Marsh Grasses and Plants
Cordgrass is an important part of the estuarine food web. Manatees eat cordgrass, 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. Cordgrass is a cover from predators for fish and crabs, and is a retreat and feeding place for wading birds and shorebirds.
The low marsh is also known as the intertidal zone, and is usually flooded at high tide and exposed at low tide. Plants that do well in the low marsh are smooth cord grass (Spartina alterniflora), red mangroves (Rhizophora mangle), black mangroves (Avicennia germinans).
The mid marsh floods occasionally during extreme high tides or storm events, otherwise the soil is moist but never under water for long. A variety of grasses do well in the mid marsh area such as salt meadow cordgrass (Spartina patens), seashore paspalum (Paspalum vaginatum), and salt grass (Distichlis spicata). Succulents such as salt wort (Batis maritima), glass wort (Salicornia ambigua), and sea purslane (Sesuvium portulacastrum ) thrive in mid marsh habitats, and provide a salty edible crunch for the tops of salads or while urban foraging.
The high marsh rarely floods and instead gathers water from rain events. Plants that live in the high marsh must be drought tolerant and salt tolerant, but also offer beautiful flowers and a larger variety than plants in the lower elevations. Species such as fire bush (Hamelia patens), seaside goldenrod (Solidago sempervirens), beauty berry (Callicarpa americana), and yaupon holly (llex vomitori) provide beautiful blooms and can be kept as shrubs. Indian blanket flower (Gaillardia pulchella), beach sunflower (Helianthus debilis), railroad vine (Ipomoea pes-caprae), and sunshine mimosa (Mimosa strigillosa) provide impressive ground cover and colorful flowers during the spring and summer months. These plants provide shoreline stabilization due to their large root systems that anchor and hold onto loose soils.