Saltcedar (Tamarix spp.)
Saltcedar was originally introduced to the American east coast as an ornamental plant in the 1820s. By the 1870s, the plant was quickly spreading on its own and by the 1920s, saltcedar was considered to be a nuisance.
Also called tamarisk, saltcedar is not native to Texas and has invaded millions of acres of the Southwest, according to the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department.
It got its name because it oozes salt from its leaves, according to the Center for Invasive Species and Ecosystem Health.
Growing in dense thickets across river floodplains, saltcedar can consume large quantities of water, reducing the amount of water available for other plants, animals and humans. It can trap sediment and alter the shape of a river. It also provides little nutritional value for livestock and other grazers and, growing quite densely, can block access to water, according to TPWD.
The Texas Invasives website notes that saltcedars are spreading shrubs or trees that can range from 5 – 20 feet tall. They can have pale pink or white flowers and fruit and have long tap roots that allow them to intercept deep water tables and interfere with natural aquatic systems. They grow quickly, crowding out other native plant life, taking over areas and creating a fire and flood hazard.
“Invasive saltcedars have little economic value in the United States and are of little value to native wildlife; they are classified as a noxious and invasive plant by the State of Texas,” said a report by the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension office.
Saltcedar actually consists of several different species of plants, but each of them grows deep taproots. Because it is considered a “water hog,” the plant can increase the intensity of both wildfires and flooding, according to texasinvasives.org.
The saltcedar concern is long-standing. A study by the U.S. Forest Service on saltcedar in several watersheds notes that “on the Brazos River in Texas … this trend has continued over 40 years and has reduced the river's width by up to 71 percent in some places.”
That’s because the saltcedar can trap sediment, “reducing the width, depth, and water-holding capacity of river channels and increasing the frequency and severity of overbank flooding,” the Forest Service reports.
A report by the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension office states that saltcedar causes serious economic and environmental problems in Texas. Though it can be controlled with herbicides and by mechanical means, these methods are expensive, and desirable plants are sometimes harmed.
The TPWD has partnered with agencies and landowners since 2015 to manage saltcedar in the Brazos River headwaters region. Since 2016, 13,886 acres of invasive saltcedar has been treated on nearly 100 ranches along rivers and major creeks in the upper Brazos River basin, according to TPWD.
For more information on the TPWD program and how to take part as a landowner, email Brazos.Saltcedar@tpwd.texas.gov. And, check out this video from TPWD showing saltcedar treatment along the Brazos River.
The Texas A&M AgriLife Extension has recommended ways for landowners and homeowners to put a halt to saltcedar. Those can be viewed here.
Controlling saltcedar, however, is not a one-time job. Multiple treatments over several years are generally necessary to completely rid an area of this invasive.