A salt-loving plant on the roadside

This may be "old hat" to field botanists, but I was amazed to discover that a pretty halophile (salt-loving) plant species can flourish in a man-made microhabitat.

A week ago I found a small but cute plant with five-petalled pink-tipped flowers growing happily right next to the curb in an untended roadside verge. This was in the Bronx, very near the Bronx Zoo.

This spot is many miles from the ocean. However, it is on a curve that is dangerous in snow or ice conditions, which we get every winter here in NYC. Whenever there is snow and ice, the city sprays the blacktop with a salt and grit mixture, which improves the grip of tires on the road, and helps prevent skidding.

It also means that the very edge of the roadside on a curve gets liberally splattered with a wet salt and sand mixture, on and off for a few months each year.

Of course salt will kill most plants, but in the case of a rugged little species of Sand Spurrey, it appears that the road maintenance workers are accidentally creating a perfect little micro-beach.

Sand Spurreys are flowering plants in the same family as Pinks and Carnations -- they are tiny but pretty, and until humans started spraying roads with salt, these plants basically lived only by the sea, or in any other naturally-occurring salt-rich areas.

I would love to know how the seeds are spread in these man-made conditions -- do they get stuck in the grooves of tires and then fall out again? How does this plant spread from one roadside to another, miles apart?

Posted on 26 June, 2016 13:59 by susanhewitt susanhewitt


Photos / Sounds


Sand-Spurries (Genus Spergularia)




June 19, 2016


This small plant was growing wild some distance outside the zoo property, right next to the curb of a small road which is near the parkway. It was a fairly lush roadside area, which is partly shaded by trees and seems not to be short of water. Further in from the curb there were some tall grasses and some Chicory.

This plant is somewhat similar to chickweed in scale, but it is far more erect, not entirely creeping, and the 5-petaled flowers clearly have pink at the ends of the petals.

I wrote a journal post about it here:



I'm not surprised. Danish scurvygrass (Cochlearia danica) has been spreading inland along roads in Britain due to the increasing salinity of the soils: http://www.bbc.com/news/uk-wales-21123964

Posted by duarte about 8 years ago

Cool, thanks for the heads on that @duarte!

And how do the Danish Scurvygrass seeds spread?

Posted by susanhewitt about 8 years ago

That's really interesting! I live in TX now, but it never occurred to me that road salt might actually be beneficial for something other than road conditions. Thanks for sharing.

Posted by beschwar about 8 years ago

Me either -- I was really surprised, but as duarte pointed out, it is not the only example of this phenomenon. :)

Posted by susanhewitt about 8 years ago

Interesting, I know there are plants in Vermont that do this as well.

Posted by charlie about 8 years ago

Oh yeah? I would love to know which species they are, @charlie if you come across that info.

Posted by susanhewitt about 8 years ago

i don't remember offhand, will post here if it comes to mind!

Posted by charlie about 8 years ago

Thanks Charlie. :)

Posted by susanhewitt about 8 years ago

I now believe that what I found there was probably Spergularia marina.

Posted by susanhewitt almost 7 years ago

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