This week for Flora and Fauna Friday, we have an edible, pre-seasoned, halophytic plant on the menu. This week we’re talking about the Glassworts, Genus Salicornia.

Glassworts are a clade of salt-loving succulent flowering plants that grow best in the sandy soils of salty wetlands in the subfamily Salicornioideae. Here on Edisto, you’ll find them on the sand flats of the high saltmarsh. Their succulent leaves are oppositely arranged but wrap entirely around the stem of the plant, giving Glassworts a jointed, somewhat cactus-like appearance. These leaves are packed with salts the plants accumulate from the saline tides that bathe them twice a day. The Glassworts get their name from this salt-sequestering ability. In England during the renaissance era, it was discovered that these plants could be harvested and burned to produce soda-ash, an important ingredient in glass making. Glassworts are also edible and can be eaten raw or cooked. They are predictably quite salty, which has granted them the common name Pickleweed. The plants can be grown on land where little else grows and irrigated with saltwater and agricultural runoff. Glassworts are rich in fats and protein and can be harvested as animal feed or converted into biofuels. Species in the genus Salicornia also serve as hosts to our smallest species of butterfly, The Eastern Pygmy Blue (Brephidium pseudofea).

Here on Edisto I believe we have two species of Glasswort, Dwarf Glasswort (Salicornia bigelovii) and Perennial Glasswort (Salicornia pacifica). I’m not sure how many species we have because this group of plants is in taxonomic turmoil at the moment. I can’t find a scientific consensus on the phylogenetics and I’m not entirely sure there is one at this point. So we’ll just go with my best guess. Dwarf Glasswort is an erect annual species with a bare stem towards the base and highly swollen leaves. It turns a bright orange red in fall before dying off in the winter. Virginia Glasswort is a prostrate, spreading perennial species. This is the more common species you’ll see in the saltmarsh and the one that will form stands that blanket the sand.

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