Thursday, March 3, 2016

Meet the Tamariceae / Tamarisk Family

The Tamariceae / Tamarisk Family is a small family made up of just 5 genera and 80 species of shrubs, small woody plants and trees.  They are native primarily in Africa and Euroasia  in salty dry areas, steppes, deserts, sandy shores, and river banks.  There is only a single genus found naturalised in North America, the Tamarix.  The Tamarix is a very unique genera that is considered to be one of the most taxinomically challenging genera among angiosperms.  Tamarix can not be identified without their flowers and/or fruit, the identifying characters vary from plant to plant, season to season.  Some Tamarix plants may even appear to have different characteristics from year to year making identification that much more of a challenge.  

(Single Tamarisk) Image Citation: Steve Dewey, Utah State University,

Deciduous shrubs or small trees the Tamarix/Tamarisk (or Salt Cedars as they are often called) are a genus of about 55 species, 9 of which are found in North America.  The Tamarix have a distinctive Red Cedar appearance, deep root system and a long taproot.  They generally grow in an upright, erect form with a single or multiple low branching trunks.  The crown of each plant usually has numerous ascending or spreading branches which may appear wispy.  The bark is a brownish color when mature but red when young.  The leaves are alternate and scalelike 1-7 mm long and are covered with salt excreting glands.  The flowers are mostly bisexual but sometimes occasionally appear as unisexual, they are pinkish or pink to white in color.  The sepals and petals usually occur in groups of 4 or 5, with 1 pistil and 3 or 4 carpels.  Some flowers contain inflorescence a raceme or panicle.  The Fruit are a cone like capsule, each one contains many seeds.  The seeds are dispursed by both wind and water.  In warm climates plants can produce flowers within as little as four months of germination.  

(Tamarisk In Bloom) Image Citation: Steve Dewey, Utah State University,

In the early 1800's Tamarisks were imported by the thousands to be used for erosion control.  All of these varieties were either aggressive or invasive in nature, especially in the Western portions of North America.  It is estimated that this species has overtaken more then a half a million hectares of riparian habitat to date and gaining more then 16000 more annually.  The salt encrusted falling foliage greatly alters soil chemistry and can prevent native species from growing in areas where stands are dense, this poses a great threat to native species.

(Tamarisk Infestation) Image Citation:  Steve Dewey, Utah State University,

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