spartina pic

Pictured from left to right: Spartina pectinata (2 photos) and Spartina gracilis (2 photos)

This genus is characterized by coarse perennials with sharp pointed rhizomes and stiff leaves. Ligules are a short or long fringe of hairs. The inflorescence is a narrow raceme of tightly packed spike-like branches, with the spikelets turned to one side and overlapping. Spikelets are 1-flowered and laterally flattened, with keeled glumes and lemmas.

There are 2 species in MN; 2 are native.

Common species:
Spartina pectinata (spar ty' nah peck tih nay' tah)

  • Synonyms: None
  • Common names: marsh grass, prairie cord grass, slough grass; Lakota: santuhu tanka
  • Origin and habitat: Native; marshes, wet prairies, shores, and other moist to wet areas
  • Identifying characters: Strongly rhizomatous plants growing up to 2.5 m (5-7 ft). Ligules are 1-4 mm long with the hairs extending down the margin of the leaf sheaths. The blades are quite broad but become rolled into a long apex; themargins are strongly scabrous. The inflorescences are long (2-4 dm) and narrow; second glumes are long awned with the awns up to 10 mm.
  • Comments: In native wet sites, this species can form nearly pure communities and acts as a sediment filter. Seedlings grow rapidly gaining as much as 6 dm in the first season. Cord grass is not very tolerant of shade and reproduces mainly by vigorous rhizome growth which provides good soil stabilization. Cord grass provides bright gold color to autumn gardens and the inflorescence adds texture. The cultivar 'aureomarginata' has golden-edged leaves. Cord grass can be grown in drier garden soils if well watered; wet soils, on the other hand, require diligence as the plant will spread and may become a nuisance.

Spartina gracilis mapSpartina pectinata map
Additional species in Minnesota:
Spartina gracilis


Copyright 2002, A.F. Cholewa, J.F. Bell Museum of Natural History, University of Minnesota / No portion of this guide may be duplicated without written permission of author.