Wednesday, February 23, 2011

The Myth that Fruits, Flowers and Trees do not grow in Salt Water

Whereas most humans recognize that we live on an extremely beautiful planet consisting of mountains, oceans, rivers, forests and grasslands, most humans also recognize that some very ugly spots have developed on our planet as a result of adverse human activity. No other species on the planet has scarred the land more than humans through felled forests, jungles of concretes and unsanitary filthy human habitations. At the same time humans have the capabilities to restore the planet or parts of it to a healthy green state. One myth that stands in the way of greening the Earth is that trees and flowers do not grow in salt water and salty soils. Nothing could be further from the truth. While it is true that a large number of plants do not survive in salt water, there are also a very large number of plants that do rather well in saline conditions. The myth that plants do not grow in salty conditions needs to be busted. If it was so, the ocean floors would not be teeming with life.

Coconut palm, sea grape, pine oak, white ash,red cedar and the saw palmetto are all highly salt tolerant trees. No beach scene is complete without a coconut tree and these are excellent choices for planting near the sea, as are true date palms. Acacia Cyclops and Acacia Stenophylla will tolerate extreme salinity. There are madronas growing directly on salt-water sandspits and it is said, they won't grow unless within smelling distance of saltwater. It grows in climates ranging from those of California to Scotland. Salt cedar and salt bush do so well with salt they can be used to remove salt from the soil. The Beach Plum grows on the sand, along with Rosa Rugusa,which come in different sizes and colors. It is a fast-growing, giant evergreen, reaching 250'; and 6' in diameter, the Sitka spruce favors both freshwater and saltwater wetland areas where it often dominates. It is found along the Pacific coast from central Alaska to northern California and is common in Southern Alaska and northern British Columbia. It has has been introduced in Britain.

Ponderosa Pine is a magnificent, three-needle yellow pine. It grows rapidly, reaching 200 feet; with widths of 30 feet. They are excellent specimens for coastal planting, being very tolerant of salt spray. Pinus contorta is a fast growing, two-needle yellow pine closely related to Lodgepole pine. It is highly tolerant of poor soils and saline conditions, it occurs in the wild on sandy bluffs along the seashore and also in peat bogs at higher elevations, where it becomes a natural bonsai. Salix hookeriana (Hooker's Willow) is a a stout, stiffly branched shrub or small tree, to 20 ft, 4" showy catkins. It grows well near salt water.

Even some flowers can do well with saline water. Ice plant produces striking flowers and is an effective ground cover for erosion control on sandy soil. Other flowers that grow in saline water include sunflowers, groundcover gardenia and hellebore. Statice, also called sea flower or limonium, can even be grown successfully along the highly saline Dead Sea coast. Bougainvillea, jasmine and oleander tolerate saline conditions. Pomegranates are said to perform well in salty conditions too. In countries where drought is common and fresh water is lacking, it is becoming increasingly necessary to develop strains of saline-tolerant food plants. Researchers have successfully created strains of beets, spinach, sugarcane and rice that grow where the saline water table is high. Oil crops like rapeseed and livestock fodder such as sweet clover, white clover and lucerne can also be grown in saline conditions.

The list of plants that will grow in salty conditions as indicated here is by no means exhaustive. Even a cursory search on the Internet will reveal more. What is needed in different parts of the world where saline conditions exist and where only salt water is available for irrigation is to create experimental nurseries where different plants are grown in salt water so as to discover which do the best in the area. These can then be propogated in surrounding areas. With human ingenuity there is absolutely no reason why the Sahara and other regions near sea coasts that are presently barren should continue to remain so. The Arab countries need not be desert countries. A democratic revolution is on in the Arab world. Hopefully it will be followed by a green revolution.

A side benefit of growing such salt water forests will be that they will result in carbon capture from the atmosphere and help improve climate on the planet. Some recent studies indicate that climate extremes may be due to to reducing tree cover on the planet rather than increased carbon dioxide. Either way more trees and green will help. Therefore there is a need for the entire world to contribute in improving the planet as a whole. Perhaps it is for countries like Australia that have suffered the most from climate change to play a leading role in organising such international efforts. Much more results will be produced in this direction than in failed attempts to cap carbon emissions through burning of fossil fuels. That is something that will take place on its own as we run out of fossil fuels. The greening of the planet on the other hand will not take place for a long time unless man intervenes actively.


Vincent said...

This is good news, Ashok, but I am not sure where the news comes from, and what evidence exists to show that belief in a "myth" has prevented planting in places you say could be utilised for growing food.

I was born in Perth, Western Australia, and my father, whom I have only met briefly, told me that great areas of barren land around Perth do have water underground, but it is saline and cannot be used for irrigation. I would think it strange if in matters of such importance for economic and physical survival, myths would have deterred people from experimenting with possibilities; unless those myths were underpinned by religious or cultural beliefs, such as those which prevent Hindus controlling the population of cattle, or eating beef.

(I'm not suggesting that Hindus are wrong to uphold their myths, by the way, or indeed that it would be desirable to abandon those myths.)

ashok said...

Hi Vincent good to have you back. I too thought that nothing worthwhile can grow in areas with saline soil and where the ground water or even surface water is saline until my recent studies.

In a region near Jaipur (called Phulera)I was told by people that they do not farm because their water is saline. However they were trying to grow things like wheat that was growing in nearby areas and had grown in their area too in earlier times when the water was not saline.

More research is needed in this direction to find plants that will grow in the saline conditions under particular climates. Research is also needed to see the effect of long term irrigation by saline water on soil. As I mentioned in the post the first step is to set up a research station in saline areas networked with other such stations around the world to exchange information. And then based on that finding to propogate further cultivations in that area.

Life does not come to an end under saline conditions as we find in the oceans and as regards land we just have to find and introduce the right kind - food plants or forests of trees.

Humans cannot drink salt water since they are fresh water animals but as regards food it is different.It is true that food such as spinach grown in salty water has a higher salt content but that is not a problem for humans since they add salt to food. it only means they will not need to add that salt.

Yes it is surprising that some myths prevail for long periods for unexplained reasons and prevent humans from venturing in certain directions.

ashok said...

There is a lot of information on salt tolerant plants available by googling on the internet for those who wish to pursue this idea further.

keiko amano said...


Yes, I searched through Yahoo Japan and Google and found the way to improve saline soil, graphs to show the level of tolerance for each vegetable and so on. I also see a Japanese company name that specializes in improving water. They sell their products to improve water as well as sending specialists to overseas. It seems the Japanese market has been saturated with such technology, and they need to expand to other countries. What I'm impressed is that the specialists the company hires is 50% are 50 or older, and 15% are 60 or older. The company name is CTC, but probably, other companies like it could be available. Good for them, and it makes sense. Older engineers have good experiences. Most Japanese companies only hire young people.

ashok said...

Hi Keiko,

There are two aspects here, the first is of improving saline soil and water and the other is trying to improve and find plants for which no improvement in soil or water is needed. Work is certainly required on both aspects.

It does make sense to hire older people where knowledge and experience are critical inputs whereas where much physicaland busy activity is required younger persons appear to be the best choice.

keiko amano said...


Yes, I realized what you wrote.
But if we need to grow vegetalbles on poor soil, then we need to improve soil and water. I rather add salt to my vegetables than buy the vegetables with high salt content.

I didn't mean to promote Japanese products or services. That's not my intention, but I read a few sites connected with ODA, and they work in Aphganistan, Iraq, and other difficult area.

ashok said...

Keiko, it is great to hear about he Japanese side from you. many of us know in the English speaking world know so little about it because of the language barrier. That is why it is great to have a Bilingual person like you interacting.

I am looking forward to hearing about Bonsai and Sushi from you as well with nice pictures in your blog someday if you get to those topics. I enjoyed others about Tea and Kana Shodo exceedingly.

keiko amano said...


I don't know much about bonsai, and I only eat sushi. I'm glad you like kana shodo and ocha.

About farming and forestation, there must be many Japanese experts near retirement or retired, but want to share their knowldege and volunteer like Iida-san. Those people don't want to sit around at home. They want to go overseas and make a difference. Maybe, you can write a proposal and apply for a grant. But I heard Jaipur is a nice area, so maybe you have to select more barren looking place to make a difference. What do you think?

ashok said...

Sounds like a very good idea Keiko. It will be wonderful to have Japanese experts in areas of my interest - greening the land, child education, retirement resorts, philosophical studies, technical education etc.

There are lots of degraded areas very near Jaipur that can do with some work.

I have so many areas of interest I do not know which to focus on for this international exchange and where to apply for a grant. With Lida san it could be in child education and we do need lots of work in that area.

However I shall think more on your suggestion. Can you elaborate more ?

keiko amano said...


Iida-san had gone to Paraguay for several years and taught about concrete in their high school or specialized school. Also, I was reading Luciana's blog about United Nation Volunteer programs.
Maybe you can find out what to do how to receive those volunteers.

I don't know how barren the area you are talking about. But I'm all for improving water and soil quality and produce enough vegetables for the people who need them, and of course, provide education.

My daughter went to Kyrgyzstan and tried to raise money to set up a children's clinic and so on. I think she wrote letters to embassies and so on. If she can do it, you certainly can do that.

keiko amano said...

In Facebook, I just asked Sharon Hawley about grant proposal writing and send her your blog post. She has gone to Pakistan to help people, so she might know what to do or where to go and receive help for such projects.

ashok said...

Thanks for all these wonderful suggestions Keiko. As soon as I clear my desk of a few pending tasks I shall put my mind to the possibility of grants. I am interested in both projects -child education as well as land improvement and it might be possible to combine these and include education about land conservation and improvement in the education program.. It would be fun to have you, lida san and sharon visit and contribute to this project.

keiko amano said...


I would help in communication between countries for the purpose of peace anytime. I'm not a civil engineer or a farmer, but if Iida-san's wife teaches kana shodo in India or other countries, I would love to be a helper. The blog "Kana Shoto Part 1" is still number one among mine. It is amazing. The other day, 30 views hit from South Korea. I think they were looking at the Kana Shodo site. I wonder if it is a boom.

ashok said...

That sounds wonderful Keiko. Your Kana Shodo blog is sure going places.
You are a virtual ambassador of Japanese arts and culture to the western world and can contribute much more than Kana Shodo.

Perhaps you might ask Lida san and his wife if they agree to set up a foundation of Japan-India education and culture exchange with the two of us as members and perhaps one more from USA like lida san then we could think of some project for introducing Japanese culture in local schools here. I can contact schools here but all this will need a grant from some charitable organisation or goverment to make the travel and stay possible. It is easier for a foundation to raise funds than individuals. The foundation can be launched as a blog with shared writers but perhaps it would need to be registered in Japan or USA. We can think of very useful projects for kids and lida san already has some.

keiko amano said...


Sharon replied as follows.
"Keiko, I write proposals for Hope Development Organization, an NGO in Pakistn, but India is different. It takes a lot of research into which donor organizations might be interested in a particular project. Lately, donations are way down, 60% or more due to economic sickness and also the protesting in Asian countries. Wish I could be more helpful. I say, hunker down, it will likely get worse."

I think the economy is bad everywhere. In the meantime, you can wait for a good opportunity and be ready for it.

ashok said...

Yes I read what Sharon wrote on my facebook wall. Sharon is right and you are right when you say that we should wait for a good opportunity. I shall remain open to one and let you know if one comes along.

Irfan Hilal Ahmed said...

Dear Mr Ashok
thank you for this marevellous article. Sorry i have entered the conversation quite late. Can you please inform some fruits that may grow on medium to high saline water?



ashok said...

You are welcome Irfan. Better late than never. Coconut palm is a green fruit to explore and it is such a useful tree with a very nutritious fruit. The precise climate and conditions of each are determine what can grow. the main thrust of this article is that do not give up on a saline area and that there is enough variety on the planet so that somethings will grow well in any area where other life forms, especially humans can survive.

Rick Cockbain said...

A big sheet of plastic to capture humidity. I mean really big. Almost like a floating greenhouse farm.

ashok said...

Something like a solar still Rick? Another idea that has ben explored is condensing moisture on tubes cooled with solar refrigeration. Techniques are there to produce water in deserts but the economics gets in the way often.

Jason Perez said...

As I search the web for my unanswered question, I have stumbled on your blog. Everthing is impossible until it is done. Thank you for your positive view on a possible solution. I will one day post my results of my experiments. One which includes a full enclosed saltwater auquaponics system. I have a complete freshwater closed system and will continue untilled I have a complete saltwater system. The possibility to use a greenhouse effect for fresh water to be introduced seem sustainable on a small scale , in which i can try to reproduce.
Thank you.

ashok said...

Thanks Jason. Delighted that my article has encouraged you to proceed. Please do share your results here or links to it. It will help others who stumble upon this post from time to time searching for similar answers. If some part of your experiments do not succeed at first do try with variations and you surely shall, especially if you look for examples and guidance in nature, even rare instances. My Best Wishes in your efforts.