Salicornia rubra (Red Saltwort)

Plant Info
Also known as: Red Glasswort, Western Glasswort, Red Swampfire, Red Samphire
Family:Amaranthaceae (Amaranth)
Life cycle:annual
  • State Threatened
Habitat:sun; seasonally wet, saline soil; salt flats, shores of alkaline lakes and ponds, swales
Bloom season:July - August
Plant height:1 to 8 inches
Wetland Indicator Status:GP: OBL MW: OBL NCNE: OBL
MN county distribution (click map to enlarge):Minnesota county distribution map
National distribution (click map to enlarge):National distribution map

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Detailed Information

Flower: Flower shape: indistinct Cluster type: spike

[photo of flowers] Numerous cylindrical spikes 3/8 to 2 inches long of tiny, indistinct flowers, mostly hidden by scale-like bracts, with opposite 3-flowered clusters at each node, the pairs at right angles to the pair above and below. The central flower in a cluster of 3 is the largest, rounded at the tip, rising above the tip of the triangular bract nearly to the next node. The lateral flowers are somewhat smaller and have a more blunt point at the tip.

Leaves and stems: Leaf attachment: opposite Leaf type: simple

[photo of jointed branches] Leaves are scale-like and indistinct. Stems are hairless, jointed, sometimes unbranched except for the flower spikes, more often many branched with the main stem erect and branches widely spreading to ascending and becoming shorter as they ascend the stem.

Fruit: Fruit type: seed without plume

[photo of mature, red branches] The entire plant typically turns red when mature. Fruit is a dry, hairy seed about 1 mm long.


Red Saltwort reaches the eastern fringe of its range in Minnesota. Where it is more common to our west it is typically found in salt marshes and salt flats, habitat that is rare in Minnesota. According to the DNR, this species is only known from a handful of locations in Kittson County and one in Lac Qui Parle County, but the Kittson County populations are at risk from land conversion to agriculture. Even though such land is poor for farming, crop insurance makes the destruction of such habitats a no-lose situation for farmers. But sadly we really all lose in the end. Red Saltwort was listed as a Threatened species in 1984. The jointed stems and spikes are similar to a cedar branch and make it a pretty distinctive species, especially during late summer into fall when it can create large, red carpets in favorable habitat. It has been reported to pop up along highway shoulders in the Twin Cities and Duluth areas, the seed likely transported on road maintenance equipment and the heavy use of winter salts making suitable habitat, but this is a fleeting condition and no substitute for true native habitat.

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More photos

Photos courtesy Peter M. Dziuk taken in Lac Qui Parle County and in North Dakota.


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