Suaeda arbusculoides

jelly bean plant


Suaeda arbusculoides

L.S.Sim. 1969

pronounced: soo-AY-duh ar-buss-ku-LOI-deez

(Amaranthaceae — the amaranth family)


common name: jelly bean plant

native 4This plant was formerly placed in Chenopodiaceae.

Suaeda is derived from the Arabic vernacular name for the plant; arbusculoides is from the Latin arbuscula, diminutive of arbor, a tree – like a small tree or shrub. The common name comes from the similarity of the plant’s leaves to those sweets.

This is a low-growing perennial herb found growing in salt marshes behind the mangroves on the northern Australian coast, south to about the Tropic of Capricorn in Western Australia, and right down the whole Queensland coast. It is generally found in poorly drained tidal areas, in sands and muds, with open salt pans and mangrove shrublands being common habitats. It is endemic to Australia, but is also found in other tropical coastal areas.
It is an erect, woody, often rounded subshrub to about 50 cm high, its young stems green or reddish and somewhat flexuous, and glabrous.

The leaves are sessile, oblanceolate or narrowly fusiform, 1 – 2 cm long and 2 – 3 mm wide; fresh leaves are almost circular in cross-section, or semicircular with one flat side.

The pale green flowers are bisexual, in axillary clusters usually of up to 5, subtended by 2 or 3 small, scale-like bracteoles. The perianth is succulent, with 5 lobes, sub-orbicular, green, fleshy, up to 2 mm wide. There are 5 tiny stamens and a superior ovary. The flowers are insect-pollinated.

The fruit is semi-globose, about 3.5 mm in diameter, and contains a single circular seed. The fruit is thought to be dispersed by birds.

The plant flowers and fruits throughout the year, but mainly in March and June. It is usually found as a single plant, although it is sometimes found penetrating several metres into a dense mangrove stand. Associated plants include Sporobolus virginicus , Avicennia marina, Lumnitzera racemosa, Tecticornia australasica and Batis argillicola.

There is no evidence of the plant’s being used by the Australian Aborigines, but in Vietnam the new tender leaves are sometimes eaten in times of hardship. The plant stores salt in its leaves, which wither and fall off when the concentration of salt becomes too high.

The plant photographed was growing in the salt flats at the rear of the mangroves at Cockle Bay.



The IPNI attributes this plant to L.S.Sm. (Lindsay Stuart Smith), and this appears to be correct. Kew and Tropicos both attribute it to the American L.B.Sm. (Lyman Bradford Smith). This is probably a copying mistake.


Photographs taken at Cockle Bay 2014
Page last updated 14th April 2019