[Photo: Jay Raney]
Description: Small to medium, succulent upright shrub with spreading branches or a prostrate shrub. Occasionally reaches 1 m in height, 2 m in lateral extent, and 5 cm in basal diameter. Stems are usually multiple as sprouts from the root crown. As stems become tall and heavy, they lie down and root along the stems forming loose mats. Leaves smooth, pale green, succulent, and scented when crushed. Inconspicuous, white male and female flowers occur on different plants. Fruits are fleshy, yellow-green drupes.
Life History: Saltwort grows slowly in soils with high salt concentrations and areas with seawater overwash where it encounters little competition from other plants. The species sequesters salt in cell vacuoles and will eventually shed these leaves to achieve homeostasis. It also grows in sandy soils without salt but is vulnerable to competition from non-halophytes. Saltwort flowers in the spring and fruits in the summer in most of range but will flower and fruit year round in Central America. Most effective reproduction of the species appears to be vegetative.
Habitat: Grows in coastal strands, salt flats, marshes, and mangroves. Requires full sun to light shade.
Distribution: Native to southern coastal areas of North America, also Central America and South America to Brazil and Peru.
Status: The principal benefit of saltwort is that it grows in, covers, and protects salty low-laying areas where few other species will grow. Except in Hawaii, where it is being suppressed as an exotic plant (Big Island Invasive Species Committee 2002), there is little reason to control stands of saltwort. It grows in disturbed areas where few other plants can survive.
U.S. Forest Service
The Institute for Regional Conservation, Miami