SMOOTH CORDGRASS (Spartina Alterniflora)
Spartina alterniflora is a hardy, native, halophyte tidal grass often used in shoreline restoration work. It has a tight root system that holds it in place very well and efficiently traps sediment, reducing shoreline erosion. Its dense stalks serve as habitat and protection for many intertidal creatures such as juvenile sportfish, various arthropods, and many invertebrates. Naturally, cordgrass does not take root very easily, but propagates quickly once it is established.
Spartina grass is an important part of the estuarine food web. Manatees eat cordgrass, and detritus and algae that adhere to the stems provide food for snails and mussels. As the grass dies it becomes a floating mass, called a wrack, and as it breaks down is eventually eaten by clams, mussels, crabs, and snails.
Fiddler crabs dig burrows among the cordgrass, aerating the soil, while the cordgrass roots stabilize the soil so the burrows don’t cave in. Spartina is a cover from predators for fish and crabs, and is a retreat and feeding place for wading birds and shorebirds.
A 4-acre saltwater marsh is coming soon to the Marine Discovery Center, and will be a sustainable source of Spartina for local shoreline restoration projects. Spartina, in combination with oyster reefs, can significantly reduce wave impacts on a shoreline.
Spartina grass is found in saltwater, growing from 16’’ to 8’ tall. Tolerant of salinity changes, tides and water depth, it grows via seedlings and vegetative shoots (rhizomes). A strong root system stabilizes sediment.