Plant Profile Australian Saltbush

There are over 300 species in the Atriplex genus which forms part of the goosefoot (Chenopodiaceae) family. Around 50 of the species are found in Australia. The plants are multi-branched and includes shrubs, annuals and perennials. The leaves are fleshy and may be covered with fine whitish scales. These give the foliage a silvery or pale bluish look. The small flowers are usually of different sexes often on different plants. The plants are often found on saline soils hence the common term ‘saltbush’. Many are used as fodder species and for regeneration of salt land. Some are attractive in their own right and are used as specimen plants.

The saltbush is suited to hot, dry areas and also to salty environments. They are a good choice for exposed seashores. They require full sun and prefer a moderately fertile but well-drained soil.  If cut back hard, the foliage will thicken sufficiently to form a hedge.

Atriplex cinerea is also known as coast saltbush or grey saltbush. It grows to 3 metres and is a good choice for seaside areas. It is found on the temperate coasts of Australia and southern Africa. It is a dense shrub with bluish green leaves of about 5cm long. The male flowers are conspicuous with spikes of yellowish brown flowers and purplish bracts. Flowers appear in winter.

The creeping saltbush (Atriplex semibaccata) or diamond saltbush grows to 120cm and is widely distributed from coastal areas to the arid inland of south-eastern Australia. It also occurs in the southwest. It is a densely branched subshrub with prostrate stems. The small leaves are olive to grey-green. In summer, it has small clusters of insignificant flowers in the leaf axils. The fruits are flattened and diamond-shaped, orange to red in colour and succulent when fresh.

Atriplex rhagodioides is known as the silver saltbush and is found in New South Wales, Victoria, South Australia and Western Australia. It grows to 0.5 metres with a 2 metre spread. It has bluish-grey foliage and small creamish male and female flowers on separate plants. Flowering occurs through most of the year. It is a very hardy plant with decorative silver-grey foliage. It will tolerate hard pruning and foliage can be eaten by stock. It is also fire-retardant and frost resistant.

Atriplex nummularia is called Old Man Saltbush and comes from the inland areas of all states of Australia except for Tasmania. It grows to 1 metre with a spread of 4 metres. It is a dense shrub with bluish-grey foliage. Like the silver saltbush, small, creamish male and female flowers are borne on separate plants during most of the year. It is hardy, frost resistant and grown mainly for its foliage. It needs to be pruned to promote bushy growth. It is useful as a screening plant and can be used to form windbreaks. It is fire-retardant and frost-resistant.