Celebrating with Searockets

Coastal Searocket

From neighborhood bottle rockets to the dramatic skyrockets of Independence Day fireworks shows, the sound and color of American July 4th celebrations recall the “rockets’ red glare” of our national anthem.

A different rocket — the Coastal Searocket (Cakile lanceolata) — celebrates in its own way in the sandy soils of coastal Texas.  Named for rocket-shaped pods that bear two seeds, it easily could be missed because of its low growth habits and tiny flowers.

Occuring naturally in beach dunes and coastal strands, the plant tolerates salt, drought, wind, and the inundation that comes with storm surge. Well suited for dune stabilization, it attracts a variety of bees and butterflies, and is the larval host for the Great Southern White (Ascia monuste phileta).

Like other members of the mustard family (Brassicaceae or Cruciferae), the plant’s stems and leaves are edible, either raw or cooked. That said, I doubt that many holiday parties will include a bowl of searocket next to the potato salad and coleslaw. It’s reported to be tasty, but it’s hardly traditional.


Comments always are welcome.

37 thoughts on “Celebrating with Searockets

    1. I haven’t yet, but when I come across it again, I will. When I first found it, I had no idea what it might be, and I make it a practice not to taste unfamiliar plants. I suspect it will be a bit peppery, like mustard: unlike glasswort, which has a cleaner, saltier taste.

  1. I am just as happy that people will not be including it in their salads. Let it be, I say.

    1. For those who enjoy a mustard taste, there are greens galore being cultivated, and they’re much easier to prepare. I did notice another use for searocket that intrigued me. It’s said that its boiled leaves make a good wound treatment; that’s a bit of information that might justify plucking a few in some unfortunate future.

  2. I enjoyed this introduction to the sea rockets, Linda, and heard myself chuckle at the thought of a bowl of it on the holiday table next to the potato salad. Happy Fourth!

    1. You might enjoy this article, Jet. It outlines the differences between two searockets on the central California coast: the American, which is native, and a European species that’s been moving in. There’s an interesting link inside the article to the West Coast Cakile Project, designed to track the plants’ movements. Your native species also is found on the east coast, and around the Great Lakes; that’s one traveling plant!

      1. Thank you for the article, Linda. A very interesting plant and one that I hope to become familiar with. The photos in that article were good because they offered several different stages for easier identification. Thank you.

    1. I thought the grains of sand looked a lot like glitter — rather celebratory, too. I do love fireworks of all sorts, and these floral ones are especially appealing.

    1. It is pretty and it is little, which may help to explain why this was the first year I noticed it. There are so many ‘little pretties’ on the beaches that I never noticed, because I was more interested in shells and such. I hope your Independence Day’s a good one, too. Do you have a lot of neighborhood fireworks? How does Monkey handle them? (Or is this his first July 4th? I can’t remember.)

    1. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve wished I could relive my years in California and Utah; then, I didn’t care one thing about plants, and not much more about geology. I sure missed a lot. I’m just glad I was introduced to the wealth of Texas’s native plants — I’ve got a chance now to experience them, and it sure is fun.

    1. Many of these edible plants are so widespread there’s plenty to share with the few people who might want to add some to a salad. Beyond that, preparation can be tedious. I suspect (but don’t know) that native tribes along the coast probably consumed them as part of their diet, but they didn’t have pre-washed greens at the grocery store. I’ll taste the plant the next time I find it, otherwise I’ll stick with my romaine and spring greens!

  3. I’m assuming those bead looking things encrusting the searocket plant are sand grains. They look like those tiny cylindrical clear glass beads, which is an interesting look.

    1. You’re right. That is sand. I was surprised by how sparkly it seemed; it would be interesting to compile macro photos of sand from different Texas beaches, to see if Padre Island is more sparkly than Galveston, and so on. I have no idea — it might all look the same, but it all would be pretty.

    1. I’d say the flowers are about a half-inch across, or a little less. They’re about the size of Scarlet Pimpernel, or Geranium carolinianum. They’re cute as can be, and I really enjoyed the way the sand decorated them.

  4. Rocket is a very popular addition to salads but I don’t know about sea rocket. It just takes an article or a clever chef to promote it and in no time people want to be seen eating outside and with plates of sea rocket.

    1. I vaguely remembered you mentioning rocket in the past. I looked it up, and found it’s what I know as Arugula, or Eruca vesicaria sativa . It’s a big seller in our grocery stores, usually in combination with other greens. Unlike our native sea rocket, arugula is native to the Mediterranean and other areas — but it cultivates well here, and the chefs and haute cuisine sorts have made it sort of a thing. As a matter of fact, the Wiki says, “The Oxford English Dictionary dates the first appearance of “arugula” in American English to a 1960 article in The New York Times by food editor and prolific cookbook writer Craig Claiborne.”

    1. It’s sand. Had I not cropped away some of the leaves to better show the flowers, it would have been more obvious, as the leaves were carrying a pretty good load of sand. I agree that the crystals add to the image. I was surprised by how sparkly they were.

    1. What a nice thing, Derrick. Oddly enough, the Queen’s Jubilee prompted me to read the words of “God Save the Queen” for the first time. I learned that the lyrics are somewhat elastic, and verses have been added or omitted over time. That means the parodies we sang in grade school weren’t entirely out of order. I’m sure you found that our national anthem was written some decades after the Revolutionary War. It was written by Francis Scott Key on September 14, 1814, during the War of 1812, and adopted as the U.S. national anthem in 1931.

    1. Isn’t that sand fun? Seeing it with a macro lens lets the individual grains really sparkle and shine. It’s like the little plants got all dolled up for the holiday!

  5. I see that Steve beat me to the first question that came to mind. I’d guess it has some semblance of the mustard flavor many folks put on their 4th burgers and dogs. That’s one tough little plant to survive where it does and withstand the vagaries of coastal weather. In a way it reminds me of the Coastal Goldenrod on the rocks in my recent Acadia post. There seems to be a plant for every niche.
    The mention of trying plants for flavor reminded me of a “weed” that pops up in our garden and had been in previous gardens in other living situations. Purslane, which I first heard mentioned in a Shakespeare work, is a low growing plant with a taste similar to cucumber. We’ve added it to salads although not in a while. Maybe you’ll develop a taste for “Sea Rocket” vinaigrette.

    1. After learning that the British term for arugula is ‘rocket,’ I suspect that it does have the same sort of peppery taste. I’m not so fond of arugula ‘straight,’ but it’s a nice addition to salads, and sea rocket probably serves the same purpose. As for your purslane’s cucumber taste, that reminds me of borage, which has leaves that taste cucumber-like, and sweet flowers. When I first tasted those in combination, I thought of them as a tea party in a plant.

      I think I might have missed this plant in the past because it seems to prefer the backside of the dunes, or very sandy soil. I’ve tended to focus on the shore-facing side of the dunes in the past, or the coastal marshes. On the other hand, it is a small plant, and could easily disappear beneath grasses and other plants.

  6. Interesting. This one is completely new to me. I love the little grains that have settled on the plant, it really adds that sense of context, of it being a coastal plant and of the water level coming up and down. You do have me curious what a little searocket-slaw would taste like.

    1. In the case of these plants, I doubt they’ve ever been inundated. They were far enough inland that only a storm surge could reach them, and thank goodness we haven’t had a storm surge in a couple of years. It’s far more likely that blowing sand settled on them. They were growing in an area where the only road cutting down the coast has signs that urge drivers to “Watch for Blowing Sand.” A stiff south wind can cover the road with drifts — and decorate any plants around with a bit of the sparkly stuff.

      I’ve read the flavor described as mustardy, sharp, and slightly bitter. That sounds like Arugula to me, but the next time I find some I’ll give it a try.

    1. I always admire these tiny plants that thrive in what we’d consider difficult conditions. This one’s particularly adaptable, and besides — it looks great with those grains of sand decorating it.

    1. We have so many pretty coastal plants, and a good number of them are tiny, like this one. It makes poking around on both sides of the dunes great fun — even people sometimes feel asthough they’re in Shangri-La!

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