The official website of the Elkhorn Slough Foundation and Elkhorn Slough National Estuarine Research Reserve
Elkhorn Slough Plants: Pickleweed

Scientific Name:
Salicornia virginica,
Sarcocornia pacifica


Found at the Slough:
Salt marsh, upper inter-tidal zone

Did you know...
Pickleweed is not a weed

Pickleweed (also known as perennial picklweed) has been growing along the margins of Elkhorn Slough for at least 6,000 years. Within the U.S., it is found in all coastal states, including several states bordering the Great Lakes, at low elevations (<500 ft.), in inter-tidal salt marshes and in salt flats, playas, and seasonally saline wetlands.  It is endemic to the Americas.

Here at the Elkhorn Slough it is among our most conspicuous plants as it is found covering our salt marshes. Particularly in fall, pickleweed turns a brilliant red giving us our own version of "fall color".

Although the species itself is not threatened, tidal marsh habitat is both ecologically valuable and naturally rare in California, yet has been disproportionately impacted by human activities.  Thus, tidal marshes, including most pickleweed marshes, are protected habitats.

For more in-depth information on pickleweed in Elkhorn Slough, download the following report:

Pickleweed: factors that control distribution and abundance in Pacific Coast estuaries and a case study of Elkhorn Slough, California by Katie Griffith. Elkhorn Slough Technical Report Series 2010 (pdf, 548KB, click here to download).

Slough Research:

Many research studies  (conducted at Elkhorn Slough, or conducted by Elkhorn Slough-based scientists) have touched upon the biology and distribution of pickleweed.  These include studies that:

  • discuss the distribution of pickleweed over environmental gradients found in tidal salt marshes (Parravano and Josselyn 2004; Watson and Byrne 2009)
  • describe habitat changes that are occurring in pickleweed marshes (Van Dyke and Wasson 2005; Byrd and Kelly 2006; Byrd et al. 2007), and;
  • discuss the effects of disturbance to pickleweed (Woolfolk 1999; Martone and Wasson 2008).


Resources / Publications:

Byrd, K. B., and N. M. Kelly. 2006. Salt marsh vegetation response to edaphic and topographic changes from upland sedimentation in a Pacific Estuary. Wetlands 26:813-829.

Byrd, K. B., N. M. Kelly, and A. M. Merenlender. 2007. Temporal and spatial linkages between watershed land use and salt marsh disturbance in a Pacific Estuary. Environmental Management 39:98-112.

Griffith, Katie A. 2010. Pickleweed: factors that control distribution and abundance in Pacific Coast estuaries and a case study of Elkhorn Slough, California. (pdf, 548KB, click here to download).

Hickman, J.C.  1993.  The Jepson Manual: higher plants of California.  University of California Press, Berkeley.
Welsh, S.L., C.W. Compton, and S.E. Clemants. 2003. Chenopodiaceae Ventenat, Goosefoot Family. Pages 258–404, in: Flora of North America, volume 4, Magnoliophyta: Caryophyllidae, part 1. Oxford University Press, New York.

Martone, R.G., and K. Wasson.  2008. Impacts and interactions of multiple human perturbations in a California salt marsh.  Oecologia 158: 151-163.

Parravano, A., and M. Josselyn.  2004.  Elkhorn Slough tidal wetland study: assessment of pickleweed (Salicornia virginica) cover, biomass, soil salinity and soil texture.  Wetland Research Associates, San Rafael, CA.

Van Dyke, E., and K. Wasson. 2005. Historical Ecology of a Central California Estuary: 150 Years of Habitat Change. Estuaries 28:173-189.

Watson, E.B., and R. Byrne.  2009.  Abundance and diversity of tidal marsh plants along the salinity gradient of the San Francisco Estuary: implications for global change ecology. Plant Ecology 205:113-128.

Woolfolk, A. M. 1999. Effects of human trampling and cattle grazing on salt marsh assemblages in Elkhorn Slough, California. M.S. Thesis. Moss Landing Marine Laboratories and California State University Sacramento, Moss Landing, CA.


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