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Thursday, June 6, 2013

Scurfy


While looking at Beach Saltbush (Atriplex leucophylla) this afternoon, Peter noticed the striking red-and-white stems. You can barely see them against the sand in the photo above, but here's a close-up in the next image.


We realized we hadn't really paid much attention to the stems before.  When I got home, I wanted to see if the stems were mentioned in species descriptions.  Several accounts discuss how this shrub is scurfy (a botanical term for having a scaly covering or coating), but interestingly, the red coloration often doesn't come up.

Out of curiosity, I checked some older photos for the red color and to see if they were scurfy.  It was intriguing to see that the scurfiness varied.  At times it was quite dense and the stems were almost white (next image).


But other times there was almost no scurfiness and the stems were bright red (see below). 


I don't have a large sample size, but in general the least amount of scurfiness on the stems seemed to be present in the winter and early spring.  Do the reddest stems represent new growth?  Or are they stems that have been uncovered by sand recently?  Or is it related to something else?

If you're interested in looking at Beach Saltbush yourself, watch for it growing along the uppermost portion of local beaches.


P.S.  Scurfy.  It's a strange word, isn't it?  Because this plant is so scurfy, or scaly, another common name for it, according to Calflora, is Sea Scale.

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