Order XXXIX. Salsolaceae, Moquin.—Saltworts.
Atriplices, Jussieu.—Chenopodeae, R. Brown.—Chenopodiaceae, Lindl.
Characters.—Calyx deeply divided, persistent, with an imbricated Eestivation. Corolla 0. Stamens usually inserted into the receptacle or base of the calyx, opposite the segments of the latter, and equal to them in number or fewer. Staminodia (squamulae hypogynae) in a few genera, very minute, alternate between the filaments and with the segments of the calyx. Ovary single, superior, or occasionally adhering to the tube of the calyx, with a single amphitropal ovule attached to the base of the cavity; style in 2 or 4 divisions, rarely simple; stigmas undivided. Fruit membranous, utriculate, sometimes a caryopsis, rarely a berry. Seed with or without farinaceous albumen; embryo curved or annular (cyclolobeae), or in a flat spiral (spirolobeae).—Herbs or under-shrubs sometimes jointed. Leaves usually alternate, without stipules. Flowers very small, regular, hermaphrodite or sometimes by abortion unisexual. (From Lindley chiefly.)
Properties.—The plants of this family are characterized by the large quantity of alkali which they contain, and which is combined with an organic acid. Those which inhabit salt marshes are called halophytes (from άλς,salt, and φυτόν, a plant), and by combustion yield barilla (see vol. i. p. 514). Those in most common use for this purpose belong to the genera Salsola, Salicornia, and Chenopodium.
Many of the plants are esculent, and some of them are used as pot-herbs or salads; as spinach (Spinacia oleracea) and beet (Beta vulgaris). The latter is extensively cultivated and employed as a source of sugar; and a variety of it, called Mangold-Wurzel, is used for feeding cattle. The seeds of Chenopodium Quinoa are employed in Peru as food, under the name of petty rice; their starch grains are the smallest known.
Volatile oil is found in several, which owe their aromatic,carminative, stimulant, and anthelmintic properties to it.