Tamarisk aka Tamarix

Folknames: Salt Cedar, Tamarisk

Description: There are over 50-60 species of flowering plants in the family of Tamaricaceae native to the dry regions of Eurasia and Africa. It was named after the Tamaris River in Hispania Tarraconensis of Spain. They are evergreen and/or deciduous trees or shrubs that can grow upwards of 1-18 eters in height, they are known to create dense thickets. The largest is the Tamarix aphylla growing to 18 meters tall. They have slender branches, grey-green foliage, the bark of the young shoots are smooth and reddish brown, which becomes bluish-purple ridged and furrowed with age. Leaves are scale-like similar to junipers, hosting 1-2 mm long leaves that overlap one another along the stem, often encrusted with salt secretions. They blossom pink to white flowers in dense masses along 5-10 cm long spikes at their branch tips from March to September. They are fire adapted with long tap roots allowing to intercept deep water tables and they take up salt from deep groundwater accumulating it on their foilage.

Cultivation: They spread vegetatively by adventitious roots or submerged stems, and sexually by seeds. Each flower produces thousands of 1 mm diameter seeds. They are propgated by cuttings.

Habitat: Saline soils with upwards of 15,000 ppm soluble salt and/or alkaline conditions. Originally from Eurasia and Africa, they are today found throughout the world including the American southwest and California as an invasive species. It was introduced to the U.S. as an ornamental shrub in the 1930s for controlling soil erosion.

Used as food plants by the larvae of some Lepidoptera species. Used as an ornamental shrub, wind breaks, and shade trees. Wood is used in carpentry and firewood. They are used in China as antidesertification programs. They are planted to mine salts then used in production of fuel and fertilizer. They

In the “Epic of Gilgamesh”, Tamarisk is used combined with soapwort as a bath that Gilgamesh’ mother, the Goddess Ninsun for ceremonial bathing. The Bible refers to Tamarisk in Genesis 21:33 as Abraham was recorded to have planted a tamarisk at Beer-sheba by a well he built. In 1 Samuel 22:6 Saul is mentioned sitting under a tamarisk tree on a hill at Gibeah where he learned that David returned to Judah. In Shahnameh, only a tamarisk arrow to the eye can wound the invincible Prine esfandiar. In the Old Testament, Saul’s bones were buried under a Tamarisk tree in Jabesh.

Cultural history
In the Epic of Gilgamesh, Gilgamesh’s mother, the goddess Ninsun, ceremoniously bathes in a bath of “tamarisk” and soapwort before allowing Gilgamesh and Enkidu to begin their conquest. The Tamarisk tree held the body of Osiris for a time in Byblos until retrieved by Isis in Egyptian mythology. The Tamarisk is a favorite tree of the Greek God Apollo.

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