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Friday - July 12, 2013

From: Madison, WI
Region: Midwest
Topic: General Botany
Title: Halophytic biofilter plants native to Wisconsin
Answered by: Nan Hampton


I am trying to design a biofilter using native WI plants. These plants must be very salt tolerant and low maintenance (as this biofilter will be used to treat storm water runoff from a salt shed), so I am therefore looking at halophytic species. Could you suggest some plants that would fit my criteria and also be reasonably priced?


There is an interesting article, Halophytes and Xerohalophytes, from UCLA Mildred E. Mathias Botanical Garden, that gives information about how halophytes handle high salt levels and gives the names of some plants that are halophytes.  I did research on the plants in the various genera named in the paper to determine which ones are native to Wisconsin. 

There are three grasses that are known to be salt tolerant.   Of the halophytic plants mentioned in the paper that are native to Wisconsin they will probably be the easiest to find commercially.  They should be available as seeds and not very expensive.  They are:

Spartina pectinata (Prairie cordgrass), native to Wisconsin, appears to be salt tolerant according to a paper by Warren, R. S. et al.  1985.  Salt tolerance in cultured cells of Spartina pectinataPlant Cell Reports (1985)4:84-87.

Distichlis spicata (Saltgrass) is definitely halophytic and occurs in Wisconsin.

Puccinellia nuttalliana (Nuttall's alkaligrass) has high salt tolerance according to the article by Anthony Mintenko and Ray Smith, Native grasses vary in salinity toleranceGolf Course Management.  April 2001.

Other non-grass species mentioned in the article that are native to Wisconsin are not likely to be available commercially.  They are:

Genus Atriplex   The Wisconsin Botanical Information System lists 7 species that occur in Wisconsin.  Of the seven, only two (A. prostata and A. argentea) are native.   The other five are introduced species.

Suaeda calceoliformis (Pursh seepweed)  Here are photos and more information from Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation, and Forrestry and CalPhotos University of California-Berkeley.

You can check in our National Suppliers Directory for nurseries and seed companies in Wisconsin that might carry these plants.

The New York City Greenbelt Native Plant Center has a Salt Tolerant Plant Species List.  These are not necessarily extreme halophytes but they might survive the salinity from the salt shed.  You can check to see if they are native to Wisconsin by searching for the botanical name in Wisflora: Wisconsin Vascular Plant Species.  The easiest way to do that is by searching for the genus name and looking at the various species that come up with the genus name.  You can also check their native status (again, using their scientific name) by searching in our Native Plant Database or the USDA Plants Database.

Here are several species from that list that should be available commercially:

Arctostaphylos uva-ursi (Kinnikinnick)

Rhus glabra (Smooth sumac)

Oenothera biennis (Common evening-primrose)

Maianthemum canadense (Canada mayflower)


From the Image Gallery

Prairie cordgrass
Spartina pectinata

Prairie cordgrass
Spartina pectinata

Prairie cordgrass
Spartina pectinata

Arctostaphylos uva-ursi

Smooth sumac
Rhus glabra

Common evening-primrose
Oenothera biennis

Canada mayflower
Maianthemum canadense

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