Fron Range Seed Analysts
1991 Seed Forum Volume 5 Number 2
SEEDS OF THE FRONT RANGE: CHENOPODIACEAE
Written by Jim Bruce
The Chenopodiaceae (the goosefoot or lambsquarter family) is very important to analysts along the Front Range. This family gives rise to numerous garden and field crops, some of the more drought and salt tolerant range species as well as many persistent weeds.
To the home gardener, the Chenopodiaceae is reflected in a number of common vegetable crops such as spinach, orache, Good King Henry, and the versatile Beta vulgaris. Vulgaris, when grown for the root, is commonly called beets, sugar beets, or mangold. When bred for the consumption of the leaves, we may call this species Swiss chard or spinach beet. The Indians of the region utilized this family for food. Lambsquarter, Russian thistle, and saltbush were often used as potherbs and the seeds were ground into flour. Chenopodium capitatum has an edible root which Native Americans utilized. The Aztecs developed quinoa into in staple food crop who's nutritive-value has just recently come to be-appreciated.
The lambsquarter family is important also as a range species in the West. Saltbushes, including four-winged saltbush and winterfat, are the most economically significant. Kochia, or the burning bush, is another economic species within the family. Kochia is an ornamental garden plant known for its red autumn color.
Despite it's economic uses, Chenopodiaceae is also a family of weeds. Kochia scoparia and salsola kali are common weeds in western crop fields. One species, halogeton, is on the noxious-weed seed list because it is poisonous to livestock, especially sheep. If one were to ask a child to go out and collect a "weed", a member of the goosefoot family would most likely be brought back.
I find the Chenopodiaceae an interesting family. By far the majority of species within this group are herbaceous annuals. Only a few species with a perennial, shrubby habit exist. When compared to the two previous families discussed in Seeds of the Front range, Rannunculaceae and Papaveraceae, this fairly large family seems drab and more vegetative than floral. Shoots and leaves develop strongly, leaving the flowers repressed and inconspicuous. The flowers remain green, inconspicuous, and seem to not free themselves from the sphere of vegetative life. They are actinomorphic and may be either unisexual or bisexual. on most of the weedy species the stems are jointed and appear leafless from a distance. The leaves are simple and fleshy, or reduced t o scales as found in Russian thistle. They are alternate, exstipulate, and generally have a scurry texture or are covered with hairs. (In cultivated species the leaves develop strongly and abundantly.)
Mainly annuals, weedy chenopods are species of disturbed soils, best adapted to droughty (xerophytic) and salty (halophytic) habitats. While they will endure droughts and thrive on the poorest, most crusted soils, they are most prolific on decaying organic matter. The fruit is the seed unit for this family and is a one-seeded, indehiscent achene or nutlet. There are a few cases where the seed unit is the true seed with attached ovary remnants. The nutlet may or may not have the attached, persistent calyx remnants.
The seed characteristics of the Chenopodiaceae form the taxonomic division of the family into two groups. The characteristics used are based on internal embryo structure.
Seeds of the first group, the Cyclolobeae have an embryo placement similar to other members of the Centrospermae. This embryo placement gives rise to kidney-shaped or lenticular seeds with a conspicuous hilum notch. The embryo is peripheral, encircling a central, abundant, and mealy to fleshy perisperm. The radicle-cotyledonary axis overlaps itself slightly giving the adhering testa a hilum notch. The testa is semi-smooth or minutely pitted making them shiny to dull in texture. The color varies from brown to black. often, as with many Chenopodiums, a thin, papery, reticulate pericarp adheres totally or partially to the seed and at times we find a persisting calyx or calyx remnants. With other members, such as four-winged saltbush, the calyx fuses and hardens to the achene forming a woody-like seed unit.
The Spirolobeae is the second of the groups. These seeds are obconic and spiral-shaped because internally the embryo twists spirally in a plane, or more commonly into a pyramid or coneshape. Perisperm is generally absent or very scanty. If present, the embryo divides it into two small masses. The testa is thin and papery. Russian thistle is our most prominent member of this group. As with the Cyclolobeae, we find seed units displayed as seeds, achenes, or achenes with an attached calyx.
Seed analysts generally don't have a hard time with this family. When problems do arise, the confusion is caused by not paying attention to shape and texture thus placing the seeds in other families, like the Amaranthaceae, or by the analyst forgetting that some species have more than one seed unit type.
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