Pickleweed

In Plants and Fungi, Salt Marsh, Slough Life by Administrator

Quick Facts

Scientific Name:
Salicornia virginica,
Sarcocornia pacifica

Family: Chenopodiaceae

Found at Elkhorn Slough

Salt marsh, upper inter-tidal zone

Did you know…

Pickleweed is not a weed!

Pickleweed (also known as perennial picklweed) has been growing along the margins of Elkhorn Slough for at least 6,000 years. Within the U.S., it is found in all coastal states, including several states bordering the Great Lakes, at low elevations (<500 ft.), in inter-tidal salt marshes and in salt flats, playas, and seasonally saline wetlands.  It is endemic to the Americas.

Here at the Elkhorn Slough it is among our most conspicuous plants as it is found covering our salt marshes. Particularly in fall, pickleweed turns a brilliant red giving us our own version of “fall color”.

Although the species itself is not threatened, tidal marsh habitat is both ecologically valuable and naturally rare in California, yet has been disproportionately impacted by human activities.  Thus, tidal marshes, including most pickleweed marshes, are protected habitats.

Dodder in bloom

What is that orange stuff in the pickleweed?  It is actually a plant called Dodder.  It’s a parasitic plant that grows on the the pickleweed.  The dodder has a white flower that is surprisingly big for the size of the stem.  The pickleweed by comparison has a tiny white flower sometimes mistaken for salt grains. Dodder is orange because it cannot photosynthesize, so it has to get its nutrients and water from its host: pickleweed.

 

For more in-depth information on pickleweed in Elkhorn Slough, download the following report:
Pickleweed: factors that control distribution and abundance in Pacific Coast estuaries and a case study of Elkhorn Slough, California by Katie Griffith. Elkhorn Slough Technical Report Series 2010 (pdf, 548KB, click here to download).

Slough Research:

Many research studies  (conducted at Elkhorn Slough, or conducted by Elkhorn Slough-based scientists) have touched upon the biology and distribution of pickleweed.  These include studies that:

  • discuss the distribution of pickleweed over environmental gradients found in tidal salt marshes (Parravano and Josselyn 2004; Watson and Byrne 2009)
  • describe habitat changes that are occurring in pickleweed marshes (Van Dyke and Wasson 2005; Byrd and Kelly 2006; Byrd et al. 2007), and;
  • discuss the effects of disturbance to pickleweed (Woolfolk 1999; Martone and Wasson 2008).

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Photos