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Prickly Saltwort

Salsola kali kali

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Plant Profile

Flowering Months:
Amaranthaceae (Amaranth)
Life Cycle:
Maximum Size:
50 centimetres tall
Beaches, fields, grassland, roadsides, rocky places, saltmarshes, sand dunes, seaside, wasteland, wetland, woodland.

White, 5 petals
Tiny white petals, tinged pink. The flowers usually appear solitary inside a tuft of leaf-like bracts at the bases of the leaves. Flowers each measure between 5 and 9mm across. Wind pollinated.
Prickly Saltwort (Salsola kali) produces small, inconspicuous fruits. These fruits are enclosed in tiny, papery capsules, which split open when the seeds are mature. The seeds themselves are small, dark, and lens-shaped. Prickly Saltwort's fruits are often overlooked as they are not particularly showy, and the plant is primarily valued for its salt tolerance and ability to adapt to harsh environments. The dispersal of its seeds, typically by wind, allows this plant to colonize new areas and thrive in a variety of habitats, contributing to its status as an invasive species in some regions. The seeds mature from August to October.
A bushy, half-prostrate annual flower found on beaches just above the drift-line. Prickly Saltwort is a stiff, hairy, prickly plant. The fleshy, bluish-green leaves are short and linear (or hair-like). The plant is many-branched and the leaves are spiny-tipped. The upper leaves are in opposite pairs and are stalkless. The lower leaves alternate along the branches. The leaves are grooved at the base on their upper surfaces.
Prickly Saltwort (Salsola kali) is not typically known for its aroma, as its primary features of interest are its salt tolerance, succulent leaves, and adaptability to various habitats. In general, it is not renowned for having fragrant flowers or emitting any distinct scent. Instead, Prickly Saltwort is appreciated for its ability to thrive in saline environments, its role in soil stabilization, and its adaptability to arid or coastal conditions. This hardy plant's significance lies in its ecological resilience rather than any particular aroma.
Other Names:
Common Saltwort, Kali Saltwort, Prickly Glasswort, Prickly Russian Thistle, Saltwort, Tumbleweed, Windwitch.
Frequency (UK):
Occasionally seen  

Other Information


Salsola kali, also known as Kali saltwort, Russian thistle, or tumbleweed, is a species of salt-tolerant shrub in the Amaranthaceae family. It is native to the Mediterranean region and Central Asia and is now widespread throughout much of the world, including North America. The plant has green to gray-green, fleshy leaves and small, inconspicuous flowers. It is most commonly known for its large, spherical seed heads that break off from the plant and roll away in the wind, which is how it disperses its seeds. Salsola kali is considered a invasive species in many regions because of its ability to quickly colonize disturbed areas and outcompete native plants.


Prickly saltwort, also known as Salsola kali kali, is a hardy and adaptable plant that is often found in coastal regions and other areas with high levels of salinity. While it may be considered a weed by some, this plant actually has a number of interesting uses and benefits.

One of the most distinctive features of prickly saltwort is its spiky, thorny leaves. These leaves help to protect the plant from grazing animals and other threats, and also make it a less-than-pleasant plant to handle. However, despite its tough exterior, prickly saltwort is actually quite delicate in terms of its water and nutrient needs, and is able to thrive in harsh environments where other plants might struggle to survive.

One of the most notable benefits of prickly saltwort is its ability to improve soil quality in areas with high levels of salinity. This is because the plant is able to absorb excess salt from the soil, which can help to reduce salinity and make the soil more suitable for other plants to grow. In addition, prickly saltwort is also able to absorb excess water from the soil, which can help to prevent soil erosion and other issues.

In addition to its soil-improving properties, prickly saltwort is also edible and has been used in traditional medicine for centuries. The plant is rich in antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals, and has been used to treat a variety of ailments, including digestive issues, respiratory problems, and skin conditions. The young shoots and leaves can also be cooked and eaten as a nutritious vegetable.

While prickly saltwort may not be the most attractive or easy-to-handle plant, it is certainly a valuable and versatile one. Whether you are looking to improve soil quality, explore traditional medicine, or simply add some unique flavors to your cooking, this hardy plant is certainly worth a closer look.

Prickly saltwort is native to the Mediterranean region, but it has since spread to many other parts of the world, including North America, Australia, and parts of Asia. It is an invasive species in some areas, and its ability to thrive in harsh environments and its salt-tolerant nature has made it difficult to control in some cases.

Despite its status as an invasive species in some areas, prickly saltwort can also be a valuable plant for erosion control and land reclamation. Its deep roots can help to stabilize soil and prevent erosion, making it a useful plant for areas with sandy or unstable soils.

In addition to its practical uses, prickly saltwort is also a popular plant for ornamental purposes. Its spiky leaves and unique texture make it an interesting addition to gardens and landscapes, particularly in coastal areas or other regions with high levels of salinity.

However, it is worth noting that prickly saltwort can be a challenging plant to manage, particularly in areas where it is considered an invasive species. If you are considering planting prickly saltwort, it is important to research the plant thoroughly and understand its potential impact on the local ecosystem.

Prickly saltwort has a number of interesting adaptations that allow it to thrive in harsh environments. For example, the plant has specialized pores on its leaves that allow it to excrete excess salt, which helps to prevent the buildup of harmful levels of salt in its tissues. Additionally, prickly saltwort is able to store water in its leaves and stems, allowing it to survive periods of drought or high salinity.

In terms of traditional medicine, prickly saltwort has been used for centuries in various cultures around the world. In Ayurvedic medicine, for example, it is used to treat a range of ailments, including digestive issues, inflammation, and skin disorders. In Chinese medicine, it is used to treat conditions such as asthma and coughs.

While research on the medicinal properties of prickly saltwort is still relatively limited, there is some evidence to suggest that the plant may have anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties, as well as potential uses in the treatment of certain cancers and other conditions.

Overall, prickly saltwort is a unique and adaptable plant with a range of potential uses and benefits. Whether you are interested in its practical applications for soil improvement and erosion control, or its potential medicinal properties, this hardy and fascinating plant is certainly worth exploring further.

30 Facts About Prickly Saltwort

30 facts about Prickly Saltwort (Salsola kali):

  1. Prickly Saltwort, scientifically known as Salsola kali, is a flowering plant in the family Amaranthaceae.

  2. It is commonly referred to as saltwort due to its ability to thrive in saline and coastal environments.

  3. Prickly Saltwort is a hardy, invasive plant found in many parts of the world.

  4. The plant is native to Europe and Asia but has become naturalized in North America, particularly in coastal areas.

  5. Prickly Saltwort is an annual or short-lived perennial plant.

  6. It is known for its tolerance to high salt concentrations in soil, making it a pioneer species in salt-affected habitats.

  7. The plant typically grows to a height of 30 to 90 cm (12 to 35 inches).

  8. Prickly Saltwort has fleshy, succulent stems and leaves that help it conserve water in arid conditions.

  9. The leaves are narrow and often covered in tiny, sharp spines, giving the plant its "prickly" name.

  10. Prickly Saltwort produces inconspicuous, greenish-white flowers that are wind-pollinated.

  11. The flowers are typically small and lack petals.

  12. The seeds of Prickly Saltwort are contained within small capsules.

  13. This plant is considered a weed in many regions, as it can outcompete native vegetation and disrupt ecosystems.

  14. In some areas, Prickly Saltwort is used to control soil erosion due to its ability to stabilize sandy soils.

  15. Prickly Saltwort has a high salt content, which makes it unpalatable to most herbivores.

  16. It has a deep root system that allows it to access water and nutrients from lower soil layers.

  17. In traditional medicine, Prickly Saltwort has been used to treat various ailments, including respiratory and digestive issues.

  18. The plant's ashes were historically used to make soap and glass.

  19. Prickly Saltwort is often found in coastal habitats, salt marshes, and disturbed areas.

  20. It can grow in both dry and wet saline conditions.

  21. Prickly Saltwort is a pioneer species, meaning it is one of the first plants to colonize newly exposed or disturbed habitats.

  22. In some regions, it is considered a noxious weed due to its ability to displace native plants.

  23. The plant's salt tolerance is due to its ability to excrete excess salt through specialized salt glands on its leaves.

  24. Prickly Saltwort is considered invasive in parts of the United States, such as California.

  25. It is known to alter soil chemistry by increasing soil salinity in its vicinity.

  26. The seeds of Prickly Saltwort can remain viable in the soil for several years.

  27. The plant has a taproot system that can penetrate deep into the soil to access water sources.

  28. It is an opportunistic species that can quickly colonize disturbed areas, making it challenging to control.

  29. Prickly Saltwort can affect nearby agricultural crops by competing for resources and altering soil conditions.

  30. Efforts are made in some regions to manage and control the spread of Prickly Saltwort to protect native ecosystems and agricultural lands.


Prickly Saltwort filmed at Sandscale Haws in Cumbria on the 9th July 2023.


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Reproduced by kind permission of the BSBI.

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