September 19, 2019
Marsh Grass: Spartina alterniflora
Posted by: John Cassell
Spartina alterniflora is in full bloom here along the Georgia coast. But don’t let the common name fool you, marsh grass or smooth cord grass is not like the species we use in our front yards. While in the grass family, S. alterniflora loves wet soils and brackish salinities. This coastal species thrives in salt marshes and is regarded as a critical ecosystem engineer because their strong root systems keep marsh mud from flowing out to sea.
This month the plants have been displaying their very odd-shaped flowers. They are known as spikelets to botanists and rely on being pollinated by many types of insects. In fact, S. alterniflora is a host plant for moths such as Photedes inops. This is critical for many of the birds migrating down for the winter since many feast on the insects utilizing the marsh grass. Over the next month our naturalist team will eagerly search the salt marsh for Red-winged blackbirds, Marsh wrens, Common yellowthroats, and Spotted sandpipers.
One last fun fact, scientists in 2014 have reclassified this plant as Sporobolus alterniflorus, but feel free to just call it cordgrass.