The Beekeeper’s Companion Since 1861
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The Other Side of Beekeeping

Family Chenopodiaceae: The Goosefoot Famil

- April 1, 2015 - - (excerpt)

The Chenopodiaceae consists of about 1500 species and about 102 genera distributed around the world. They are nearly hopelessly variable in the characteristics that are usually used to define a family, and for that reason, field identification is not easy.
The family consists primarily of succulent annual or perennial herbs, some are shrubs, and only a few are trees. They frequently inhabit dry, arid (xerophytic) and salt laden (halophytic) soils where they often become the dominant vegetation.

The leaves are simple (not compound) and are generally placed alternately on their stems (oppositely in the Salicornia, often called glassworts), are often fleshy or sometimes reduced to scales. There are no stipules.1 The leaves, and sometimes also the stems, are mealy or scurfy (covered with scales) hence the name “goosefoot”. The stems are sometimes jointed and essentially leafless. The sap is colorless or red and not aromatic.

The flowers are almost always unisexual and then monoecious2  or dioecious, some however are bisexual. They are generally quite small, sometimes described as minute and inconspicuous, greenish, radially symmetrical, often bracteate3, but not thin, dry, and membranous in texture, and are distributed in axillary4 clusters or in cymes.5 The calyx6 usually consists of 1-5 sepals (usually 5), rarely 0. There are no petals. There are usually, but not always, as many stamens as sepals that are positioned opposite each other. There can also be fewer stamens than sepals. There are 2-3 united carpels7 (rarely 5). The ovary is one celled and usually superior8 (only partly so in Beta (beet). There are 2 (rarely 3 to 5) styles9 or stigmas.

The fruit is an achene10 or a nutlet that is more or less enclosed by the perianth11 which may harden or be thorny, a hooked structure, or remain fleshy entrapping several seeds. As a result, what many of us would call a seed may produce several seedlings as in the common table beet we often grow in our gardens. This is why beet “seeds” are frequently seen to grow in clusters even when thinly sown.

Many of us know some of these plants from our garden. Examples include garden beets, sugar beets, spinach, and Swiss chard.[3, 20] 

Greasewood, black greasewood, seepwood, saltbush

Scientific name: Sarcobatus vermiculatus

Origin: North America and quite probably parts of northern Mexico.

Plant description: Sarcobatus vermiculatus is a rapidly growing, much branched, shrub that grows to heights of 0.3 to 3 m (~11.8 to 118.1 in). It is rigidly stout with widely spreading branches, which when young, are yellowish white but become grayish and either glabrous12 or possess short white branched hairs. Many of the branches are tipped with spines. The species is generally monoecious13 but is sometimes dioecious.

The leaves are deciduous, bright green to light olive green, linear, fleshy, subterete14, are placed oppositely at lower levels and alternately higher in the plant and are usually 1.5 to 4 cm (~0.59 to 1.57 in) long but sometimes are as short as 1 cm (~0.39 in). They are entire15, are rounded or pointed at the apex and can be either glabrous or possess branched hairs.
The flowers are placed in numerous axillary16 spikes17 that are 1 to 3 cm (~0.39 to 1.18 in) long with the male flowers uppermost and more numerous than the female flowers. The male flowers are in small clusters of pinecone-shaped spikes that are 0.5-1 inch (~1.27 to 3 cm) long and have neither sepals nor petals (perianth).

The female flowers are green, quite inconspicuous and are surrounded by a more or less circular wing-like membrane that enlarges to 6-12 mm (~0.24 to 0.47 in) as the fruit matures. The fruit is top-shaped, about 4 to 5 mm (~0.16 to 0.2 in) long. The seed is erect, approximately circular in outline and 1.8-2.2 mm (~0,07 to 0.08 in) wide.[12, 13,21]

Distribution: In the Great Plains the species is usually found at the base of eroded hills, on flood plains often in barren saline or alkaline soils.[12] In western North America, it is often in alkaline soils, dry lakes, washes, scrubland, and roadsides at 100 to 2300m (~ 328.1 to 7546 ft ).[1]

Blooming period: In the Great Plains it blooms May to August.[12] In California it blooms April to August.[8]Scullen and Vansell[19] indicate that the species blooms in July in the deserts of eastern Oregon.

Importance as a honey plant: Oertel[15], from his questionnaires, found the species to have some importance in NM, OR, UT, WA and WY. Ayers and Harman[2], from their questionnaires, found the species to be of some importance in NV, ID, and UT. The species seems not to be mentioned by Pellett[16], nor John Lovell[11] or Harvey Lovell[10], nor its Goltz revision of this pamphlet[6], nor Ramsay.[17]

Honey potential: Apparently none. See Pollen below.

Pollen: Burgett et al[4] mention the species as a pale-colored pollen producer, the pollen freely collected by bees, but say nothing about honey production. Greasewood is quite common in many places in Utah and Nye[14], writing about greasewood, states that as a pollen source the plant is “worthy of special mention.” Again in Nye’s words, “The male flower blossoms open late in the afternoon and pollen showers from the blossoms without jarring, so that much is lost during the night. Many honey bees work the plants at the …