Size: From 1 - 7 feet tall, with the flat leaf blades typically 12 - 20 inches long.
Range: Cordgrass is commonly found growing on open coastal marshes between high and low tides from Newfoundland south to Florida and Texas.
Smooth cordgrass is the most extensive and productive salt-marsh plant along the East and Gulf coasts of the United States. It is used extensively for shoreline protection and tidal marsh restoration. Under natural conditions in tidal marshes, a stand of this grass will absorb wave energy and filter sediment from the water while using the nutrients in the sediments. The habitat formed by this plant provides vital nursery and feeding grounds for young fish and crabs. It also supplies food and cover to a variety of marsh birds and other animals.
This lush green grass occurs in both a short form and a tall form in the marsh. In Delaware, the short form grows from less than a foot to 2 feet. The tall form grows from 2 to 7 feet tall. If you own coastal property that has unvegetated, regularly flooded, saline areas that you want to landscape, this plant is an excellent candidate. It grows very vigorously at full-strength seawater salinities and higher.
Smooth cordgrass, like most salt-marsh plants, is called a halophyte because it can tolerate salt water, a feat that most terrestrial plants can not achieve. In fact, smooth cordgrass has salt glands that excrete salt onto the leaf surface. The salt crystals are often visible on the plant's leaves when there has not been a recent rainfall.
To learn more about other marsh and dune plants common to Delaware, check out the Coastal Landscaping bulletin in our Sea Grant publications catalog.
Faculty Research: Dr. Denise Seliskar and Dr. Jack Gallagher
Salt now hampers plant productivity in nearly one-quarter of the world's farmland. However, salt-marsh plants, called halophytes, thrive under daily flooding by the tides. "Since halophytes have evolved mechanisms to cope with salt," says botanist Denise Seliskar, "they offer our most promising source of information in solving agricultural salinity problems worldwide."
Through research funded by the University of Delaware Sea Grant College Program, Seliskar, fellow scientist Jack Gallagher, and their graduate students have pioneered the development of genetic techniques to adapt several marsh plants as food and forage crops for salty lands. These Delaware crops are now being tested in China, Egypt, Israel, Pakistan, and Thailand. But what about traditional crops like corn and rice? Giving these natural-born salt haters the ability to tolerate salt will be no easy feat, the scientists note, because salt tolerance is such a complex trait. To better understand it, the scientists are examining marsh plants at the cell, organ (such as roots), and whole-plant levels. If they can pinpoint how marsh plants cope with salt, they may be able to introduce this coveted feature into traditional crops.