This section is from the book "The Gardener's Monthly And Horticulturist V23", by Thomas Meehan. See also: Four-Season Harvest: Organic Vegetables from Your Home Garden All Year Long.
Few persons, unfamiliar with the sea coast, can have any idea of the rare beauty of its vegetation in the autumn season of the year. All American scenery is rich with the colored foliage and gay autumn flowers, but the peculiar vegetation gives the salt marshes a remarkable character of its own. By the Camden and Atlantic railroad the coast can be reached in about two hours from Philadelphia. The management of the road is a very enlightened one, and, appreciating the fact that the road through the marshes has of course no way station, where the passenger may stop and examine these beauties critically, authorized Isaac C. Martindale, the eminent banker-botanist of Camden, to get up a party of the lovers of art and nature, and placed a special train at his disposal to carry his friends, and stop wherever he desired along the way. Although with but two days to work in, by dint of night work friend Martindale managed to fill ten car loads with the most intelligent people of Camden and Philadelphia, and it was a treat as rare as it was rich to be able to wander among glories such as these.
To add to the obligations; the public owe to him for his great effort, he wrote and had printed, at his own expense, a popular sketch of the botany of the route, so that each one with a copy in his hand knew what was to be looked for among the floral curiosities, and the prominent features of their histories.
The immense area of flat land known as the "salt marshes," are just like one huge carpet of every shade of color. The so-called Mosaic flower gardens pale before this grand garden work of nature. Mr. Martindale, in the sketch referred to, thus speaks of some of the plants which give a chief character to this gorgeous effect:
" From Absecom the whole character of the flora is changed, for there we enter the salt marsh which too has its peculiar growth of plants. In mid-summer the sea-Lavender, Statice Limonium, with its flesh colored flowers on branching stems is quite abundant, and quite conspicuous. The great mass which forms the "salt hay," is made up of several species of grasses, sedges and rushes, most of which are classed under that perplexing order to young students, Cyperaceae. In the Autumn comes the most glorious sight of all in the coloring of the landscape by the abundant growth of Salicornia, commonly called Glasswort, Saltwort, Samphire or even " Pickle weed" which, so far as I know, is only a local appellation; the name Salicornia means salthorn, and was given by reason of the horn-like branches. Three species are found along the Alantic coast, which may be recognized by the following descriptions.
Salicornia ambigua, so named by the French botanist, Michaux, has numerous tufted stems from three to twelve inches long, either decumbent or ascending from a hard or rather woody base; this species clings very tightly to the soil by its creeping roots, and can only with difficulty be pulled; it sometimes turns lead color, but not often red with age, it is not so abundant or conspicuous as the others.
Salicornia herbacea is the most abundant species; it is usually quite branched, and becomes so highly colored as to be readily discernible a long distance away.
Salicornia Virginica is less branched, has thicker stems and differs somewhat in the arrangement of the flowers, which are quite inconspicuous; as the seeds approach maturity the specific distinctions are more readily perceived.
The last two species were described by Linnaeus, the noted Swedish botanist: Salicornia Virginica doubtless having been collected in Virginia by Clayton, also a noted botanist of that early day, while Salicornia herbacea, which grows in Europe as well as America, was probably seen in its place of growth by Linnaeus himself, but he never knew the beauty which it gives to the landscape as we are privileged to see it on the meadows between Absecom and Atlantic City, where it is believed to reach its full perfection.
The impression made upon the mind of the true lover of nature, when first beholding this contrast and glow of color, cannot be written - only the artist's touch can portray its effect, and it requires a master hand at that; many have tried but failed to give the light and shade and play of color which to it belongs. It has thus far been reserved to Frederic D B. Richards, a Philadelphia artist, to render ample justice to the scene; the work of his skill now adorns one of the windows on Chestnut street near Twelfth, and is the admiration of thousands of passers-by."
As a point of interest to the critical botanist it may be noted that Dr. Gray has found that the specimen on which Linnaeus founded his Salicornia Virginica was nothing but Salicornia herbacea. Dr. Bigelow, of Boston, first identified the plant, and named it Salicornia mucronata, which is therefore the name under which the plant should be known which is called Salicornia Virginica, in our text books. For this information we are indebted to Mr. Sereno Watson.