Suaeda fruticosa, commonly known as shrubby seablight, is a species of plant in the family Amaranthaceae (formerly classified under the Chenopodiaceae). It is a small shrub, with very variable appearance over its wide range. It is a halophyte, and occurs in arid and semi-arid saltflats, salt marshes and similar habitats. It can be used for soil remediation to reduce salinity and contamination by toxic metals. The species is synonymous with Suaeda vermiculata Forssk. ex J.F.Gmel. and Suaeda vera Forssk. ex J.F.Gmel.:495
Suaeda fruticosa is a low shrub growing to a height of about 1 to 2 m (3 to 7 ft). It is extremely variable throughout its wide range in height, growth habit, colouring, internode length, leaf shape, and the size and orientation of inflorescences and fruits. It is usually a rounded, much-branched bush but can be prostrate, climbing or straggling. It is densely-branched, the stems feeling very rough when the leaves are shed, pale green at first, becoming grey and fissured. The leaves are succulent, the smaller ones being long and narrow while the larger ones are elliptical. The flowers grow in clusters in the leaf axils. Some are bisexual, being drum-shaped and up to 1.5 mm (0.06 in) wide, with five succulent tepals fused to a third of their length. Others are entirely female, rather smaller with non-succulent tepals, fused for half their length, persistent and partly concealing the fruit. There are three stigmas. The perianth enlarges in the bisexual fruits but remains unchanged in the female fruits. Reproduction is mainly by seed, which are black and shining, slightly flattened, globular or drop-shaped and germinate more readily in fresh than in salt water.:309 Both Indian and European specimens have a chromosome number of 2n=36.
Distribution and habitatEdit
The range of this species includes Cape Verde, the Canary Islands and the coasts of northern Africa, the Mediterranean region, the Atlantic coasts of southern Spain and Portugal, France and south-eastern England,:72 the Horn of Africa, the Arabian peninsula, Iran, Afghanistan and the Indian sub-continent. It is a common and widespread species growing on sometimes-flooded alluvial land, drier areas, coastal regions, salt flats and salt marshes on soils that are sandy and soils that have a lot of clay. It also occurs in dry riverbeds and other saline locations in southern Africa in association with Tamarix usneoides and the grass Odyssea paucinervis.
This plant is common in the saltlands of the Indian sub-continent, and is one of the dominant plants in the Tamarix/Salvadora/Suaeda climax vegetation. Other associated plants include Zygophyllum simplex, Cressa cretica, Salsola imbricata, Salsola stocksii, Aeluropus lagopoides and Sporobolus helvolus. The few trees and shrubs growing in these saline habitats include Salvadora persica, Salvadora oleoides, Tamarix dioica and Capparis decidua.
Both the young shoots and the seeds of Suaeda fruticosa can be eaten by humans, raw or cooked, and it also provides forage for camels. It is one of a number of plants high in sodium known as barilla which were used to make soda ash for use in the soap and glass industries. Large quantities were exported from North Africa and India in the 18th and 19th centuries, and S. fruticosa and various chenopods, are still collected from the seasonal salt marshes in the Rann of Kutch for local use in the manufacture of soap and baking soda.
The seeds are the source of a high quality edible oil rich in unsaturated fatty acids. The plant is an obligate halophyte and can be used to reduce the salinity of soils, and in the remediation of soils contaminated with toxic metals. In a trial in Tunisia it has been found possible to grow both S. fruticosa and the cordgrass Spartina alterniflora using seawater to irrigate them and increase yields, but only when additional nitrogen and phosphorus are added. The high salt content of the plants will be likely to limit their use as stand alone forage crops, it being more likely they will be used as components of a feed mix.
- Suaeda fruticosa – Forssk.
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