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Marine Animal Encyclopedia

Common Glasswort Salicornia Europaea

Common glasswort, also known as marsh samphire, is an early colonizer of the lower levels of salt marshes and mudflats, where plants are inundated twice a day by the tide. It is a small, cactuslike plant with bright green stems that later turn red. The tiny flowers and scalelike leaves are sunk into depressions in the fleshy stem. Common glasswort is protected externally from salt water and moisture loss by a thick, waxy skin. It is able to prevent the salt absorbed through its roots from doing any damage by locking it away in vacuoles (small cavities) within its cells. The plant stores water inside its succulent stems, hence its cactuslike shape. For centuries, common glasswort was gathered and burned to produce an ash rich in soda (impure sodium carbonate). The ash was then baked and fused with sand to make crude glass—hence its common name. Common glasswort can also be eaten boiled or pickled in vinegar. It has a mild, salty flavor, and is also known as poor man’s asparagus.

Common Glasswortzoom image
  • Order Caryophyllales
  • Type Annual
  • Height 4–12 in (10–30 cm)
  • Habitat Coastal mudflats and salt marshes
  • Distribution Coasts of western and eastern North America, western Europe, and Mediterranean
Common Glasswort habitat mapzoom image