A common and insignificant weed, but a member of an illustrious tribe of edible leafy vegetables, and a close relative of the garden Orach (A. hortensis). The species is variable, and so is the taxonomy; in Shafer’s Preliminary List of the Vascular Flora of Allegheny County, Pennsylvania, both Atriplex hastata and A. patula are recorded; but Gray makes A. hastata a variety of A. patula, and places it chiefly in salt marshes. The family Chenopodiaceae is included by many modern botanists as a subfamily of Amaranthaceae; but the current Flora of North America at efloras.org retains it as a separate family.
Flowers. Insignificant; in greenish branching spikes, terminal and in upper leaf axils, interrupted by small leaves.
Leaves. Narrowly hastate; that is, arrowhead-shaped, with lower lobes pointed outward or forward; mid-green above, more greyish below; on short slightly winged petioles; texture somewhat rubbery.
Stem. Thin, angular; producing small branches in leaf axils; smooth; bright green.
Gray describes the genus and the species:
ÁTRIPLEX [Tourn.] L. ORACH. Flowers monoecious or dioecious; the staminate like the flowers of Chenopoidium, but sterile by the abortion of the pistil; the fertile consisting simply of a naked pistil inclosed between a pair of appressed foliaceous bracts, which are enlarged in fruit, and sometimes united. Seed vertical. Embryo coiled into a ring around the albumen. In one section, including the Garden Orach, there are some fertile flowers with a calyx, like the staminate, but without stamens, and with horizontal seeds. — Herbs (ours annuals), usually mealy or scurfy with bran-like scales and with spiked-clustered flowers; in summer and autumn. (The ancient Latin name, a corruption of the Greek, atraphaxis.)
A. pátula L. Erect or prostrate (3-12 dm. high), glabrous or somewhat scurfy; leaves narrowly lanceolate-hastate (2-10 cm. long), the lower sometimes opposite, entire or sparingly sinuate-dentate, petioled, the upper lanceolate to linear; flowers clustered in rather slender spikes, the two kinds together or separate; fruiting bracts ovate-triangular or rhombic-hastate, entire or toothed,often muricate on the back, united to near the middle. —Nfd. to N.J., Mo., and B.C. (Eu.) Very variable; the marked extremes are: Var. hastàta (L) Gray. Erect or spreading, stout, at least the lower leaves broadly triangularhastate, often coarsely and irregularly toothed. — Nfd. to Va., Mo., and northwestw., chiefly in saline places and along the Great Lakes. (Eu.) Var. littoralis (L.) Gray. Slender; leaves linear-lanceolate to linear, rarely subhastate or toothed. — P. E. I. to N. J., and westw. along the Great Lakes.