Salsola vermiculata (Mediterranean saltwort)
- Summary of Invasiveness
- Taxonomic Tree
- Notes on Taxonomy and Nomenclature
- Plant Type
- Distribution Table
- History of Introduction and Spread
- Risk of Introduction
- Habitat List
- Hosts/Species Affected
- Host Plants and Other Plants Affected
- Growth Stages
- Biology and Ecology
- Latitude/Altitude Ranges
- Air Temperature
- Rainfall Regime
- Soil Tolerances
- Notes on Natural Enemies
- Means of Movement and Dispersal
- Impact Summary
- Risk and Impact Factors
- Similarities to Other Species/Conditions
- Prevention and Control
- Links to Websites
- Distribution Maps
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PicturesTop of page
IdentityTop of page
Preferred Scientific Name
- Salsola vermiculata L.
Preferred Common Name
- Mediterranean saltwort
Other Scientific Names
- Salsola agrigentina Guss.
- Salsola damascena Botsch.
- Salsola flavescens Cav.
- Salsola hispanica Botsch.
- Salsola rigida var. tenuifolia Boiss.
- Salsola tamariscifolia (L.) Lag.
- Salsola vermiculata ssp. tenuifolia (Boissier) Botsch.
International Common Names
- English: wormleaf saltwort
- Arabic: rotha
Local Common Names
- Jordan: rotha
- Lebanon: rotha
- Syria: rotha
- USA: Damascus saltwort; shrubby Russian thistle; wormleaf Salsola
- SASVE (Salsola vermiculata)
Summary of InvasivenessTop of page As there continue to be further introductions of drought-tolerant fodder species to arid and semi-arid zones worldwide, introduction of S. vermiculata will continue due to intentional planting of the species. It can easily establish from seed under arid Mediterranean conditions and has shown an ability to spread widely once introduced. The plant is considered a valuable range species for rehabilitation of degraded rangelands in west Asia and North Africa, but has also, however, been identified as a noxious weed in California, USA where it is known to be an alternate host for a virus that causes curly top in sugar beet, tomatoes and melons.
Taxonomic TreeTop of page
- Domain: Eukaryota
- Kingdom: Plantae
- Phylum: Spermatophyta
- Subphylum: Angiospermae
- Class: Dicotyledonae
- Order: Caryophyllales
- Family: Chenopodiaceae
- Genus: Salsola
- Species: Salsola vermiculata
Notes on Taxonomy and NomenclatureTop of page S. vermiculata is taxonomically complicated and probably a complex of several closely related subspecies or species. Boschantev (1996) noted that in California, USA, material of what had previously been considered to represent Salsola vermiculata actually represented the related Syrian species S. damascena, a taxon often included within S. vermiculata sensu lato. Careful re-reading of pertinent literature (Mosyakin, 1996) indicated that while S. damascena is probably the form present in California, confirmation awaits a full systematic revision of the S. vermiculata complex and until such confirmation is published, this taxon will be referred to as S. vermiculata L. sensu lato. Thus S. vermiculata is taken as the correct binomial lacking any more recent revisions. Several additional varieties have been put forward; var. glabrescens Moq., var. microphylla (Cav.) Moq., var. microphylla Baker & C.B.Clarke and var. villosa (Del.) Moq. (Missouri Botanical Garden, 2003), but their exact relationship to S. vermiculata s.l. is not certain.
DescriptionTop of page Post (1932) described S. vermiculata of Syria and Palestine as a perennial, narrow-leaved species; pubescent or gray with soft, white hair; branches panicled and with many branchlets; leaves short, half-clasping from a dilated base; flowers solitary and spiked; and wings obovate. The following description is by Migahid (1996) of S. vermiculata in Saudi Arabia, as a branched shrub, 25-100 cm high, woody at the base, branches long and slender, stiff, yellowish. Leaves very minute and scale-like, crowded in distant small knot-like clusters on thin, yellow, glossy stems. Inflorescence a leafy spike, lobes of perigonium hairy, fruit wings small, pale yellow. Migahid (1996) also gives a description for S. vermiculata ssp. tenuifolia as erect, densely villous undershrub with slender white branches. Leaves well developed, stiff, filiform, recurved, from a narrow clasping base.
A detailed morphological description follows: cotyledons linear, fleshy, green. Subsequent foliage usually densely covered with minute hairs. Deep taproot and woody root crown that is able to produce many adventitious buds at the soil surface. Foliage typically covered with minute hairs, but sometimes becoming glabrous at maturity. Stems slender, straight, ascending to erect, woody at the base, branched throughout. Leaves alternate, 3-9 mm long, oblong to ovate, with rounded tips. Often there are several reduced leaves about 1-4 mm long in the axils. Flowers solitary (rarely 2 or 3) in leaf axils at stem tips. Bracts 1-2, leaf-like. Petals lacking. Perianath of calyx only, united at base, 5-lobed, 2-3 mm long. Sepals often pinkish and sparsely covered with minute hairs, especially at the apex, with fan-shaped wings approximately 2 mm long. Utricles (fruiting structures) greenish to grey, surrounded by persistent sepals, 7-12 mm in diameter (including sepal wings), 1-seeded, with remnants of the style at the apex. Seed more or less round, slightly flattened, with a transparent membranous seed coat (pericarp) and visible coiled embryo.
Plant TypeTop of page Perennial
DistributionTop of page S. vermiculata is native to arid Mediterranean environments of West Asia, southern Europe and North Africa. In Europe it is restricted to southern Portugal and Spain, the Balearics, Sardinia and Sicily (Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh, 2003). It is present in Egypt and Morocco, but its status in other North African countries is not clear. It is a well distributed native plant of North and South Hijaz, Eastern Najd and Eastern region, between Dahna' and the Arabian Gulf in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (Batanouny, 1994; Migahid, 1996). As an arid zone fodder species highlighted as meriting attention by research and development organizations, it has probably been introduced more widely than indicated in the distribution list, though it may only be occasionally present as parts of field trials.
Distribution TableTop of page
The distribution in this summary table is based on all the information available. When several references are cited, they may give conflicting information on the status. Further details may be available for individual references in the Distribution Table Details section which can be selected by going to Generate Report.
|Continent/Country/Region||Distribution||Last Reported||Origin||First Reported||Invasive||Planted||Reference||Notes|
|Israel||Present||Native||Not invasive||Zaidenberg and Dan, 1981; Hakham and Ritte, 1993|
|Jordan||Present||Native||Not invasive||Planted, Natural||Tadros, 2000|
|Lebanon||Present||Native||Not invasive||Natural||Post, 1932|
|Pakistan||Present||Introduced||Not invasive||Planted||Mirza, 2000|
|Qatar||Present||Abulfatih et al., 2002|
|Saudi Arabia||Widespread||Native||Not invasive||Planted, Natural||Migahed, 1996|
|Syria||Present||Native||Not invasive||Osman and Ghassali, 1997; Murad, 2000|
|Egypt||Present||Native||Not invasive||Planted, Natural||Muschler, 1912|
|Morocco||Present||Native||Not invasive||Planted, Natural||Fargouri et al., 2000|
|-Canary Islands||Present||Guma et al., 2010|
|USA||Present||Present based on regional distribution.|
|Italy||Restricted distribution||Native||Royal Botanic Gardens Edinburgh, 2003; USDA-ARS, 2002|
|Portugal||Restricted distribution||Native||Royal Botanic Gardens Edinburgh, 2003; USDA-ARS, 2002|
|Spain||Restricted distribution||Native||Planted, Natural||Serrano et al., 1992|
History of Introduction and SpreadTop of page S. vermiculata was first introduced into California, USA from Syria in 1969, as an experimental plant for improving the forage of arid rangelands. It has become an established weed in the upper San Joaquin Valley and the Temblor Range areas of California (Creager, 1990).
Risk of IntroductionTop of page Reported introductions are all intentional, where the plant was introduced for improving the vegetation cover on arid pastures. The species still appears on numerous lists of species of potential for revegetating arid land and improving livestock productivity. However, it may spread rapidly as it establishes easily from seed and further introductions could only be recommended if any spread is to be carefully monitored.
HabitatTop of page The bioclimatic distribution for S. vermiculata covers arid and desert environments under Mediterranean conditions (Le Houerou, 1994). Batanouny (1994) described its distribution as Saharo-Arabian in the Arab region. As an invasive species in California, USA, it is found mainly on disturbed sites, rocky slopes and frequently on clay soils (California Department of Food and Agriculture, 2000).
Habitat ListTop of page
|Terrestrial – Managed||Cultivated / agricultural land||Present, no further details||Harmful (pest or invasive)|
|Managed forests, plantations and orchards||Present, no further details|
|Managed grasslands (grazing systems)||Present, no further details|
|Terrestrial ‑ Natural / Semi-natural||Natural forests||Present, no further details|
|Natural grasslands||Present, no further details|
|Deserts||Present, no further details|
Hosts/Species AffectedTop of page In California, USA, S. vermiculata is found as a weed of various agricultural and horticultural crops including mainly sugarbeet, tomatoes and melons.
Host Plants and Other Plants AffectedTop of page
Growth StagesTop of page Vegetative growing stage
Biology and EcologyTop of page Genetics
Although the species has been identified as meriting further research due to its high fodder value, no information on breeding programmes is available, or on the genetics and possible hybridization with related species.
S. vermiculata is easily propagated by seeds (Creager, 1988) which are small (470 seeds per g). The species is capable of self-sowing, a feature considered useful when the plant is used for rehabilitation of degraded rangelands in west Asia and North Africa (Osman and Ghassali, 1997) but can also lead to invasion when conditions are favourable. Bract removal from seeds significantly improves germination by causing faster and higher germination percentage. The storage conditions of the seeds also affect seed viability; cold storage at below 0°C significantly extended the longevity of the seeds compared to storage at room temperature. Optimum temperature for germination is 15°C (California Department of Food and Agriculture, 2000).
Physiology and Phenology
This species has a range of physiological characteristics that allow it to tolerate very low rainfall and saline soil conditions. It is also capable of re-growth after cutting or grazing by producing side shoots.
This is a species able to tolerate very low annual rainfall and poor soils. It does prefer clay soils however, and although generally a species of low altitudes it has been found at up to 1000 m (California Department of Food and Agriculture, 2000).
The plant is commonly found in association with Artemsia herba-alba, Atriplex halimus and Atriplex leucoclada in arid Mediterranean conditions in west Asia. Fruiting bracts on the seeds contain high levels of salts, which can slow or prevent the germination of other species, but the species above are also very salt tolerant. For further information on Staphylinidae (Coleoptera) found on S. vermiculata in Spain see Outerelo et al. (2001).
Latitude/Altitude RangesTop of page
|Latitude North (°N)||Latitude South (°S)||Altitude Lower (m)||Altitude Upper (m)|
Air TemperatureTop of page
|Parameter||Lower limit||Upper limit|
|Absolute minimum temperature (ºC)||-11||0|
|Mean annual temperature (ºC)||7||29|
|Mean maximum temperature of hottest month (ºC)||21||37|
|Mean minimum temperature of coldest month (ºC)||2||3|
RainfallTop of page
|Parameter||Lower limit||Upper limit||Description|
|Dry season duration||10||0||number of consecutive months with <40 mm rainfall|
|Mean annual rainfall||100||250||mm; lower/upper limits|
Rainfall RegimeTop of page Winter
Soil TolerancesTop of page
Special soil tolerances
Notes on Natural EnemiesTop of page There is no information available on natural enemies, other than various locusts that are known to feed on S. vermiculata in its native range and none are specific. However, S. vermiculata is known to act as a host for several viruses where introduced in California, USA.
Means of Movement and DispersalTop of page Natural Dispersal (Non-Biotic)
The seed retain their calyx (bracts) and as they are small can easily be spread long distances by wind.
Vector Transmission (Biotic)
If eaten by animals, seeds might pass through the digestive tract undigested due to their small size. Effects of seed size on seed recovery through animals were reported for a wide range of species (Poppi et al., 1980; Thomson et al., 1990).
S. vermiculata was introduced from Syria to the USA for improving forage availability in arid rangelands where it has become a weed (Creager, 1990) and to northern Pakistan for the regeneration of degraded rangelands (Mirza, 2000) where its status as a weed is unknown.
Impact SummaryTop of page
|Fisheries / aquaculture||None|
ImpactTop of page In California, USA, the plant is known to act as alternate host for a virus that causes curly top in sugarbeet, tomatoes and melons. In several countries of West Asia the plant is considered an important range species under Mediterranean arid conditions for grazing animals. Other effects of the species as a weed are not available.
Risk and Impact FactorsTop of page Invasiveness
- Proved invasive outside its native range
- Highly mobile locally
- Negatively impacts agriculture
- Competition - monopolizing resources
- Pest and disease transmission
- Highly likely to be transported internationally deliberately
- Difficult to identify/detect as a commodity contaminant
UsesTop of page S. vermiculata is considered a valuable pasture species in many countries in the Middle East and the Mediterranean basin. It is widely planted in halophyte communities in Israel, Jordan, Morocco, Spain and Syria. The palatability of S, vermiculata is recorded as fair to high by various authors, and is grazed by cattle, sheep, goats, camels and wild animals (Zaidenberg and Dan, 1981; Serrano et al., 1992; Hakham and Ritte, 1993; Le Houerou, 1994; Osman and Shalla, 1994; Osman and Ghassali, 1997; Osman and Bahhady, 1999; Fagouri et al., 2000). The foliage is of high forage quality, containing 13.1% crude protein and 9% digestible protein. However, excessive grazing was found to weaken the stand or even eliminate the plant from pasture in Syria and Jordan (Murad, 2000; Tadros, 2000).
Similarities to Other Species/ConditionsTop of page S. vermiculata is similar in flowers and fruits to common Russian thistle (Salsola tragus) and barbwire Russian thistle (Salsola paulsenii) but it is easily distinguished from them by its shrubby perennial habit and oblong to ovate leaves with round tips.
Prevention and ControlTop of page Cultural Control
Burning to the ground has been seen to kill plants under experimental conditions (Creager, 1988).
Greenhouse plants cut off at ground level failed to resprout and were killed. The same plants when cut at 1 cm or more above ground level were observed to coppice from side shoots (Creager, 1988).
A study on chemical control of S. vermiculata was undertaken by Creager (1990) on greenhouse-grown plants at 6-8 weeks old. They were completely killed by chlorsulfuron, hexazinone and metribuzin. In the same study, atrazine, bromacil, dicamba, glyphosate, imazapyr, karbutilate, simazine and triclopyr were reported effective only at higher rates, and amitrole, asulam, fosamine and pendimethalin did not kill S. vermiculata at the rates tested.
ReferencesTop of page
Batanouny KH, 1994. Halophytes and halophytic plant communities in the Arab region, their potential as a range resource. In: Squires VR, Ayoub AT, eds. Halophytes as a resource for livestock and for rehabilitation of degraded lands. Proceedings of the International Workshop on Halophytes for reclamation of saline wastelands and as a resource for livestock problems and prospects, Nairobi, Kenya, November 1992. Dordrecht, Netherlands: Kluwer Academic Publishers, 139-163.
Boschantev VP, 1996. An update to the Jepson Manual - Higher Plants of California. The Jepson Globe, 7(2).
Fagouri M; Elasraoui M; Elhelafi H, 2000. Les arbustes fourragers autochtones et introduits dans les parcours du Maroc Oriental. In: Gintzburger G, Bounejmate M, Nefzoui A, eds. Fodder shrub development in arid and semi arid zones, volume 1. Proceedings of a workshop on native and exotic fodder shrubs in arid and semi-arid zones, Hammamet, Tunisia, 1996. Aleppo, Syria: International Center for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas (ICARDA), 197-202.
Guma IR; Padrón-Mederos MA; Santos-Guerra A; Reyes-Betancort JA, 2010. Effect of temperature and salinity on germination of Salsola vermiculata L. (Chenopodiaceae) from Canary Islands. Journal of Arid Environments, 74(6):708-711. http://www.sciencedirect.com/science?_ob=ArticleURL&_udi=B6WH9-4XJF376-1&_user=10&_coverDate=06%2F30%2F2010&_rdoc=13&_fmt=high&_orig=browse&_srch=doc-info(%23toc%236845%232010%23999259993%231783386%23FLA%23display%23Volume)&_cdi=6845&_sort=d&_docanchor=&_ct=16&_acct=C000050221&_version=1&_urlVersion=0&_userid=10&md5=c07a74bf81ab251150476fabbb0bc230
Hakham E; Ritte U, 1993. Foraging pressure of the Nubian ibex Capra ibex nubiana and its effect on the indigenous vegetation of the En Gedi Nature Reserve, Israel. Biological Conservation, 63:9-21.
Le Houerou HN, 1994. Forage halophytes and salt-tolerant fodder crops in the Mediterranean Basin. In: Squires VR, Ayoub AT, eds. Halophytes as a resource for livestock and for rehabilitation of degraded lands. Proceedings of the international workshop on halophytes for reclamation of saline wastelands and as a resource for livestock problems and prospects, Nairobi, Kenya, November 1992. Dordrecht, Netherlands: Kluwer Academic Publishers, 123-137.
Migahid AM, 1996. Flora of Saudi Arabia, volume 1, edition 4. Riyadh, Saudi Arabia: King Saud University, University Libraries.
Mirza SN, 2000. Fodder shrubs and trees in Pakistan. In: Gintzburger G, Bounejmate M, Nefzoui A, eds. Fodder shrub development in arid and semi arid zones, volume 1. Proceedings of the workshop on native and exotic fodder shrubs in arid and semi-arid zones, Hammamet, Tunisia, 1996. Aleppo, Syria: International Center for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas (ICARDA), 153-177.
Missouri Botanical Garden, 2003. VAScular Tropicos database. St. Louis, USA: Missouri Botanical Garden. http://mobot.mobot.org/W3T/Search/vast.html.
Mosyakin SF, 1996. A taxonomic synopsis of the genus Salsola (Chenopodiaceae) in North America. Annals of the Missouri Botanical Garden, 83:387-395.
Murad N, 2000. A study on the Syrian Steppe and forage shrubs. In: Gintzburger G, Bounejmate M, Nefzoui A, eds. Fodder shrub development in arid and semi arid zones, volume 1. Proceedings of a workshop on native and exotic fodder shrubs in arid and semi-arid zones, Hammamet, Tunisia, 1996. Aleppo, Syria: International Center for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas (ICARDA), 109-121.
Muschler R, 1912. A Manual Flora of Egypt. Vol 2. Berlin, Germany: R. Frielander & Sohn.
Osman AE; Bahhady F, 1999. Multipurpose fodder shrubs offer new hope for degraded rangelands in WANA (West Asia-North Africa). In: Eldridge D, Freudenberger D, eds. People and rangelands: building the future. Proceedings of the VI International Rangeland Congress, Townville, Queensland, Australia: Eldridge & Freudenberger, 180-181.
Osman AE; Ghassali F, 1997. Effects of storage conditions and presence of fruiting bracts on the germination of Atriplex halimus and Salsola vermiculata. Experimental Agriculture, 33:149-155.
Osman AE; Shalla MS, 1994. Use of edible shrubs in pasture improvement under Mediterranean environment in northern Syria. In: Squires VR, Ayoub AT, eds. Halophytes as a resource for livestock and for rehabilitation of degraded lands. Proceedings of the international workshop on halophytes for reclamation of saline wastelands and as a resource for livestock Problems and prospects, Nairobi, Kenya, November 1992. Squires & Ayoub. Dordrecht, Netherlands: Kluwer Academic Publishers, 255-258.
Poppi DP; Norton BW; Minson DJ; Hendricksen RE, 1980. The validity of the critical size theory for particles leaving the rumen. Journal of Agricultural Science, Cambridge, 94:275-280.
Post GE, 1932. Flora of Syria, Palestine and Sinai. Beirut, Lebanon: American Univeristy of Beirut Press.
Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh, 2003. Flora Europaea, Database of European Plants (ESFEDS). Edinburgh, UK: Royal Botanic Garden. http://rbg-web2.rbge.org.uk/FE/fe.html.
Serrano M; Bellot J; Golley F, 1992. The role of natural vegetation in the biogeochemistry of an agricultural landscape. Acta Oecologica, 13:569-581.
Tadros K, 2000. Fodder shrubs in Jordan. In: Gintzburger G, Bounejmate M, Nefzoui A, eds. Fodder shrub development in arid and semi arid zones, volume 1. Proceedings of the workshop on native and exotic fodder shrubs in arid and semi-arid zones, Hammamet, Tunisia, 1996. Aleppo, Syria: International Center for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas (ICARDA), 122-133.
Thomson EF; Rihawi S; Cocks PS; Osman AE; Russi L, 1990. Recovery and germination rates of seeds of Mediterranean medics and clovers offered to sheep at a single meal or continuously. Journal of Agricultural Science, Cambridge, 114:295-299.
USDA-ARS, 2003. Germplasm Resources Information Network (GRIN). Online Database. Beltsville, Maryland, USA: National Germplasm Resources Laboratory. https://npgsweb.ars-grin.gov/gringlobal/taxon/taxonomysearch.aspx
USDA-NRCS, 2002. The PLANTS Database, Version 3.5. National Plant Data Center, Baton Rouge, USA. http://plants.usda.gov.
Zaidenberg R; Dan J, 1981. The influence of lithology, relief and exposure on the soil and vegetation of the arid region of eastern Samaria. Israel Journal of Botany, 30:13-31.
Distribution MapsTop of page
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