Prota 2: Vegetables/Légumes
Chenopodiaceae (APG: Amaranthaceae)
2n = 18, 27, 36
Salicornia indica Willd. (1799), Arthrocnemum indicum (Willd.) Moq. (1840).
Brown-headed glasswort, glasswort (En). Salicorne indienne (Fr). Machűr (Po).
Origin and geographic distribution
Halosarcia indica is widespread in Australia and along the tropical coasts of the Indian Ocean. In Africa it occurs from Somalia southwards to Mozambique, Madagascar and the other Indian Ocean islands, perhaps also occasionally in the west along the coast of the Atlantic Ocean.
After removing the woody and corky parts, young branches of Halosarcia indica collected from the wild are eaten as a cooked vegetable, particularly in times of food scarcity. In Madagascar young branches in vinegar are used as a condiment.
Small, glabrous shrub, with prostrate main stem forming loose open mats and numerous ascending or erect lateral branches up to 30 cm long, seemingly leafless, built up of numerous superposed, tubular, green-glaucous segments, each segment at apex forming a little cup with 2 short lobes embracing the base of the next higher segment; sterile segments 5–11 mm × 3–6 mm; fertile segments aggregated into spikes 1–4 cm × 4–5 mm at the ends of stem and lateral branches. Flowers in clusters of 3, a pair of clusters to each fertile segment, all flowers female and small, hidden; perianth tubular, irregularly 3-lobed at apex, becoming spongy in fruit; ovary superior, 1-celled, stigmas 2, slender. Fruit a nut, hidden in ring-like, disarticulating segments of fruiting spikes. Seed lens-shaped to flattened ovoid, c. 1 mm long, testa membranous, pale brown.
Halosarcia comprises 23 species, all confined to Australia except the wider distributed Halosarcia indica. It resembles Arthrocnemum, Salicornia and Sarcocornia, but the first of these has more slender fruiting spikes and black seeds, the second differs in its habit, being annual herbs, and the third has fruiting spikes not disarticulating into ring-like segments and more exposed flowers. Within Halosarcia indica 4 subspecies have been distinguished; only subsp. indica is widespread, the other 3 are indigenous to Australia. Most probably parthenogenesis occurs because only female plants are known, which produce normal seed. The seeds are distributed in the floating ring-like segments that disarticulate from the fruiting spikes at maturity.
Halosarcia indica grows on tidal mud flats, in salt marshes near the sea and in mangrove swamps.
Genetic resources and breeding
Halosarcia indica is widespread along coasts in the Old World tropics and is not in danger of genetic erosion.
Halosarcia indica will remain an interesting minor vegetable. Its use is comparable to Salicornia, which is a palatable and esteemed vegetable in some parts of Europe. Its nutritional value merits further investigation.
• Brenan, J.P.M., 1964. Chenopodiaceae. In: Turrill, W.B. & Milne-Redhead, E. (Editors). Flora of Tropical East Africa. Crown Agents for Oversea Governments and Administrations, London, United Kingdom. 26 pp.
• Brenan, J.P.M., 1988. Chenopodiaceae. In: Launert, E. (Editor). Flora Zambesiaca. Volume 9, part 1. Flora Zambesiaca Managing Committee, London, United Kingdom. pp. 133–161.
• Decary, R., 1946. Plantes et animaux utiles de Madagascar. Annales du Musée Colonial de Marseille, 54e année, 6e série, 4e volume, 1er et dernier fascicule. 234 pp.
• Wilson, P.G., 1984. Chenopodiaceae. In: George, A.S. (Editor). Flora of Australia. Volume 4. Bureau of Flora and Fauna, Canberra. Australian Government Publishing Service, Canberra, Australia. pp. 81–317.
• Ajmal Khan M. & Bilquees Gul, 1998. High salt tolerance in germinating dimorphic seeds of Arthrocnemum indicum. International Journal of Plant Sciences 159(5): 826–833.
• Friis, I. & Gilbert, M.G., 1993. Chenopodiaceae. In: Thulin, M. (Editor). Flora of Somalia. Volume 1. Pteridophyta; Gymnospermae; Angiospermae (Annonaceae-Fabaceae). Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, United Kingdom. pp. 127–140.
• Tölken, H.R., 1967. The species of Arthrocnemum and Salicornia (Chenopodiaceae) in southern Africa. Bothalia 9(2): 255–307.
Correct citation of this article:
Jansen, P.C.M., 2004. Halosarcia indica (Willd.) Paul G.Wilson In: Grubben, G.J.H. & Denton, O.A. (Editors). PROTA 2: Vegetables/Légumes. [CD-Rom]. PROTA, Wageningen, Netherlands.