Friday, September 20, 2013

An encounter with sea fennel (Crithmum maritimum) on the Monterey Bay – may I see your passport, please?

Crithmum maritimum L., the sea fennel or rock samphire, is a common and conspicuous perennial of Old World sea coasts:  “Maritime rocks, rarely on sand or shingle.  Atlantic Coast of Europe, northwards to Scotland, Mediterranean and Black Sea coasts” reads the range description in Flora Europea (Vol. 2:333).  There are no specimens from California,  nor North America, that I find on-line.

Here I report Crithmum maritimum growing at Aptos, Santa Cruz County, California, United States, North America, western Hemisphere  a geographic location I can not find having been previously recorded, by continent that is.  Exactly at 36.969438/-121.907402.  A single large plant grows out of the treated-wood seawall fronting the beach at Seacliff Beach State Park, at the very highest elevation where wave action very infrequently reaches.

Crithmum maritimum is in a monotypic genus.  The available phylogenetic resolutions place Crithmum near genera in subfamily Saniculoideae, which in California there are a host of natives.   Crithmum is a strong halophyte: seeds germinate moderately even when soaked in sea water.   Crithmum is oleaginous: oils extracted from its seeds are apparently used medicinally.  Wikipedia imparts the factoid “In the 17th century, Shakespeare referred to the dangerous practice of collecting rock samphire from cliffs”.   

How Crithmum maritimum arrived in California is a matter to consider: a) long distance dispersal of seeds across two oceans, via the Panama Canal, or b) escape from cultivation.  

A voucher specimen was duly squished.  

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