Salt Marsh Cordgrass
General: Saltmeadow Cordgrass is a perennial grass from the Poaeceae family.
Flowers: Droopy spikes (0.7 – 1 cm) of reddish flowers that are arranged in an overlapping fashion.
Stems: Are thin and pliant, growing in dense mats up to 1.2 m tall.
Leaves: Are light green, inward-rolled, and narrow, ranging from 1 – 4 mm wide and 10 – 50 cm long. The leaves and flowering stems are deciduous.
Roots: Saltmeadow Cordgrass roots are long and wiry.
Seeds: Seeds arise only on one side of the flower spikes.
- Dense-Flowered Cordgrass (Spartina densiflora)
- English Cordgrass (Spartina anglica)
- Smooth Cordgrass (Spartina alterniflora)
Saltmeadow Cordgrass can be extremely challenging to distinguish from other grass species. Accordingly, we recommend the use of a detailed key for positive identification (please refer to the references section for more links).
- Seashore Saltgrass (Distichlis spicata) has rhizomes (fleshy roots) and is shorter (10 – 40 cm).
- Seaside Plantain (Plantago maritima) is shorter (up to 25 cm tall).
- American Dunegrass (Leymus mollis, L. arenarius) has thick rhizomes (fleshy roots) and its leaves are slightly hairy on top. Its flowers are also a greenish yellow tone, rather than a reddish one for Saltmeadow Cordgrass.
Seaside Arrow-Grass (Triglochin maritima) has small purple flowers that are clustered along the length of the flowering stem.
Habitat and Origin
Saltmeadow Cordgrass is native to the Atlantic Coast of North America and the Gulf coast of the United States.
The salt-tolerant species prefers the upper salt marsh tidal zone, but can also establish in sand dunes and sand flats. It thrives in open and exposed sites and tolerates occasional inundations.
Propagation & Vectors of Spread
Saltmeadow Cordgrass primarily spreads by root fragments, but can also germinate by seed on low sand flats with suitable moisture. When released, the seeds can float for up to 26 days and can remain viable until the following spring if they are kept wet and cool.
Saltmeadow Cordgrass root fragments and seeds spread primarily by tidal currents, but can also be dispersed by birds, ballast water, dredging, aquaculture and intentional planting for erosion control.
Ecological, Economic, & Health Impacts
- Significantly decreases habitat and nursery grounds for birds and fish.
- Alters hydrology of an area and disrupts tidal drainage patterns, which can increase flooding.
- Excludes native vegetation from the high marsh zone, which creates a monoculture.
- Negatively impacts coastal-based industries, such as tourism.
What Can I Do?
Saltmeadow Cordgrass has not yet been found in communities of the Sea to Sky, so PREVENTION is key:
Learn to identify Saltmeadow Cordgrass: use the images presented in this profile page to learn how to identify Saltmeadow Cordgrass.
What to do if you spot it: You can report any Saltmeadow Cordgrass sighting by clicking here.
- Regularly monitor bodies of water for Spartina species.
- Minimize soil disturbances near Saltmeadow Cordgrass plants.
- Be PlantWise and choose alternative non-invasive species for your garden.
- Ensure all plants (particularly flowering heads or root fragments) are bagged or covered to prevent spread during transport to designated disposal sites (e.g., landfill).
- Clean, drain and dry boats and equipment before leaving any water body (to avoid spreading seeds or plant parts). Take extra caution when transporting your boat or other equipment in and out of province.
- Maintain terrestrial, riparian and aquatic environments in a healthy condition to ensure productive natural plant communities.
- Plant Saltmeadow Cordgrass in a garden, no matter how well-contained its enclosure may seem.
- Compost any flowering heads or buds. Instead, dispose of Saltmeadow Cordgrass in the general/household waste stream at the landfill as the seeds will be able to persist the composting process.
- Mechanical control of Saltmeadow Cordgrass is extremely labour-intensive.
- Early season seedlings can be hand-pulled or excavated.
- Mowing infestations can help contain growth, limit seed set, and eventually kill the plants.
- For long-term results, mowing must be repeated several times each season for up to four years.
Herbicide treatment is not possible at most sites, due to the plant’s habitat.
In any case, herbicide use is challenging and complex, and should not be attempted without seeking more information from BC Ministry of Forest, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development.
There are currently no biocontrol agents for this species in BC.
Dikes can confine the lateral spread of rhizomes. Alternatively, they can be used to inundate infestations until plants die.
- B.C. Spartina Working Group. Spartina. https://www.cmnbc.ca/wp-content/uploads/2018/11/2009Spartina20ID20Cards_2.pdf
- Biodiversity of the Central Coast, Seaside arrowgrass, https://www.centralcoastbiodiversity.org/seaside-arrowgrass-bull-triglochin-maritima.html
- Biodiversity of the Central Coast, Dunegrass, https://www.centralcoastbiodiversity.org/dune-grass-bull-elymus-mollis.html
- Biodiversity of the Central Coast, Seaside plantain, https://www.centralcoastbiodiversity.org/seaside-plantain-bull-plantago-maritima.html
- Coastal Invasive Species Committee. Cordgrass, Salt meadow. https://www.coastalisc.com/spartina-patens/
- Electronic Atlas of the Flora of British Columbia, Distichlis spicata, http://linnet.geog.ubc.ca/Atlas/Atlas.aspx?sciname=Distichlis%20spicata
- Electronic Atlas of the Flora of British Columbia, Leymus mollis, http://linnet.geog.ubc.ca/Atlas/Atlas.aspx?sciname=Leymus+mollis
- Electronic Atlas of the Flora of British Columbia, Plantago maritima, http://linnet.geog.ubc.ca/Atlas/Atlas.aspx?sciname=Plantago%20maritima
- Electronic Atlas of the Flora of British Columbia, Spartina patens, https://linnet.geog.ubc.ca/Atlas/Atlas.aspx?sciname=Spartina%20patens
- Go Botany Native Plant Trust, Spartina, https://gobotany.nativeplanttrust.org/dkey/spartina/
- Government of British Columbia. Saltmeadow cordgrass. https://www2.gov.bc.ca/assets/gov/environment/plants-animals-and-ecosystems/invasive-species/alerts/saltmeadow_cordgrass_alert.pdf
- Government of British Columbia, Cordrasses (Spartina anglica, S. densiflora, S. patens) Frequently Asked Questions, https://www2.gov.bc.ca/assets/gov/environment/plants-animals-and-ecosystems/invasive-species/pest-management/spartina_pup_2019_22_faq.pdf
- Government of Oregon. Saltmeadow cordgrass. https://www.oregon.gov/oda/shared/Documents/Publications/Weeds/SaltmeadowcordgrassProfile.pdf
- Invasive Plant Atlas. Saltmeadow cordgrass. https://www.invasiveplantatlas.org/subject.html?sub=6483
- Oregon Department of Agriculture, Key to West Coast Spartina Species Based on Vegetative Characteristics, https://www.cmnbc.ca/wp-content/uploads/2018/11/spartina_vegkey_2.pdf
- San Franscisco Estuary Invasive Spartina Project. Spartina patens. https://spartina.org/species/spartina-patens_v2.pdf
- Washington State Noxious Weed Control Board. Salt Meadow Cordgrass. https://www.nwcb.wa.gov/weeds/salt-meadow-cordgrass