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Beta vulgaris - Sea Beet

Phylum: Magnoliophyta - Class: Equisetopsida - Order: Caryophyllales - Family: Amaranthaceae

Sea Beet growing in coastal shingle

Despite its species name being vulgaris, apart from in coastal locations Sea Beet is not particularly common, but its distinctive spikes of tiny clustered flowers make it very easy to identify.

Description

Up to a metre in height, Beta vulgaris is a much-branching sprawling perennial (sometimes biennial) plant. The stems are hairless, as also are the large, shiny eaves, which are leathery but very variable in shape; some are lanceolate, others more triangular or heart-shaped. Occasionally the leaf stems are reddish, but more often they are green.

Leaves and flower spike of Sea Beet

Flowers of Sea Beet are tiny (typically 2 to 5mm across) and tend to remain in bud for a long time before opening; they have no true petals, five green sepals, sometimes tinged with purple, and five short stamens, eacg topped by a pale yellow anther. Flowers are borne upon long, grooved pale-green stems.

Sea Beet flowers

Distribution

Sea Beet in a native species and can be found in England, Wales, Scotland and Ireland, where it occurs in mainly coastal locations, as it does also throughout most of Europe and North Africa. Its natural range extends into eastern Asia.

Habitat

As the common name suggests, Sea Beet is mainly a coastal species. This salt-tolerant perennial grows in exposed coastal shingle and on dunes..Plants do also occur occasionally on inland sites.

In Britain and Ireland Sea Beet produces its clustered spikes of tiny greenish flowers from June until early September.

Etymology

Beta, the genus name, is the ancient Latin name for beetroot. It may have its origin in the Celtic adjective Bett, meaning red - a reference to the reddish roots and leaf stems of various varieties of beets (including the various kinds of beetroots and chards, which are cultivated forms of Beta vulgaris).

The specific epithet vulgaris comes from Latin and means common.

Uses

It is from Sea Beet that the many cultivars of Beetroot and Chard were derived..

Similar Species

Sea Beet is sometimes mistaken for Common Sorrel, Curled Dock and other members of the knotwwed family.

The pictures of Sea Beet shown on this page were taken on the Wales Coast Path betwween Llandudno and Deganwy.


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