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Beetroot and relatives. Caryophyllales part-2

Updated on August 21, 2015

A bundle of Beetroot



In part one Looking at the order of plants known as the Cayophyllales we looked at the Goosefoots of the genus Chenopodium and related species of the genus Atriplex {}

Here review other members of the family and commence with the genus Beta,a familiar genus to gardeners and housewives everywhere,due to their culinary uses.

Sliced Beetroot


Betas vulgaris.

Beta vulgairis, belongs to the Amaranthaceae family, within the order,and the sub-family Betoideae. it is commonly known as Beetroot or the garden beet,and is used extensively as a salad or pickle and from which sugar was sometimes prepared on a large scale. there are several varieties in cultivation but the more commonly encountered ones are the red or purple,and the white variety with red bands.

The larger and deeper coloured the roots the better for culinary purposes. The seeds were commonly sown in March or April in deep soil and when the true leaves appeared they were then thinned out to give them ample room for growth. By September or October the roots were deemed ready for use.They were then preserved in sand.

They are native to the south of Europe,extensively cultivated and they originate from the Sea beet, Beta maritima, which is a native to the coasts of Europe,northern Africa and southern Asia. This species was also the origin of other well known plants such as the Sugar Beet and the Swiss Chard. The white rooted beet is cultivated for its leaves. Beet roots were also used medicinally.

Beta vulgaris sub-species

Kohler images.
Kohler images. | Source


Cahrd Beta vulgaris variety cicla gets its the variety name from a corruption of the word sicula indicating the Siclilian beet.these produce a root much smaller than those of the common beetroot. The leaves were used as a substitute for Spinach and the young shoots and midribs were eaten like Asparagus. A large variety was introduced uner the name of Mangel/Wurzel. This variety on account of its large root size was extensively grown in England and other countries as an animal fodder,particularly for feeding cattle and pigs,during the winter.

Magel Wurzel grown mainly as an animal fodder.


Red Chard

Growing in the Victory Garden
Growing in the Victory Garden | Source

Spinach oleraceae


The only British species of Beta

The only British species growing in the wild is Beta maritima, which when boiled was once esteemed as an wholesome vegetable. It was once placed in the Chenopodiaceae {see part 1}.It is the wild ancestor of the species named above.It was once referred to as the Wild Spinach.

It may well attain the height of over a metre and produces its flowers in summer. They are formed in dense clusters and are wind pollinated. It is able to tolerate high levels of sodium in its environment.

Spinach of the genus Spinacia is another relative of the beet within the order and is well known for its culinary purposes. It is rich in iron. Science now informs us that although the plant indeed contains high levels of iron it also contains iron-absorption inhibiting substances such as Oxalate which bind to the iron to render much of the iron in spinach unusable in the body.

Beta vulgaris maritma


Salicornia species

Germany Coast
Germany Coast | Source

Salicornia europeae

Taken near Southampton England.
Taken near Southampton England. | Source

Glasswort. Salicornia virginica


Dwarf Glasswort Salicornia bigelovii

Taken at Humboldt Bay National Wildlife Refuge Complex,California USA
Taken at Humboldt Bay National Wildlife Refuge Complex,California USA | Source

Purple glasswort Salicornia ramossisima

Taken in Germany
Taken in Germany | Source

The genus Salicornia

Members of the genus Salicornia were also placed in the family Chenopodiaceae in days gone by.They are plants that have articulated succulent stems and strongly reduced leaves. The flowers are produced together in dense spike-like thyres { a type of inflorescence in which the main axis grows intermediately}. They grow in many parts of the world around coastal habitats or inland saline habitats. They abound on the shores of the Mediterranean and two are native to Britain. Salicornia europaea sometimes referred to as the common Glasswort is one of them. They grow in salt marshes.

The ashes of Glasswort and Saltwort plants {and of Kelp-a seaweed} were long used as a source of soda ash utilized in the art of Glass making and for producing soap. Salicornia europeae is often referred to as one of the Samphires in England a plant that is generally cooked or steamed and a coating of butter or Olive oil is is recommended that they are cooked in plenty of water with no salt added at all due to the plants natural salt content. It is often served with fish dishes.

There are several species of Salicornia such as the American Virginia or Woody Glasswort. Salicornia virginica,another common name for this species is Picklewort. It is a plant of various zones of intertidal salt marshes and also alkaline flats.It is native to both coasts of North America from Canada to mexico.

Dwarf glasswort,Salicornia bigelovii {also referred to as the dwarf saltwort} is native to the coastal areas of the astern and southern United States as well as California, both the coasts of Mexico and Belize. This is a species attaining the height of two feet.The leaves are small and succulent which are fused in a band around the stem,which is erect and jointed at many internodes and is of a reddish colour. The flowers are produced in a stick-like inflorescence. Each flower is composed of fused sepals {no petals} enclosing the stigma and stamens.

It is a plant of salt water. Fields of this plant have been grown in the waste water from aquatic farms in Eritrea and harvested for animal feed. In the USA scientists have been looking at this plant for its possible use as a bio-fuel. It is already utilized as an oil crop and is the source of Salicornia oil.

Other species of Salicornia include Purple Glasswort Salicornia ramosissima,the Slender Glasswort S.maritima and Salicornia brachiata.

Salsola oppositifolia


Salsola soda


The genus Salsola.

The genus Salsola is placed in the sub-family Salsoloideae of the order. These plants are distributed in central and southern Asia,north Africa and the Mediterranean. The species contained in this genus are in the main sub-shrubs,shrubs, small trees,and more rarely annuals. The leaves are arranged alternatively in most species,more rarely opposite,simple and entire.

The bi-sexual flowers contain five tepals and five stamens.The pistil ending in two stigmas. There are between 24-25 species currently recognized since 2007.

Salsola soda ,more commonly referred to as the opposite leaved Saltwort or Barilla plant is a small annual,a succulent shrub.they are as the name suggests salt tolerant plants {Halophyte} typically growing in coastal regions. Salsola soda was once extensively used to make 'Soda ash' {in common with other species } and during the 18th century Spain produced a large industry making Soda ash from their Saltworts which were called by the name of Barilla in that country.

Today it is still cultivated as a vegetable and is particularly enjoyed by the Italians. This plant is classed as a sub-shrub with fleshy green leaves and green or red stem. The tin flowers are produced in the axils near the stem.

Salsola stocksii

Karachi Pakistan.
Karachi Pakistan. | Source

Salsola stocksii

This species is a sturdy glabrous plant or shrub attaining the height of over two feet. The branches that are produced are ascending or prostrate. The leaves have no stalks,spreading and fleshy. The flowers are arranged in spike like branches from four inches long. The flowers are small and numerous. They are pollinated by insects and the resulting wing fruits are dispersed by the wind.

They thrive on sandy or loamy saline soils and limestone hills, in countries such as Afghanistan,Pakistan and West India. This another species that produces a crude form of Sodium Carbonate and the ash was used as a substitute for soap which was utilized as a clothes cleaner. It has also been employed,in the form of its ash in medicinal remedies for ailments such as ulcers.

Other species include Salsola acutifolia,S.cruciata. S.drummobdi, S.florida. S.foliosa. S rosmarinus and S.tunetana.

Common Sooty wing


We conclude with the genus Blitum

Finally in this group of the Caryophyalles we come across the genus Bltum.This is a genus furnished with at least twelve species. The genus is closely related to the genus Spinacia {Spinach}. They occur in Asia,Europe,North Africa ,the Americas and Australia.

They are in the main non-aromatic annual and perennial herbs. We commence the review of this genus with Blitum capitatum formerly Chenopodium capitatum., commonly referred to as the Strawberry Blite. This is a species that originates in North America,throughout the United States and Canada,parts of Europe and New Zealand. It is currently thought to be endangered in Ohio.

The species in North America was utilized by the native Indians to produce a red dye. It is an edible plant. The young plants including the flowers may be eaten raw. It is prudent to note however, that the seeds eaten in quantity may be toxic. Most parts that are edible,should be eaten in moderation,due to the content of Oxalates,which prevent nutrient absorption.

The plants grow in open or disturbed areas in the foothills,montane and sub-alpine regions.The plant produces small ball-shaped flower clusters up to half an inch across,green at first but turning red as they mature. The bright red fruits are edible and give rise to the plants common name. The leaves of this species,as with some other members of the genus can be eaten like spinach,either raw or cooked. The grey-green leaves are triangular up to three and a half -four inches long lower down,and arranged alternately on the branches.

This species is host to the larvae of the common Sooty Winged Butterfly ,Pholisora catullus,and the seeds are eagerly taken by wild birds.

Strawberry Blite Blitum capitatum formerly Chenopidium capitatum


Blitum nuttallianum

Blitum nuttallianum,sometimes referred to as Monolepis nuttallianum,is another plant native to North America.It is widespread and common in Alaska to Mexico to New England. It tends to favour wet places but not exclusively so.

It is a fleshy annual herb. Its hairless stem grows between one and two feet tall. It has a thick,lance-shaped or arrowhead-shaped leaves up to one and three quarter inches long. Clusters of several rounded flowers appear in the axil of the leaves. This is another plant used by the North American Indian peoples for both medicine and food.

Blitum /Monolepis nuttallianum


Blitum virgatum

Blitum virgatum, sometimes referred to as Chenopodium foliosum, is a flowering plant known by the name of Leafy Goosefoot. It is native to Eurasia,but introduced to other parts of the world. It is classed as minor 'weed' growing in both disturbed and cultivated soils,particularly open sandy or gravelly ones.

It is an erect plant growing to the height of two feet or so.The foliage half an inch to one and a half inches long. They may be toothed or smooth at the margins. They are triangular in outline. The flowers are produced in small round clusters.They are reddish-green. The leaves of this species are edible and it was grown as a leaf vegetable in former times,especially in Europe.

Blitum virgatum /Chenopodium foliosum


Summary of the Caryophylles so far.

In parts 1-3, we have reviewed the plants in this order which are commonly know as the Goosefoots and their allies. We have seen that although they do not contribute to the ornamentals of gardens,they still have an importance and considerable interest,when we consider their useful purposes to which they have been applied.

Many of them are among the common 'weeds' of the countries in which they grow,and yet, when properly used,they have contributed in no small degree,to the comforts,and even to some luxuries of life.


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    • DDE profile image

      Devika Primić 

      3 years ago from Dubrovnik, Croatia

      I like beets! I pickle beets in a vinegar recipe and that is my best on any day. You have presented this hub with a great mind.

    • D.A.L. profile imageAUTHOR


      3 years ago from Lancashire north west England


      Hi Deb, nice to know I made you smile thinking of your childhood. Best wishes to you.

      sujaya venkatesh,

      Hi, thank you for your kind comments, best wishes to you.

    • sujaya venkatesh profile image

      sujaya venkatesh 

      3 years ago

      what a penchant for beets!

    • aviannovice profile image

      Deb Hirt 

      3 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      I love beets, chard, and spinach. I smiled while I read this, as I grew up with those wonderful vegetables on the table. They are part of what make me the picture of health that I am today.


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