Bladder saltbush (Atriplex vesicaria) in the Western Australian rangelands

Page last updated: Wednesday, 29 April 2020 - 4:29pm

Bladder saltbush (Atriplex vesicaria) is one of many plant species found in the Western Australian rangelands.

This page provides a summary of the plant's value for pastoralism. Pastoral lessees and station managers can use this information to assess pasture condition and trend.

Indicator value

Bladder saltbush is a reliable indicator of good pasture condition. It has a high drought tolerance, but will decrease under heavy grazing. Populations regenerate well on the Nullarbor, but are slow to recover in the Murchison and Gascoyne regions. Viable seed production occurs only over winter and recruitment of new plants is also restricted to winters with effective rainfall. Bladder saltbush is often restricted to areas more than about 3 kilometres from long-established livestock water points because of grazing pressure.

Forage value

Bladder saltbush is a valuable livestock feed, but will shed its leaves in long, dry periods. The usefulness to livestock can be limited by a high salt load (up to 15%). Sheep and cattle will graze it readily, provided they have access to good quality drinking water.

Regeneration

Bladder saltbush is a relatively short-lived (~25 years), shallow-rooted shrub. It germinates readily over the cooler months. Seedlings and young plants are very common after good rains. Bladder saltbush cannot withstand any type of fire. Saltbush regeneration is by seed alone, therefore grazing pressure must be reduced post-fire to minimise the risk of exhausting the seed bank. Valuable bladder saltbush has been completely eliminated in some areas by poor grazing management.

Habitat

Salt lake margins, saline drainages, alkaline loams and clays

General description

Bladder saltbush is a low-growing shrub to 40–80cm. The stems become brittle and woody within 4–6 months. The leaves are fleshy when growing conditions are favourable, 1–2.5cm in length, and are carried on very short stalks. The leaves are oval and silver grey-green with a light grey mealy surface appearance. Male plants produce slender dense spikes with globular clusters of very small flowers at the ends of the youngest branches. Flowers on the female plants are borne in the upper leaf axils; these develop into leaf-like structures about 5mm across, usually with a pair of spongy appendages attached at the base.

Contact information

Matthew Fletcher
+61 (0)8 9166 4019
Kath Ryan
+61 (0)8 9166 4015