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American Searocket Cakile edentula


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American Searocket - habit
credit: milesizz/CCSA

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Family: Brassicaceae, Mustard view all from this family

Description Low, fleshy, branching beach plant with pale lavender flowers.
Habit: native annual, biennial, or perennial herb; erect or prostrate stems, much branched, bushy; taprooted.
Height: 4-20 in (10-50 cm)
Leaf: alternate, fleshy, ovate to spatulate; edges are wavy, toothed, or scalloped.
Flower: 4 oblong petals, white to pale lavender, 0.25-0.6 in (6-18 mm) wide; sometimes without petals; held in loose terminal cluster.
Fruit: pod, two connected but unequal tear-drop shapes, 0.5-1.2 in (12-29 mm) long, 0.125-0.35 in (3-9 mm) wide; larger part is cork-like, floats when dried.

Flower July to October.

Habitat Coastal dunes, beaches and shorelines above high tide line; a pioneer species.

Range Native to the Atlantic coast, from Greenland and Labrador, south to Florida, west to Louisiana; naturalized around the Great Lakes from New York west to Illinois and Wisconsin; on the Pacific coast, introduced around 1880, now naturalized from Alaska to California.

Discussion Also known as sea rocket. Two varieties are recognized. Threatened in Illinois, rare in Pennsylvania. This plant, found on the ridge of wind-blown sand behind the high-tide line of beaches, gets its common name from the rocket-like shape of the seed pods. The succulent young stems and leaves have a pungent taste, somewhat like horseradish. Harper's Searocket (C. harperi), occurring from North Carolina to Florida, has much more angulate fruits. European Searocket (C. maritima), introduced from Europe and occurring along our northern beaches, has very deeply lobed leaves.