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 Species Spotlight Minimize

[Photo: Jay Raney]

Turtleweed, saltwort
Batis maritima

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

 Marsh Monitoring

Marsh Mapping Application
                      Marsh Monitoring Mapping Application; click image for link to application

Wetlands are important habitats in coastal estuaries. They function as nursery and foraging areas for commercially and recreationally important wildlife including species of finfish, shellfish, and waterfowl. Wetlands also contribute other important ecosystem services including: filtration of waterborne contaminants, stabilization of sediments and shoreline, and protection from flooding due to extreme weather events. Due to increasing human development along the coastal plains, wetlands have become imperiled habitats. In an effort to protect wetlands, wetland protection activities along the Gulf Coast are underway. These include restoration of fringing wetland and submerged aquatic vegetation (SAV) habitats as well as monitoring, delineation, and conservation of natural wetland areas.

Numerous wetland restoration sites have been planted by the public and private sector in the Galveston Bay Estuary since the early 1970s. Since their initial planting, few of the restoration sites have been monitored to assess the success of the restoration project in terms of wetland acreage and ecosystem function.

To begin the important task of monitoring and assessing key wetland restoration sites, HARC researchers worked with local partners to develop technology infrastructure. HARC teamed with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the Galveston Bay Foundation (GBF), and the University of Houston-Clear Lake (UHCL) to develop an online data entry portal, backend database, and real time mapping application to collect and disseminate data describing monitoring of Galveston Bay wetland restoration sites.

Marsh Plants

Coastal marshes are fragile ecosystems that are altered over time as a result of invasion by exotic species and by development projects for communities and business as well as other natural and anthropogenic factors. In an effort to restore portions of the shoreline to its natural state, native marsh grasses were planted along the Texas coast. These species such as sea purslane, saltwort turtleweed, pickleweed glasswort and salt grass can be found inhabiting these sensitive marsh environments still today.

 Species Spotlight Minimize

Pickleweed, Glasswort, Photo courtesy of Jay Raney and The Texas Coastal Monitoring Program
[Photo: Jay Raney, Texas Coastal Monitoring Program]

Glasswort, pickleweed
Salicornia virginica

Description: Flowering perennial growing to 0.3m. The flowers are hermaphrodite (have both male and female organs).

Life History: The flower, which bloom in summer and fall, are hermaphrodite. It is able to grow in highly saline environments, such as this salt marsh, through its ability to sequester salt into the vacuoles of its cells.

Habitat: Salty marshes and beaches with full sun and moist soil.

Distribution: Occurs in most coastal states from Nova Scotia to Florida from California to Alaska



Plants for a Future

 Species Spotlight Minimize

Image courtesy of USDA-NRCS PLANTS Database
[Photo: USDA-NRCS PLANTS Database]

Saltmarsh cordgrass, Atlantic cordgrass, Smooth cordgrass
Spartina alterniflora

Description: Spartina alterniflora is a rhizomatous perennial grass that grows up to four feet tall. The stems are hollow and hairless. The leaf blades are 1/4 to 3/5 inches wide. The leaves lack auricles and have ligules that consist of a fringe of hairs. The flowers are inconspicuous and are borne in greatly congested spikes, two to three inches long (Hitchcock et al. 1969).

Habitat: Spartina alterniflora is a plant of the intertidal zone, where it colonizes mudflats or sandflats in saline or brackish water.

Distribution: Native habitat from Quebec and Newfoundland to Florida and Texas. Also planted in many other parts of the world for estuary reclamation. This species is considered a non-native invasive plant on the U.S. Pacific coast.

Status: In its native habitat, this species is highly productive in its ability to export detritus to estuarine systems and is highly regarded for erosion control. Because of their ability to trap sediment, Spartina species have been planted in many parts of the world for estuary reclamation. Though Spartina alterniflora is valued in its native habitat its ability to trap sediment is a cause for concern in Washington, Oregon, and California.


Hitchcock, C.L., A.Cronquist, M. Ownbey, and J.W. Thompson. 1969. Vascular Plants of the Pacific Northwest. Part 1: Vascular Cryptogams, Gymnosperms, and Monocotyledons. University of Washington Press, Seattle.

 The Western Aquatic Plant Management Society

This material/application/database is based upon work previously supported by the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) National Biological Information Infrastructure (NBII) Program.
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