyte (salt tolerant) plants that grow in salt marshes, on beaches, and among mangroves. Salicornia species are native to North America, Europe, South Africa, and South Asia. Common names for the genus include glasswort, pickleweed, and marsh samphire; these common names are also used for some species not in Salicornia.[1]






The Salicornia species are small, usually less than 30 cm tall, succulent herbs with a jointed horizontal main stem and erect lateral branches. The leaves are small and scale-like and as such the plant may appear leafless. Many species are green, but their foliage turns red in autumn. The hermaphrodite flowers are wind pollinated, and the fruit is small and succulent and contains a single seed.[2]

Salicornia species can generally tolerate immersion in salt water. They use the c4 pathway to take in carbon dioxide from the surrounding atmosphere.

Salicornia species are used as food plants by the larvae of some Lepidoptera species including the Coleophora case-bearers C. atriplicis and C. salicorniae (the latter feeds exclusively on Salicornia spp).


Salicornia europaea is highly edible, either cooked or raw.[4] In England it is one of several plants known as samphire (see also Rock samphire); the term samphire is believed to be a corruption of the French name, herbe de Saint-Pierre, which means “St. Peter’s Herb.”[5]

Samphire is usually cooked, either steamed or microwaved, and then coated in butter or olive oil. Due to its high salt content, it must be cooked without any salt added, in plenty of water. It has a hard stringy core, and after cooking, the edible flesh is pulled off from the core. This flesh, after cooking, resembles seaweed in color, and the flavor and texture are like young spinach stems or asparagus. Samphire is very often used as a suitably maritime accompaniment to fish or seafood.

In addition to Salicornia europaea, the seeds of Salicornia bigelovii yield a highly edible oil. Salicornia bigelovii’s edibility is compromised somewhat because it contains saponins, which are toxic under certain conditions.[4]

Umari keerai is cooked and eaten or pickled. It is also used as fodder for cattle, sheep and goats.[6] In Kalpitiya, Sri Lanka, it is used to feed donkeys.

Industrial use (historical)

The ashes of glasswort and saltwort plants and of kelp were long used as a source of soda ash (mainly Sodium carbonate) for glassmaking and soapmaking. The introduction of the LeBlanc process for industrial production of soda ash superseded the use of plant sources in the first half of the 19th century.

Umari keerai is used as raw material in paper and board factories.[6]




Industrial use (contemporary)

Because Salicornia bigelovii can be grown using saltwater and its seeds contain high levels of unsaturated oil (30 percent, mostly linoleic acid) and protein (35 percent),[7][8] it can be used to produce animal feedstuff and as a biofuel feedstock on coastal land where conventional crops cannot be grown. Adding nitrogen-based fertiliser to the seawater appears to increase the rate of growth and the eventual height of the plant,[9] and it has been suggested that the effluent from marine aquaculture (e.g. shrimp farming) could be used for this purpose.[7]

There are experimental fields of Salicornia in Ras al-Zawr (Saudi Arabia),[8] Eritrea (Northeast Africa) and Sonora (Northwest Mexico)[10] aimed at the production of biodiesel. The company responsible for the Sonora trials (Global Seawater) claims that between 225 and 250 gallons of BQ-9000 biodiesel can be produced per hectare (approximately 2.5 acres) of salicornia,[11] and is promoting a $35 million scheme to create a 12,000-acre (49 km2) salicornia farm in Bahia de Kino.[12]

Written on February 18th, 2012 , Botany, Oil Plants Tags:

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