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What is Spartina grass?

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Spartina grass is a tall grass with flower stalks that resemble wheat that grows near both salt and fresh water. It has thick, wide leaves and a strong, complex root system that is considered invasive in some areas. Spartina grass' scientific name is Spartina alterniflora though it is more commonly known as cord grass.

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Though there are not many animals that eat it, Spartina grass is an essential component of a salt-marsh ecosystem. It encourages the spread of salt marshes when its complex root system becomes dense enough to allow the deposition of sediment, making room for other grasses to appear. As it decomposes, Spartina grass is an important source of organic material for the other plants of the marsh. Its roots and stalks provide shelter for many species of animals.

Spartina grass flowers from June through November. The flowering stalks are 4 to 16 inches tall. The seeds can be spread long distances by remaining on the dead stems and floating to new locations. The grass is native to the U.S. Atlantic coast and is responsible for much of the area's plant and animal diversity; however, it is invasive on the U.S. Pacific coast, smothering out native vegetation and changing the biodiversity of local marshes.

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