There are several species of flora and fauna living within Great Bay. One of which includes an interesting looking plant called Glasswort (Salicornia europaea). Glasswort is a succulent herb also known as ‘Pickle weed’ or ‘Marsh samphire’. It can be found around beaches and in saltmarshes like Great Bay. Living within a saltmarsh is not something most plants can do. Glassworts however, thrive in a salty environment due to their specialized adaptations. These unique marsh plants are called halophytes. This means, that they are a salt tolerant plant species able to grow in a habitat with high salinity. While Glasswort does not directly grow in the marsh, it receives a fair amount of salt spray as it lives close by. As halophytes, they are able to accumulate and store salt within their leaves and stems which allows them to survive in this type of habitat.
Glasswort is a very common salt marsh plant found in New Hampshire, and the species is distributed worldwide. In Great Bay, they are considered to be a pioneer species. This means that they are typically the first plants to grow in mudflats and their presence helps establish surrounding species. These particular pioneer plants send oxygen down into the mud through their roots which helps stabilize the environment and allows other plants like sea lavender, to grow. Not only is Glasswort a pioneer plant, it is also an indicator species for wetlands. As an indicator species, their presence shows a naturally occurring wetland with sufficient oxygen flow. That oxygen supports a greater diversity of plant species, which leads to a productive wetland system.
Glasswort plants are relatively small and have jointed, bright green stems. During the fall, these asparagus looking plants turn red or purple. Their leaves are small and scale like, and they produce fleshy fruits that contain a single seed. The stems of Glasswort are edible and can be eaten raw or pickled. One unique use of the Glasswort plant, is that their dried ashes contain potash. Potash is potassium oxide which is used in soaps and glassmaking. This property, is what gave the resilient salt marsh plant is name, the Glasswort.
-Kelsey Hanson, Staff Naturalist