Try growing: Saltbushes

I have been admiring local Saltbushes for years, and Growing Illawarra Natives covers five different species with that name, and there are several others in the area, but in 12-plus I have never done a proper post on them. Crazy - now's the time!! 

The soft felty grey-green foliage of Grey Saltbush (Atriplex cinerea) is the most classically saltbushy of all the local saltbush species. Image by Emma Rooksby. 

The term 'Saltbush' conjures up images of dry desert landscapes, red earth, and leathery grey-green leaves. There are good reasons for this, and I completely respect them. And some of the local Saltbush species do more or less conform. But the bigger picture is much more varied, and much more interesting!

'Saltbush' is a term applied to a wide range of plants, but generally it refers to species in the Chenopodiaceae (or Goosefoot) family, so known for the leaf shape of some Chenopods. I haven't studied geese feet that closely so I can't vouch for the range of goose foot shape, but in my experience, most Saltbushes don't resemble geese in any way. The leaf shapes vary from linear, elliptic and ovate (all fairly common leaf shapes) to hastate (spear-head shaped), sagittate (shaped like an arrow-head), triangular, rhombic, or terete (cylindrical). 

The spearhead or hastate leaf shape of Berry Saltbush, scientific name Einadia hastata. The small but pretty fruit are also visible. Image by Emma Rooksby.

Ruby Saltbush (Enchaelena tomentosa) has small cylindrical (terete or semi-terete) leaves. The ruby colour of the fruit is clearly visible here; unripe fruit can be green, yellow or orange. Image by Emma Rooksby.

Sea Berry Saltbush (Rhagodia candolleana), are about as plain as it gets. The flowers are insignificant. But the fruit are succulently delicious! Image by Emma Rooksby.

One of the smallest local saltbushes is this cutie, Climbing Saltbush or Einadia nutans. The leaves can be linear (long and slender) or narrowly sagittate (arrowhead-shaped). You can see some very sagittate leaves in this pic, along with the tiny red fruit. Image by Tony Rodd. 

Just the pictures above of the leaves give some sense of the variety of saltbushes in the region. There are several other species too. In terms of cultivating them, one general constraint applies, as suggested by the reference to salt in their names. Most saltbush species are plants of seaside areas, adapted to grow in sandy soil or in harsh seacliff environments. They will grow best in coastal areas with these conditions, and this limits their horticultural applications.

Two exceptions seem to apply. Based on my experience, I've seen Sea Berry Saltbush (Rhagodia candolleana) and Berry Saltbush (Einadia hastata) growing happily in gardens across the coastal plain and into the escarpment foothills. Given their dense shrubby character and their appealing, edible and bird-attracting fruit, they are both worth trying in almost any garden.    

Berry Saltbush (Einadia hastata) in a garden situation. Image by Emma Rooksby. 

Sea Berry Saltbush enhancing a green wall. Image by Emma Rooksby.

A point of interest around our local saltbush species is that, while they're all in the Chenopodiaceae family, they come from several different genera. Some are Einadia, some are Rhagodia, some are Chenopodium, and one is Enchylaena. Plus some of the important Chenopodiaceae are represented in the area by delicious edible plants in the genera Suaeda and Sarcocornia - that's right, Samphire!

Samphire (or Sarcocornia quinqueflora)....yum. Image by Barry Ralley.

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