Perhaps twice a month in the Morro Bay estuary, the highest tide sends saltwater up a shallow bank to drench the few plants brave enough to live there. The marsh rosemary, a stalwart member of this salt-marsh zone, handles the dunking in an inventive way. The plant extracts out the salt and pushes it to the bottom of its leaves. An upturned leaf reveals a glistening field of salt crystals. The rosemary and several other plant types live just above the pickleweed, the plant that can handle the most salt.
In early August, the marsh rosemary plants of the Morro Bay estuary had bloomed with small, lavender flowers. It is a color you might not notice with a sweeping glance, but by stopping and observing, you will see this soft hue, much like the color of a foggy sunset.
To find marsh rosemary plants, it is best to look during the bloom times of midsummer. In 2010, the blooms were profuse in early August. First, find the muddiest places where pickleweed grows. Then look for areas of higher ground above the pickleweed where the tide does not often reach. This is the zone for marsh rosemary. I was fortunate to attend a salt marsh walk sponsored by the Morro Bay Natural History Museum, which introduced me to the plant. The presenter, Fayla Chapman, provided outstanding information on the botany of the area.
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