Sea fennel characteristics

Characteristics of Crithmum maritimum

What plant is a sea fennel?

Common name: Rock samphire, sea fennel, Peter’s cress

Scientific name: Crithmum maritimum L.

Taxonomic synonym: Foeniculum maritimum minus. Bauh.

Habitat: Common plant in coastal areas, rocky terrain, cliffs, sandy soils and in places where rock splashes reach.

Widely distributed throughout the Mediterranean Sea, the Cantabrian coast, the European Atlantic coast and North Africa.

Halophilous coastal plant (tolerant of seawater salinity) and drought resistant. It grows in full sun, nitrogen-poor soils, slightly acidic, pH between 5 and 7.5.

Botanical characteristics of a sea fennel plant

rock samphire
General appearance of a rock samphire plant

Sea fennel (Crithmum maritimum), the only species belonging to the genus Crithmum, is a short woody plant native to Mediterranean coastal areas, the
European Atlantic coast and some areas of the Cantabrian coast.

It has thick rhizomes to protect itself from wind erosion and can form clumps up to 1.2 meters long. Its stems are long, thick, flexible and little branched. Glaucous green color like the leaves. Growing close to the ground, it does not usually reach heights greater than 70 centimeters.

rock samphire leaf
Rock samphire leaf

This plant is characterized by its fleshy, perennial, glaucous green leaves. The leaves divided, 1-2 or 3 pinnatisect; with three acute segments. They give off a strong lemony aroma and are used in food. The flavor is reminiscent of common fennel, from which it takes its common name.

The inflorescence is umbel-shaped. This plant can develop several umbels on the same branch, although the terminal umbels are the most developed. Each one has between 5 and 15

sea fennel umbel
An umbel of a sea fennel plant

bracts, which end in umbellules (smaller umbels) where the flowers are found.

Flowers minute, white or yellowish green. Hermaphrodites, consisting of five petals, five stamens, two styles and inferior ovary.

The fruit is an ellipsoidal achene, about 6 millimeters long. It contains two seeds inside, channel-shaped on one side and flat on the other.

The fruit is an ellipsoidal achene, approximately 6 millimeters long. It contains two seeds inside, ribbed in shape on one side and flat on the other.

It blooms at the end of summer, from July to October. The fruits ripen in October.

flower and fruit
In the image: flower (A) and fruit (B) of rock shamphire

Can this wild plant be collected?

Although it is an edible plant, rock samphire is a protected species in some areas, such as the Balearic Islands. Its collection is limited to those people with authorization from the Balearic Government.

Composition of sea fennel

  • Carbohydrates: sucrose, glucose.
  • Organic acids: malic acid and quinic acid.
  • Phenols: chlorogenic acid (first time this acid has been described in a halophilic plant such as sea fennel)
  • Essential oil: p-cymene, beta-phellandrene, gamma-terpinene, methyl ether, sabinene and thymol. These mono- and sesquiterpenes are what give sea fennel its distinguished flavor and aroma.

punto rojo More information on sea fennel

This article was endorsed by Julián Masats - Technical agricultural engineer specialized in horticulture and gardening.
Written by Editorial Botanical-online team in charge of content writing

17 March, 2024

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