Chenopodium chenopodioides

Tracheophyta MagnoliopsidaChenopodiaceaeChenopodiumChenopodium chenopodioides


An annual of dry, brackish mud of ditches, salt-pans and hoof-marks in the upper part of saltmarshes and in coastal grazing marshes. Lowland.



World Distribution

Eurosiberian Temperate element, with a coastal distribution in W. Europe but in inland saline areas further east. It is widely naturalised outside its native range.

Broad Habitats

Light (Ellenberg): 8

Moisture (Ellenberg): 7

Reaction (Ellenberg): 7

Nitrogen (Ellenberg): 8

Salt Tolerance (Ellenberg): 4

January Mean Temperature (Celsius): 4.2

July Mean Temperature (Celsius): 16.7

Annual Precipitation (mm): 612

Height (cm): 30

Perennation - primary


Life Form - primary

Therophyte (annual land plant)



Clonality - primary

Little or no vegetative spread

Count of 10km squares in Great Britain: 39

Count of 10km squares in Ireland: 0

Count of 10km squares in the Channel Isles: 2

Atlas Change Index: -0.17

JNCC Designations


Scarce Atlas Account

Scarce Atlas Account: 

Chenopodium chenopodioides (L.) Aellen

Saltmarsh goosefoot

Status: rare



This little-known annual is characteristic of a restricted estuarine habitat, growing on dry brackish mud seasonally exposed on ditch sides and in the shallow winter inundations (or `fleets') of saltings and grazing marshes. Associated species are mostly annual, often including Chenopodium rubrum, Parapholis strigosa, Salicornia spp. and Suaeda maritima, with the nationally scarce Hordeum marinum, Polypogon monspeliensis (and sometimes x Agropogon littoralis, its rare hybrid with Agrostis stolonifera), Puccinellia fasciculata, and occasionally P. rupestris. Of the rarities, C. chenopodioides probably has the narrowest range of tolerance. Perennial associates are usually Glaux maritima, Juncus gerardii and Spergularia spp. 

Like most annuals of exposed mud, C. chenopodioides can appear in great quantity in suitable years, when the mud dries and warms early, but is scarce or even absent when water levels remain high. It appears to germinate from dormant seed only when the mud is exposed to the air, and flowering is normally only just beginning in July, but can build up to spectacular displays by mid September when fruiting plants turn bright red. Plant sizes vary, but like its close relative C. rubrum when on mud, C. chenopodioides is often present as minute plants producing good seed in late years, or in very ephemeral habitats such as hoofprints.

The restricted habitat and exacting requirements make C. chenopodioides a vulnerable and threatened species. Traditional management with fluctuating water levels and stock trampling the drying ditch edges was ideal, but grazing marshes have been much reclaimed for arable, or drained with stabilised levels in the ditches. The few colonies recorded outside the core populations of the Thames estuary (including a wildfowl scrape in a coastal reserve and damp hollows on a sandy golf course, both in Sussex) are probably extinct.

This species is endemic to central and southern Europe, extending to Denmark and south-east Russia, but excluding the central and southern Mediterranean. For a map of its European distribution, see Jalas & Suominen (1980).

Some past records may have been mis-determinations of the dwarf ephemeral form of C. rubrum, but the taxonomy is now clearly understood. Recorders no longer have to rely on the rather subjective character given by Fitt (1844), that "when fresh-gathered, the smell is like that of the pods of green peas".



R. Fitzgerald

Atlas text references

Atlas (83b)
Hultén E, Fries M
1986.  Atlas of north European vascular plants north of the Tropic of Cancer. 3 vols.
Jalas & Suominen (1980)
Stewart A, Pearman DA, Preston CD
1994.  Scarce plants in Britain.
Wigginton MJ
1999.  British Red Data Books. 1. Vascular plants, edn 3.