Sea Blite and Castaway Plight

29 Jun

Sea Blite

Suaeda linearis

Amaranthaceae (Chenopodiaceae)

John, I TOLD you to turn right.

John, I TOLD you to turn right.

Yesterday John and George mired the car hopelessly in the seaside sand lost in the remote reaches of the Hobe Sound National Refuge, all in a day’s work for fearless adventurers.   It happened right as I said, “that sand looks firm.”  We became stranded castaways deep in a mangrove jungle unvisited by humans since Jonathan Dickinson.  While we stressed over who might find our buzzard-picked remains, we kept our spirits up by exploring the salty-marly mangrove lowland behind the dunes and singing marching songs from the Boer War.  We looked for esculent native plants to mitigate our stranded plight.  There wasn’t much to hunt and gather, but Black Mangrove was lovely in flower, and no, that wasn’t a skunk, it was White Stopper.

Our destitution gave us time to ponder convergent evolution.  (That is when unrelated species develop similarities due to similar adaptations.  Sharks and Porpoises are not related but they look similar.)  We saw no sharks nor porpoises, but we did see how salty-place plants have a convergent tendency toward succulent leaves that look like fingers.  The fat-finger-foliage species include Batis maritima (Saltwort, Batidaceae),  Salsola kali (Amaranthaceae), Sesuvium portulacastrum (Sea-Purslane, Aizoaceae), Salicornia bigelovii (Glasswort, Amaranthaceae), and Suaeda linearis (Sea Blite, Amaranthaceae).

Yes, the foliar similarities can confuse identification.  And yes, they confuse common names.  The common names for these species are intertwined and contrived.  For example, Batis maritima and Salsola kali (and undoubtedly others) get called “Saltwort,” hence the silly misleading name “Russian Thistle” to differentiate Salsola.  My personal outlook—never get too fixated on the English names for non-prominent plants.

The main succulent finger species yesterday was Suaeda linearis,  representing  the mostly saline genus Suaeda which has over 100 species.   As is often true of coastal species, the distribution is wider than you think.  Suaeda  linearis extends from Maine to Mexico and southward.  Such species keep us from getting too hung up on latitude.

Suaeda linearis (JB)

Suaeda linearis (JB)

Suaedas inhabit saline desert areas in North Africa, where  Beduins burn the foliage to obtain soda-ash (sodium carbonate)  for laundering,  dying clothing, and fine-tuning the pH in their pools.  And speaking of burning  Suaeda, North Africans burn the plants also to generate smoke for asthma relief.  Suaeda is an ancient Arabic name.

Close-up (JB)

Close-up (JB)

Closer to home, Native North Americans appreciated the seeds as a staple grain, which was a comfort to John and me as we despaired of rescue yesterday.  As we roasted fiddler crabs on burning Suaeda and tried to invent a solar desalination still using our shoes, John suddenly remembered we had cell phones.  The miracle of Verizon brought a nice man named Bill with a big truck to yank us out of our sandy Hell to explore and blog another day.

[Note—that isn’t really John’s car. His car isn’t that cool.  But we did get quagmired and rescued deep in the jungle.]


Posted by on June 29, 2013 in Sea Blite


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6 responses to “Sea Blite and Castaway Plight

  1. Mary Hart

    June 30, 2013 at 3:22 am

    What an adventure – gives you an inkling of what it must have been like for those who first tried to cross the Australian desert before cars , phones or aeroplanes were invented! More seriously, the UK boasts several very tricky shores, perhaps most notable Morcambe Sands , very rich in musseles, but many people get trapped and killed by rising tides.

  2. George Rogers

    June 30, 2013 at 9:28 am

    Hi Mary, Googled the Morcambe Sands—what a fascinating-looking place. Even in Google Images you can see the danger—that you have to go out an enormous distance at low tide. And I saw on Google the news report of 19 persons drowning there. I’m not sure about St. Lucia, but there was a treacherous beach area on Barbados, right there below Andromeda Gardens where a lot of swimmers lost their lives due to the powerful tidal currents as the tide came and went from the “soup bowl.” My one son had a hair-raising mishap there.

  3. FeyGirl

    July 2, 2013 at 12:18 pm

    Haha! What a great post… I’ve had a few close calls driving into some of the more remote trailheads; “how deep is that sand…really?” floating about my head. 🙂

  4. George Rogers

    July 2, 2013 at 12:59 pm

    Well, ok, if you must know, we were “in” up to the bottom of the chassis, and digging in deeper with every spin of the wheels. I wonder if we were ever capable of digging out.

  5. Marlene Semple

    July 5, 2013 at 6:00 pm

    You are a tease. I was worrying about your car all the way through the article. Now I have to go back and read it again.

    • George Rogers

      July 6, 2013 at 8:11 am

      Right mishap—stolen photo.


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