Pickleweed – A Novelty Plant
I encountered pickleweed (Salicornia sp.) on a recent trip to Utah. I first noticed the plant growing in the bank of a pond at a salt factory. A sample was pulled for further investigation and it was determined to be some type of pickleweed. Pickleweed also happens to be a common name for a plant that grows here in Florida. The scientific name of the pickleweed found in Florida is Batis maritima. This article will focus on the pickleweed found in Utah.
As you might have guessed, pickleweed is a salt loving (halophylic) plant. It is a member of the plant family Amaranthaceae (previously Chenopodiaceae), which also includes Russian thistle (Salsola iberica) a.k.a. tumbleweed. You won’t be happy to know that Russian thistle has found its way to our beautiful Florida beaches and is spreading. At first look, pickleweed seems to have no leaves, but its central stem is surrounded by succulent, salt storing leaf tissue. It is often spoken of as the “cactus” of the Great Salt Lake since it has no visible leaves and only a smooth green stem.
Pickleweed can be found growing in both coastal and interior portions of the United States. The variety growing around the Great Salt Lake is different from the coastal varieties due to its adaptation to this extremely salty environment. The Great Salt Lake has a salt content of about 30% whereas the Gulf of Mexico has a salt content of around 3%.
Pickleweed can also be found growing in the western landscape adjacent to the Great Salt Lake. These areas contain an interesting type of soil made up of ooids. Ooids are brine shrimp feces coated with layers of aragonite (a form of calcium carbonate CaCO3). Ooids can also be found on the east coast of Florida.
Although you probably won’t find pickleweed (Salicornia sp.) growing in a typical Florida Panhandle landscape, you might want to give it a try in your container garden or kitchen window. As you can see in the pictures, this plant likes to be neglected. It is difficult to grow at home. It needs a good amount of nitrogen and water. And it may benefit from periodic additions of table salt (sodium chloride). It needs to be in an area that receives 6 to 8 hours of sunlight per day. Seed and cuttings will be hard to come by. You will most likely have to take a trip to Utah to find a source.
Interestingly enough, some cultures use this plant as a vegetable/herb. You will need to conduct some more research if you wish to cook with pickleweed and remember to lay off the salt!