Weed of the Month: Saltcedar


Saltcedar, an invasive and adaptable shrub, has been known to take over Western riverbanks, threatening native ecosystems with its aggressive growth and water-depleting nature. Its wispy appearance and deep pink flowers may charm, but the havoc it wreaks on wildlife biodiversity demands urgent attention and control.

Saltcedar Origins:

Saltcedar, scientifically known as Tamarix, is a versatile shrub or small tree with origins in the Mediterranean, China, and Central Asia.

In the 1800s, the saltcedar found its way to the United States as an ornamental plant, sought after for its landscaping appeal and ability to prevent soil erosion. However, it quickly outgrew its intended purpose and broke free from cultivation in the 1870s.

The consequences were severe, as the saltcedar proved to be an invasive menace, posing a significant threat to the natural ecosystems by the 1920s.

Saltcedar: Plant Description:

Though the saltcedar is a gorgeous plant with cascading clusters of pink flowers, it's a wildly destructive plant. 

Saltcedar, a long-lived tree or shrub, stands between 6 to 26 feet (2-8m) tall. It features slender branches and striking deep pink flowers, forming dense clusters at the top. Despite their evergreen appearance, the narrow grayish-green leaves, which resemble those of juniper or cedar, are deciduous and grow closely packed on the stems. As the seedpods mature, they split into 3 to 5 parts, revealing tiny seeds with a delicate tuft of fine silky hairs.

The leaves on saltcedars are 1.5-3.5mm long and contain small salt-secreting glands on their undersides. The branches of the Saltcedar are slender, smooth, and reddish-brown in color, but they are prone to breaking off easily. 

One of the distinctive features of the Saltcedar is its deep, adventitious roots that extend down to the water table, allowing it to thrive in waterlogged environments.

Saltcedar Habitat:

Presently, its habitat spans from northern Mexico to southern Canada, and large swaths of this region have fallen under the dominion of this relentless species. States such as California, Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, Colorado, Utah, and Wyoming have been profoundly impacted by the relentless spread of saltcedar, jeopardizing native flora and fauna as well as water resources in the affected areas.

Saltcedar has adapted and spread along floodplains, riverbanks, roadsides, and other disturbed areas, becoming naturalized in these environments.

Saltcedar Growth:

Saltcedar exhibits both seed-based and sprouting reproduction. Its root system is primarily centered around a root crown positioned 12 to 18 inches beneath the soil surface. When aerial parts of the plant are removed, new stems rapidly sprout from buds located on the root crown and shallow lateral roots. Additionally, Saltcedar possesses a rooting system characterized by shallow, lateral rhizomes and deep roots that can extend to depths of 30 feet or more.

Figure 2. Mature Saltcedar plant

Saltcedar Impact:

Saltcedar's ability to form monocultures poses a significant threat to wildlife biodiversity. The larger plants can consume up to 200 gallons of water daily and release a salt-based compound into the soil, creating an inhospitable environment for other plant species. In fact, extensive stands have the potential to dry up small ponds, creeks, and streams.

Saltcedar Management:

Currently, Western Wyoming is facing known infestations of Saltcedar, and efforts are underway to combat the problem using mechanical and chemical control methods. The severity of the threat this weed species poses to fisheries and wildlife necessitates vigilance.

If you come across Saltcedar while floating rivers, please take note of its location and mark it. Immediately report your findings, along with your location, to your local Weed & Pest District to aid in swift action and potential eradication measures. Your prompt reporting can help protect the natural ecosystems in the region.