At Rye Harbour we have five species of this unassuming saltmarsh plant, but they are incredibly difficult to tell apart. Part of the challenge is that they are a flowering plant with what must be the smallest of flowers.
They usually grow in the mud of low level saltmarsh that is covered by most tides in the monthly cycle. After the main summer growing season the bright green plants turn red and then brown and are largely overlooked.
However, they produce masses of seed to ensure they find new muddy habitats after being spread by the sea. This large quantity of seed provides vital winter food for birds, especially our flocks of Skylark (which are well camouflaged in the saltmarsh).
The brown plant skeletons left behind in Winter are worth a closer look with a surprising trio of large cavities that must be where the tiny seeds mature.
The ashes of glasswort were used as a source of soda ash (mainly sodium carbonate) in the making of glass. They are also known as Marsh Samphire or Sea Asparagus as they are often eaten with fish.
Our species are:
- PERENNIAL GLASSWORT Sarcocornia perennis nationally scarce
- ONE-FLOWERED GLASSWORT Salicornia pusilla nationally scarce
- PURPLE GLASSWORT Salicornia ramosissima
- YELLOW GLASSWORT Salicornia fragilis
- LONG-SPIKED GLASSWORT Salicornia dolichostachya
From above, the mix of glassworts and Annual Sea-blite can look like a forest.