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Salt Marsh Plants

Salt marsh plants are a crucial part of this habitat

They have to survive relentless battering by the waves and smothering by tidal debris. The mix of plants depends on the age of the marsh and its height above sea water. The latter will affect how often it is covered by the tide and therefore the plants that grow there. Some of the salt marsh plants like spartina happily grow in the wetter zone along the tide line. Others like sea lavender prefer a “dryer” spot higher up the marsh.  At Battery Point salt marsh there is an abundance of Sea Lavender and Samphire but not so much at Portbury Wharf.

Salt marsh plants are not showy and boastful like summer meadow flowers but mostly quiet and understated; but they have super powers; they create salt marshes and capture carbon.


Salt marsh plants create marshes

Spartina is the first to colonise the mud. Its network of rhizomes can spread a long way, creating an interlocking root mat which stabilises the marsh. Other plants can then get a foothold too.

While many salt marsh plants are edible, we would not recommend eating the plants here. Leave them for the wildlife!

 Never eat a wild plant unless you are 100% certain that it is safe to eat and you know that you have identified it correctly. 

Some of the key Salt Marsh Plants

Sea Lavender




The cattle that once grazed this salt marsh would have been partial to this herb . . .

. . . but too much would make them sick.

NB Click or hover over the images below to see them all.

Sea Arrow Grass (Triglochin maritima)

Sea Arrow Grass has long slender arrow like leaves and spikes of flowers from May.

From a distance you might not give it a second glance but up close the flowers are jewel like.

Sea Arrow Grass is sometimes known as Sea Coriander due to its similar taste. However, this plant can be toxic! In certain dry conditions, cyanide builds up in its leaves.




In some years there are so many sea aster seeds the salt marsh turns white. There was certainly a feast for the birds at Battery Point in 2017!

Sea Aster  (Aster tripolium)

Growing up to 50 cm tall, Sea Aster flowers from July to September. It is abundant on Portbury Wharf salt marsh and grows from the very top of the marsh to the bottom, coping well even on the tide line.

The leaves are fleshy and the flowers, which attract many insects, are either purple rayed, or yellow rayless.  They flower long into autumn so are a good source of nectar for late flying insects and butterflies. Then there is the rare Sea Aster mining bee.  It is only found in the UK on the east coast and sometimes the south coast. There are no records of this bee here but it is always worth looking out for just in case!

In autumn masses of tiny seeds are borne in white clusters. Like most fine, “thistlely” seeds they are a very important food for seed eating birds such as goldfinches and linnets.

Parts of the Sea Aster are edible with a delicate, salty taste similar to samphire apparently.

Sea Lavender (Limonium vulgare)

This is a lovely plant with gorgeous mauve flowers July to September. It is perhaps the showiest of all the salt marsh flowers. Sea Lavender is also known as Marsh Rosemary but it is not actually related to either lavender or rosemary.

The flowers are a good food source for insects and are pollinated by flies and bees as well as the wind.

There is a small patch of Sea Lavender at Portbury Wharf but it grows more abundantly at Battery Point.

Sea Milkwort (Lysimachia maritima)

Formerly Glaux maritima has a number of common names including sea milkwort and black saltwort. It is a low growing perennial whose small flowers can carpet the salt marsh between June and August. Though this creeping plant is often hidden beneath taller plants.

Sea Plantain (Plantago maritima)

The leaves of Sea Plantain can sometimes be confused with Sea Arrow Grass but they are broader and often toothed. It is also known as Goose Tongue and its strong tap root anchors it to the salt marsh. It flowers between June and August and close up the flower spikes are rather attractive. The young succulent leaves are edible and probably enjoyed by grazing Canada geese, wigeon and roe deer.

Sea Purslane  (Halimione portulacoides)

Sea Purslane is a grey-green, woody shrub growing to about 50 cm high. Its edible leaves are thick, fleshy and crunchy. There is a small amount growing at Portbury Wharf salt marsh.

Frosted Orache (Atriplex laciniata)

Frosted Orache (pronounced Orak) is a sprawling annual plant which flowers between August and September. It can grow 30 cm tall but often the stems lie horizontally leaning against other plants. In autumn the ripened triangular fruits, leaves and stems turn to gloriously vivid yellows and pinks.





This is an eye-catching plant, especially when sunlit from behind.

It sometimes grows in single stems, like asparagus but when established it is multi-stemmed growing in miniature forests.

Marsh Samphire  (Salicornia Europaea)

Marsh Samphire, also known as Sea Asparagus, is edible and has become a fashionable delicacy in recent years. However a world away from the dinner table, its other name is Glasswort as when burnt it creates soda ash which was used in the making of glass and soap. It was first called Glasswort in the 16th century when there was a resurgence in English glassmaking.

Marsh Samphire just loves gooey mud so grows right down on the tide line. This is one of the first plants, together with Spartina, to colonise mud and create salt marshes. It grows well at Battery Point.





Scurvy Grass was used in the Befuddlement Draft at Hogwarts in the Harry Potter series.

English Scurvy Grass  (Cochlearia anglica)

It is not actually a grass at all but has spoon shaped leaves so is also known as Spoonwort.  These fleshy, succulent leaves are very rich in vitamin C and they were once eaten by sailors to ward off scurvy. Scurvy is a disease caused from a lack of fresh fruit and vegetables in the diet. If a sailor was at sea for months or even years they would have had a very poor diet after their fresh supplies had run out.  So when the ship was close to land they would row ashore to harvest this nutritious plant and perhaps others on the salt marsh.

Scurvy grass thrives in salty environments and will grow equally well in the mud at the bottom of the marsh to the drier areas at the top. It will also grow on roadsides that have been treated with salt in the winter.




Sea Thrift is the county flower of the Isles of Scilly

Sea Thrift  (Armeria maritima)

Also known as Sea Pink, it grows in low clumps with long stems supporting pink flowers. It tolerates salt well so will grow in wet or dry saline places from salt marshes to sea cliffs.

It flowers in April and May on this salt marsh with globes of pink flowers varying from strong to delicate shades of pink.


This is one of the first species to colonise mud so is fundamental in establishing salt marshes. It can withstand long periods of immersion in salt water and its deep roots stabilise the mud. It grows quickly and often forms large dense colonies.

Sea Spurrey  (Spergularia maritima)

Sea Spurrey is a low growing, spreading plant. So it is quite hard to find hidden beneath the tangle of taller salt marsh plants. Small, jewel-like pink flowers appear between June and August.

Go to the salt marsh index for more salt marsh info