Many of the ponds in the hills of our area are quite alkaline, salts discourage plant growth around the edges. As the ponds dry out, a fringe of white alkali salts frames the edges of these ponds. Only salt tolerant plants (saltworts) can grow in this medium.
Salicorum (pickleweed) is 30 cm succulent herb that germinates and roots in the spring, then grows to about 30 cm tall in summer. As we hike past the ponds, the plants are unremarkable, and look like a leafless weed. It would be a rare sight to see them harvested in Western Canada today, but in some parts of the world, the pods are collected and eaten raw or cooked as a green, a flavoring oil, or as a salty pickle. It is also used as animal feed or in soap-making.
We pay little attention to the pickleweed until September when the plants turn bright red. Most of these ponds retain some water, and a white ring of salts covers the wet surrounding muds, then in the drying zone, bright red pickleweed colors the basin until the first frosts of fall. After the grassland foliage has turned brown and even the greenest plants have faded in the hot sun, crimson pickleweed stands out, piquing our interest. Some of the best ponds are in the middle grasslands of Lac du Bois, or in the hills near the Trans-Canada Highway near Afton Mine.
We clamber down through the coarse weeds to the ponds to taste the salty pickleweed pods and to take a few pictures each year as fall approaches.