AS the autumn comes on we still find the pink flowers of the Sea-Thrift in bloom, and several kinds of Sea-Southernwood are in bloom. On both the southern and north-western coasts the Samphire (Crithmum maritimum), renowned by Shakespeare, is yet gathered for pickling purposes, and a very good pickle it makes. Its thick leaves and small greenish-white flowers may be found throughout the summer on the cliffs, above high-water mark. The name is a contraction of Sampeter, and it was known as St. Peter's or the Fisherman herb. Sometimes the Common Saltwort (Salicornia herbacea) is sold as samphire, and it is frequently pickled. It is composed entirely of jointed fleshy tubes, and at the base of each tube grows the flower-stalks and three green flowers. The plant is semi-transparent, and was much used formerly in the making of kelp, as well as the Prickly Saltwort (Salsola kali), whose sharp angular stem has cut many a hasty finger. The small green flowers grow singly, and have three small green leaves at their base.
On the waste places and mud-banks near the sea shore the several species of Orache (Atriplex) flourish. Under the name of arrage or medlus they were known to our ancestors, who boiled the leaves for spinach. The foliage is covered with a granular mealiness, and their tiny blossoms are arranged in spikes, and vary in colour from green to red. The seeds are enclosed in two bracts, which enlarge after flowering, and are frequently covered by large warts.
On salt marshes, and occasionally on the cliffs, we may find the Sea Blite or shrubby sea-side Goosefoot (Suoeda fruticosa). It is somewhat rare. It has a stem some eighteen inches or more long, and small semi-cylindrical fleshy leaves. The greenish flowers grow between the leaf and stem. Sometimes the whole plant, which is soft and juicy, is tinged with red. It sometimes flowers as early as July, but in cold seasons it lingers on until autumn. Wherever, too, the mud is impregnated with brine, the Sea-Beet (Beta vulgaris) may be found. Its fleshy deep green-coloured leaves are ovate in shape; and as autumn proceeds they become tinged with red. The leaves are wholesome, and partake of the flavour of spinach. The flowers are small and green, and grow between leaves on the flower-stem. The red root is sweet, and forms a popular confection when candied with sugar, and it also forms a good pickle.
In August, too, on sandy shores, we shall find the succulent Sea-Purslane (Honkenya peploides), with its white flowers, and thick glossy egg-shaped leaves, which start from the creeping rhizome. The leaves grow on the stems in four cross-shaped distinct rows. This distinguishes it from all other sea-side plants. It grows in clumps, and is not uncommon.
The Sea-Holly or Eryngo (Eryngium maritimum) cannot be mistaken. Its rigid stem, prickly foliage, variegated with white veins, its umbels of chaffy heads of blue flowers, all mark the plant. Its roots have been candied for their tonic properties, and the young shoots of the plant are boiled as vegetables. The flower-heads, and those of the Sea-Lavender, form a pleasant remembrance of the sea-side sojourn, as they keep their form and no little of their colour for months.
The Asparagus (Asparagus officinalis) grows wild on several parts of the shore of the United Kingdom. Its virtues as a diuretic arc well known.
As the season passes onwards, and the glorious golden sunrises mark the shortening days, we shall find the Michaelmas Daisy, or Blue Camomile, as it is called (Aster tripolium); it is also known as sea-starwort and blue daisy. Its shrubby stems continue to bear their azure flowers until the frost nips the young buds. It received its scientific name because it was alleged that it changed its colour three times each day, and that it was white in the morning, purple at noon, and crimson in the evening. Its narrow leaves are of a pale green tint. Cattle are fond of the foliage, and the liking of swine for its bean-like roots gave it its common name of hog's-bean.
The salt marshes are tinged late in autumn by the bluish-green hue of the Sea-Southernwood (Artemesia maritima), which grows somewhere about a foot high on slender stems. The leaves, stalks, and flower-spikes are all of a dullish grey tint. It has the odour of lad's love - the common garden southernwood or "old man."
"These few pale autumn flowers,
How beautiful they are I Than all that went before, Than all the summer store,
How lovelier far!
"And why ? They are the last! The last! the last! last! last! Oh ! by that little word How many thoughts are stirred, The sister of the past! "