Tamarix ramosissima (Saltcedar)
|Also known as:||Tamarisk, Five-stamen Tamarisk|
|Life cycle:||perennial woody|
|Habitat:||sun; disturbed soil; shores, riverbanks, floodplains, roadsides|
|Bloom season:||June - August|
|Plant height:||5 to 20 feet|
|Wetland Indicator Status:||GP: FACW MW: FACW NCNE: FAC|
|MN county distribution (click map to enlarge):|
|National distribution (click map to enlarge):|
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A few to many slender, spike-like racemes up to 2¾ inches (1.5 to 7 cm) long at branch tips. Flowers are less than ¼ inch across with 5 pink petals, occasionally white. In the center is a 5-lobed nectar disc, the lobes alternating with 5 stamens that surround a flask-shaped pistil with multiple styles at the tip. The 5 sepals around the base of the flower are much shorter than the petals, egg-shaped to triangular and minutely jagged or toothed along the edges. Flower stalks are very short and hairless. At the base of the stalk is a tiny, scale-like bract.
Leaves and stems:
Leaves are lance-shaped, scale-like tapering to a pointed tip, up to about 1/8 inch (1.5 to 3.5 mm) long, alternate and overlapping, tightly appressed to the branch. Color is green to blue-green, the outer surface (underside) dotted with tiny salt glands. New twigs are green and hairless, soon turning reddish-brown, then brown.
Stems are usually slender and multiple from the base, but tree-like forms have thicker trunks. Bark is thin, reddish-brownish to brown, becoming furrowed on older trunks. Branches are erect to spreading in a haphazard, unkempt arrangement. It can sucker creating dense, clonal thickets and stem fragments can also take root.
Fruit is a capsule about 4 mm long containing numerous seeds, each with a tuft of white hairs to carry it off in the wind. When mature, the capsule splits open along vertical seams releasing the seed.
Saltcedar is named for the cedar-like leaves that are dotted with salt glands, and can take the form of a shrub or small tree. It is a serious pest plant in the southwestern states and into the Great Plains. There are few records of it in Minnesota to-date, nearly all of which are in residential areas, but the Minnesota Department of Agriculture has designated it a restricted noxious weed so its sale and propagation are now prohibited here. I came across a single plant on the edge of a Ramsey County park, across the street from the MnDot training and conference center.
While the leaves may be similar to Red Cedar (Juniperus virginiana), Saltcedar leaves are deciduous, not evergreen, and turn golden in fall. When flowering or fruiting, it is unlikely to be confused for any other species, except the related Tamarix chinensis. The two are so similar some references consider them to be the same species, but, according to Flora of North America, they are genetically distinct and their natural ranges do not overlap. It takes a microscope to see the differences and it boils down to the arrangement of the nectar disc and stamens in the flowers, and the edging of the flower sepals (minutely toothed or jagged vs. smooth). There are other Tamarix species introduced to North America that have the stamens and nectar disc fused together, and others with 4-petaled flowers.
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- Saltcedar shrub
- budding in late June
- fruiting in August
- branches are reddish the second year
- flowering branch
Photos by K. Chayka taken in Ramsey County.
Have you seen this plant in Minnesota, or have any other comments about it?