Index of Species Information

SPECIES:  Spartina alterniflora


SPECIES: Spartina alterniflora
AUTHORSHIP AND CITATION : Walkup, C. J. 1991. Spartina alterniflora. In: Fire Effects Information System, [Online]. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station, Fire Sciences Laboratory (Producer). Available: [].
ABBREVIATION : SPAALT SYNONYMS : NO-ENTRY SCS PLANT CODE : SPAL COMMON NAMES : smooth cordgrass saltmarsh cordgrass TAXONOMY : The currently accepted scientific name for smooth cordgrass is Spartina alterniflora Loisel. (Gramineae). Recognized varieties and their distribution are presented below [24,25,30]: S. a. var. alterniflora: Maine, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut S. a. var. glabra (Muhl.) Fern.: Florida S. a. var. pilosa (Merr.) Fern.: Maine, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut LIFE FORM : Graminoid FEDERAL LEGAL STATUS : No special status OTHER STATUS : NO-ENTRY


SPECIES: Spartina alterniflora
GENERAL DISTRIBUTION : Smooth cordgrass is found along the eastern seaboard of North America from Newfoundland and Quebec to northern Florida, and in the Gulf of Mexico from Florida to southern Texas [24,27].  It is also found along the coast in Washington [12]. ECOSYSTEMS :    FRES16  Oak - gum - cypress    FRES41  Wet grasslands STATES :      AL  CT  DE  FL  GA  LA  ME  MD  MA  MS      NH  NY  NC  RI  SC  TX  VA  WA  NF  PQ BLM PHYSIOGRAPHIC REGIONS :     1  Northern Pacific Border KUCHLER PLANT ASSOCIATIONS :    K073  Northern cordgrass prairie    K078  Southern cordgrass prairie    K092  Everglades    K105  Mangrove SAF COVER TYPES :    106  Mangrove SRM (RANGELAND) COVER TYPES : NO-ENTRY HABITAT TYPES AND PLANT COMMUNITIES : Smooth cordgrass communities are true marsh communities, which have surface water most of the time.  In Louisiana, smooth cordgrass often occurs in pure stands or with saltgrass (Distichlis spicata) and black rush (Juncus roemerianus) as less abundant associates.  Similar communities have been described on Ocracoke Island, on islands off the coasts of Mississippi and Louisiana, and for the Dismal Swamp.  Smooth cordgrass occurs in the understory of relatively open canopies of red mangrove (Rhizophora mangle) swamps [21].


SPECIES: Spartina alterniflora
IMPORTANCE TO LIVESTOCK AND WILDLIFE : Smooth cordgrass has little value as livestock forage, although it is sometimes eaten after rains wash away salts accumulated on the leaves. Smooth cordgrass sites are often too wet for livestock grazing to be practical [1]. A variety of wildlife species use smooth cordgrass.  It is an important food source for West Indian manatees (Trichechus manatus) and snow geese (Chen caerulescens) [1,31].  It has provides limited food value for muskrats (Ondatra spp.).  Fiddler crabs (Uca pugnax) and ribbed mussels (Geukensia demissa) form facultative mutualistic relationships with smooth cordgrass.  Fiddler crabs excavate burrows which increase soil drainage, soil oxidation-reduction potential, and in situ decomposition of belowground plant debris.  Smooth cordgrass provides structural support in the soft soil, which facilitates burrowing [2].  Ribbed mussels are found attached to stems and roots of smooth cordgrass.  The relationship leads to increased net primary production and stability of the marsh [3]. PALATABILITY : NO-ENTRY NUTRITIONAL VALUE : NO-ENTRY COVER VALUE : Smooth cordgrass provides cover for waterfowl, wading birds, shorebirds, and muskrats; and habitat for commercially important fish and shellfish [29]. VALUE FOR REHABILITATION OF DISTURBED SITES : Smooth cordgrass was direct-seeded successfully on damaged marshes found on dredge spoils from Connecticut to Virginia.  Lower littoral zones were seeded in locations where heavy wave action caused by storms did not erode away the often top-heavy plants before their root systems developed sufficiently.  Smooth cordgrass seeds and seedlings were also planted successfully on dredge spoils produced in the maintenance of navigational channels within sounds and estuaries [11]. OTHER USES AND VALUES : Smooth cordgrass provides thatch for roofs [6]. Smooth cordgrass is an important component of Gulf Coast salt marshes which stabilize shorelines against erosion and filter heavy metals and toxic materials from the water column [13]. The presence of smooth cordgrass indicates sites with high salinity, which can be managed for shrimp ponds [20]. OTHER MANAGEMENT CONSIDERATIONS : Gulf Coast marshes, because they provide soil stabilization and enhance water quality, receive the highest priority for protection in comprehensive oil spill response plans for coastal areas [13].  Effects of oil spills on salt marshes vary depending on oil type, plant coverage, season, and marsh elevation [24].  Flushing with seas water is the most effective clean-up method for oil-contaminated salt marshes at present. However, once oil penetrates the sediment, not even flushing will remove it.  Flushing is also ineffective at reducing damage to cordgrass and enhancing long-term plant recovery.  If natural tidal flushing occurs, no other clean-up measures are recommended because impacts on the community cause more harm than good.  Overall, clean-up responses have limited effectiveness; therefore, primary emphasis should be placed on contingency planning and protection of salt marsh habitat from oil spills [13].


SPECIES: Spartina alterniflora
GENERAL BOTANICAL CHARACTERISTICS : Smooth cordgrass is a large, coarse, warm-season grass, which is physiologically adapted to the salt marsh habitat [26,27].  Plants growing under good conditions reach 8 feet (2.5 m) tall, while those growing in the high salt marshes, especially at edges of salt pans, may be only 16 inches (40 cm) tall, including the inflorescence [6].  A dense stand of this tall grass is like a small forest of dark green plants.  Almost no light gets through to the mud beneath the stand. Tidal currents are strong where the best growth occurs and wash away dead leaves, leaving stands clean and free of debris most of the year [26]. RAUNKIAER LIFE FORM :    Helophyte REGENERATION PROCESSES : Smooth cordgrass reproduces both sexually and vegetatively.  Sexual reproduction contributes little to maintenance of established stands but may be important in the establishment of large disturbance-generated patches. Sexual:  Germination in New England marshes occurs from April until the end of June [18].  Germination response to salinity has an inverse curvilinear relationship, with the maximum tolerance limit for germination between 6 and 8 percent sodium chloride [19].  Competition from mature plants prevents seedling establishment.  Maximum establishment occurs on bare patches; seedling survival increases as bare patch size increases.  Tillers appear soon after germination and spatial location of tillers may be important in determining seedling success [18]. Vegetative:  Vegetative shoots grow in tussocks consisting of a parent tiller plus daughter tillers developed from axillary buds at the base of the parent shoot.  Tussocks are connected by underground rhizomes [18]. Approximately 40 percent of rhizome growth occurs in the upper 2 inches (5 cm) of soil from April to October.  Over the whole year 74 percent of the rhizome growth occurs in the upper 5.9 inches (15 cm) [9]. SITE CHARACTERISTICS : Smooth cordgrass forms dense, monospecific stands in salt and brackish marshes with mid to high tide levels [6,27,30].  It dominates where salinities range from 3 to 5 percent and the average water table is 4 inches (10.2 cm) above ground level.  Plants may be inundated with salt water for up to 20 hours per day.  Unlike most other marsh plants, the salt-tolerance of cordgrass is directly proportional to water depth [1]. Smooth cordgrass thrives in anoxic, low marsh habitats due to its ability to oxygenate its roots and rhizosphere.  Rhizosphere oxidation is not evident in seedlings and small colonizing patches.  Both of these groups are stunted in anoxic low marsh substrates.  This suggests that success of smooth cordgrass in anoxic habitats is size dependent and may be driven by group benefits of rhizosphere oxidation [5]. SUCCESSIONAL STATUS : Facultative Seral Species Smooth cordgrass dominates the low marsh habitat in New England, and is restricted to this habitat by the competitive dominance of marshhay (Spartina patens) on the seaward border of the high marsh.  In the absence of marshhay, smooth cordgrass will grow vigorously in the high marsh [4]. Smooth cordgrass is a pioneer species bordering tidal inlets and lagoons in the saline portions of Texas and Louisiana marshes [15].  It also invades brackish areas, ditches, and ponds with silt or clay bottoms, and shallow water in saline areas.  After organic matter builds up in the ponds, brackish marsh dominants such as other cordgrasses (Spartina spp.), saltgrass (Distichlis spp.), and rushes (Juncus spp.) replace smooth cordgrass.  Smooth cordgrass remains the major dominant in saline areas, unless they are aggraded by inorganic sediments, which promotes the establishment of communities of inland saltgrass or marshhay [21]. SEASONAL DEVELOPMENT : In the North, smooth cordgrass plants have a short active period. Shoots that develop during the summer die completely in the fall and are often removed before mid-winter by ice and the tides.  In the south, the growing season is longer and fall senescence is slower.  Many young culms initiated in the fall live through the winter.  Culms initiated the previous spring do not complete senescence until the end of winter [8].  Flowering occurs from June until October [6,12,22].  Variety pilosa flowers later than the typical form [24].


SPECIES: Spartina alterniflora
FIRE ECOLOGY OR ADAPTATIONS : Fire is an important factor in the ecology of the Gulf Coast marshes. Natural fires, caused by lighting and from spontaneous combustion in dense stands, have resulted in a fire-dependent ecosystem.  Growth occurs year-round in southern marshes and the vegetation is so luxuriant that an unburned marsh becomes a veritable tinder box within 3 to 4 years [16]. Smooth cordgrass survives fire by tillering from rhizomes.  Seeds may colonize bare areas following fires which leave some adult plants to produce seeds. POSTFIRE REGENERATION STRATEGY :    Rhizomatous herb, rhizome in soil


SPECIES: Spartina alterniflora
IMMEDIATE FIRE EFFECT ON PLANT : Fires remove all aboveground vegetation.  Severe fires may also kill rhizomes. DISCUSSION AND QUALIFICATION OF FIRE EFFECT : NO-ENTRY PLANT RESPONSE TO FIRE : Smooth cordgrass sprouts from the rhizomes following light to moderate fires [9].  Oil-covered plants burned following an oil-spill did not survive, indicating that severe fires kill smooth cordgrass rhizomes [13]. DISCUSSION AND QUALIFICATION OF PLANT RESPONSE : The Research Project Summary Vegetative response to fire exclusion and prescribed fire rotation on 2 Maryland salt marshes provides information on prescribed fire and postfire response of plant community species, including smooth cordgrass, that was not available when this species review was written. FIRE MANAGEMENT CONSIDERATIONS : Marsh burns falls into three fairly distinct types, depending on the condition of the marsh at the time of burning.  This classification has only been tested on the Gulf Coast, and should be experimentally tested in other parts of the country before using [16].     (1)  Cover burn - This is the most valuable and widely used          method of marsh burning.  The marsh is burned when there are          from 3 to 5 inches (7.6 to 12.7 cm) of standing water present.          Dense vegetative cover will be removed allowing birds easier          access to food and facilitating muskrat trapping.         (2 & 3)  Root burn and deep peat burn - Both burns occur without          standing water and are distinguished by the depth to          which the water table has dropped prior to the burn.  These          burns may initially be destructive to wildlife, but wildlife          eventually benefit by habitat improvement. Late summer and early fall burning controls greenhead flies by destroying many of their eggs, but these fires may be detrimental to other wildlife species [26].


SPECIES: Spartina alterniflora
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Chapel Hill, NC: The University of        North Carolina Press. 1183 p.  [7606] 23.  Raunkiaer, C. 1934. The life forms of plants and statistical plant        geography. Oxford: Clarendon Press. 632 p.  [2843] 24.  Roland, A. E.; Smith, E. C. 1969. The flora of Nova Scotia. Halifax, NS:        Nova Scotia Museum. 746 p.  [13158] 25.  Seymour, Frank Conkling. 1982. The flora of New England. 2d ed.        Phytologia Memoirs 5. Plainfield, NJ: Harold N. Moldenke and Alma L.        Moldenke. 611 p.  [7604] 26.  Teal, John; Teal, Mildred. 1969. Life and death of the salt marsh.        Boston, MA: Little, Brown. 278 p.  [15106] 27.  Thompson, John D. 1991. The biology of an invasive plant. Bioscience.        41(6): 393-401.  [14583] 28.  U.S. Department of Agriculture, Soil Conservation Service. 1982.        National list of scientific plant names. Vol. 1. List of plant names.        SCS-TP-159. Washington, DC. 416 p.  [11573] 29.  Webb, James W.; Alexander, Steve K.; Winters, J. Kenneth. 1985. Effects        of autumn application of oil on Spartina alterniflora in a Texas salt        marsh. Environmental Pollution. 38(4): 321-337.  [15184] 30.  Wunderlin, Richard P. 1982. Guide to the vascular plants of central        Florida. Tampa, FL: University Presses of Florida, University of South        Florida. 472 p.  [13125] 31.  Zoodsma, Barb; Bratton, Susan. 1988. Manatee telemetry proves salt marsh        key habitat at Cumberland Island. In: Highlights of natural resources        management 1988. Natural Resources Report NPS-NR-89-01. Denver, CO: U.S.        Department of the Interior, National Park Service: 11.  [12052] 32.  Bernard, Stephen R.; Brown, Kenneth F. 1977. Distribution of mammals,        reptiles, and amphibians by BLM physiographic regions and A.W. Kuchler's        associations for the eleven western states. Tech. Note 301. Denver, CO:        U.S. Department of the Interior, Bureau of Land Management. 169 p.        [434] 33.  Stickney, Peter F. 1989. Seral origin of species originating in northern        Rocky Mountain forests. Unpublished draft on file at: U.S. Department of        Agriculture, Forest Service, Intermountain Research Station, Fire        Sciences Laboratory, Missoula, MT; RWU 4403 files. 7 p.  [20090]

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