How commercial agriculture of Halophytes can aid humans in the future
Problems facing humans
Loss of arable land
Encroaching of human civilization
Damage from modern agriculture practices
Modern irrigation practices have caused lands to become more saline (Zahran 1982)
Lack of fresh water
Lands where the only water source is the ocean or salt lakes
These types of land cover approx. 7% of the Earth's surface (Zahran 1982)
What are halophytes?
These are plants from over 80 families which through convergent evolution have developed ways to deal
with large amounts of salt in the water they uptake (Epstein 1985)
Types of salt excretion
Salt bladders present on the leaf surface burst and cover the leaf with a shiny substance that
Others have salt hairs present on the stem that excrete excess salt.
Some plants have stomatal guard cells that are controlled by the sodium ion. Therefore
the plants control their transpiration in accordance to the amount of salt present in the environment
How can these halophytes help us humans?
Use to reclaim soils (O'Leary 1984)
Plant halophytes in order to harvest salt from the soil
This is a good idea, but it will not work in the real world.
Use as forage or fodder crops (O'Leary 1984)
The most reasonable of these two strategies would be to seed a field with crops and let animals
eat the uncultivated plants, i.e. do not irrigate or weed the plants
Some plants have been found to work in fodder, these will be discussed later
Use for multiple use irrigation (O'Leary 1984)
This is a type of irrigation, which uses multiple crops, each one with different salinity tolerances.
Fresh water is used on crop A which has low tolerance. The runoff is collected and used on crop
B which has a slightly higher tolerance. The runoff is then collected and used of Crop C and so
forth. At the end the water can collect in algae pools or the salt can be harvested by evaporation.
Replace present crops with more salt tolerant ones (O'Leary 1984)
As the production of present crops becomes worse and worse, the present crops may eventually
have to be replaced.
The most likely kinds of crops.
Forage and/or fodder (Gallagher 1985)
Some species such as Spartina alternifora Loisel have been shown to be preferred by cattle
grazing in fields where they grow wild.
Another species, Sporobus virginicus, has a high ash content and can be used in fodder.
One way of using halophytes is to substitute it for alfalfa. Lower amounts of halophytes could
be used to provide the same salt content found in higher amounts of other crops.
Grain or Seed Crops (O'Leary 1984)
Distichlis is a halophyte whose seed has the same baking characteristics and flavor of wheat
Salicornia bigelovii is a good oil-seed. It has high levels of both oil and protein. It could be used
like an olive oil and the leftover seed husks can be added to chicken feed.
Fuel Crops (O'Leary 1984)
In many parts of the world people are beginning to grow fuel crops commercially. Mangroves
are good plants to grow, they burn slow and hot, and they can be grown in places where it was
Landscape plants (O'Leary 1984)
People are starting to think that irrigating landscape plants with fresh water is bad. Many golf courses out west have started using gray water for irrigation. In coastal areas, people could use brackish water to irrigate the plants used around their house.
How to get halophytes used in agriculture quickly
Research (O'Leary 1984)
Scientists need to start learning about halophytes and their potential uses. First they should create a large bank of halophyte germplasm. They must then find out the different levels of salt tolerance in each plant and catalog them. After this they can screen them for beneficial properties. Farmers come in the next phase. They must create a large supply of seeds and then distribute them and have the farmers test different ways to grow the crops. Genetic techniques can then be used to increase the desirable traits in the crops.
Lack of research
Lack of public knowledge on the subject
Lack of farmers willing to take a risk on new crops
Epstein, E. (1985). Salt tolerant crops: origins, development, and the prospects of the concept. Plant
and Soil. 89: 187-198.
Gallagher, J. L. (1985) Halophytic crops for cultivation at seawater salinity. Plant and Soil 89: 323-336.
O'Leary, J. W. (1984). The role of halophytes in irrigated agriculture. From Tolerance in plants: strategies
for crop improvement, ed. Staples, R. C. New York: John Wiley & sons.
Zahran, M.A. and Wahid, A. A. A. (1982). Halophytes and human welfare. Tasks for vegetation science.
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