Gulf Cordgrass (Spartinae)

The Gulf Cordgrass (Spartinae) is generally described as a perennial graminoid. This is native to the U.S. (United States) has its most active growth period in the spring . The greatest bloom is usually observed in the late summer, with fruit and seed production starting in the spring and continuing until summer. Leaves are not retained year to year. The Gulf Cordgrass (Spartinae) has a long life span relative to most other plant species and a moderate growth rate. At maturity, the typical Gulf Cordgrass (Spartinae) will reach up to 6.6 feet high, with a maximum height at 20 years of 0 inches.

The Gulf Cordgrass (Spartinae) is easily found in nurseries, garden stores and other plant dealers and distributors. It can be propagated by seed, sprigs. It has a moderate ability to spread through seed production and the seedlings have high vigor. Note that cold stratification is not required for seed germination and the plant cannot survive exposure to temperatures below 17°F. has medium tolerance to drought and restricted water conditions.

Uses of : Landscaping, Medicinal, Culinary, etc.

Erosion: Gulf cordgrass (Spartina spartinae) is a good plant for coastal restoration projects. Its large dense clumps cause it to catch and hold soil, which is beneficial in shoreline stabilization.

Wildlife: Gulf cordgrass can provide good bird nesting habitat and wildlife cover for wetland margin species. Geese and sandhill cranes are among the species that make use of gulf cordgrass stands. Mottled ducks are also known to nest in dense clumps.

Forage: Gulf cordgrass can also be a good source of cattle and geese forage when managed properly. Domestic livestock do not eat unburned gulf cordgrass, but will graze it heavily following a prescribed burn. The new, young shoots are tender, but older mature plants are too tough even for horses.

General Characteristics

Gulf cordgrass is a stout, native, perennial grass that grows in dense clumps. It has a non-rhizomatous base, although occasionally it can be sub-rhizomatous towards the outer edges of the clump. Also called sacahuista, the tips of this grass’s leaf blades are sharp and spine-like. It flowers in spring, summer, and rarely in the fall. It is moderately saline tolerant (0-18 ppt.), and does well in mesic areas. It can even grow in soils that are occasionally submerged, but are above sea level most of the time.

The genus name comes from the Greek word “spartine’, meaning cord from spartes or Spartium junceum. The genus name probably was given because the leaf blades are tough, like cords; hence, the common name cordgrass.

Required Growing Conditions

Gulf cordgrass grows along the Gulf Coast from Florida to Texas, and South into Eastern Mexico. More rarely, gulf cordgrass grows inland in marshes, swamps, and moist prairies. It can also be found along the Caribbean coasts, and inland in Argentina and Paraguay.

In Texas, it can be found along the gulf coast on coastal flats and around brackish marshes. It is occasionally found in inland marshes and salt flats in the Post Oak Savannah, Rio Grande Plains, and Edwards Plateau Regions. Gulf cordgrass grows mostly on clayey soils, but at the Plant Material Center, we have had success growing it on sandier soils as well. Physical and chemical soil properties do not seem to influence the occurrence of gulf cordgrass, but elevation in relation to inundation is a key factor.

For a current distribution map, please consult the Plant Profile page for this species on the PLANTS Web site.

Cultivation and Care

Gulf cordgrass is best reproduced vegetatively for coastal shoreline projects by dividing large clumps into several smaller ones. The success rate at the Plant Materials Center has been 75-80%. Use of a rooting hormone is recommended, but is not a necessity. We recommend placing containers (we use trays of 1”x 1”x 6” or 2”x 2”x 6” paper bands or cone-tainers) with new cuttings in a trough with water about 1” up from the bottom of the containers, so that soil stays wet from the bottom up. After about four to six weeks, remove the containers from the water bath and begin to harden plants off prior to planting. The potted cuttings can be transplanted six to eight weeks after they are started. Plants can be maintained in the greenhouse longer if necessary, and older plants can be resplit to start new ones. Larger vegetative clumps can be transplanted to new sites successfully. Restoration of coastal sites by seeding may also be successful. Currently the Kika de la Garza PMC is evaluating the seed potential of gulf cordgrass. Two accessions have had over 30% seed germination over two successive years. Seed yeild has averaged 330 pounds per acre, with approximately 454,000 seeds per pound. In 1997-98, Kika de la Garza Plant Materials Center staff used gulf cordgrass transplants in a coastal shoreline stabilization project that they worked on in partnership with the San Patricio (Texas) Soil and Water Conservation District. Gulf cordgrass had a 97% survival rate, and was found to be best adapted to planting sites 2 feet above the mean tide level.

General Upkeep and Control

Gulf cordgrass should be burned periodically to increase forage palatability and wildlife utilization. Once burned, it should be grazed continuously to maintain tender regrowth.

Gulf cordgrass requires little management otherwise. It appears to be fairly drought tolerant and does not require irrigation except when establishing new transplants. Any weeds can easily be removed when processing plants.

Plant Basics
Growth Rate Moderate
General Type Graminoid
Growth Period Spring
Growth Duration Perennial
Lifespan Long
Plant Nativity Native to U.S.
Commercial Availability Routinely Available
Physical Characteristics
Bloom Period Late Summer
Displays Fall Colors No
Shape/Growth Form Bunch
Drought Tolerance Medium
Shade Tolerance Intolerant
Height When Mature 6.6
Vegetative Spread None
Flower Color Green
Flower Conspicuousness No
Fruit/Seed Abundance High
Fruit/Seed Seasonality Spring Summer
Seed Spread Rate Moderate
Gardening Characteristics
Propagations (Ways to Grow) Seed, Sprigs
Moisture Requirements Medium
Cold Stratification Required No
Minimum Temperature 17
Soil Depth for Roots 18
Toxic to Nearby Plants No
Toxic to Livestock No
After-Harvest Regrowth Rate Slow
After-Harvest Resprout Ability No
Responds to Coppicing No
Growth Requirements
pH Range 5.5–7.5 pH
Precipitation Range 40–40 inches/yr
Planting Density 2728–3700 indiv./acre
Soil Textures Coarse, Fine, Medium
Soil Depth for Roots 18
Minimum Frost-Free Days 250 day(s)
Salinity Tolerance High
CaCO3 Tolerance Medium
Sustainability & Use
Leaf Retention No
Fire Resistant No
Causes Livestock Bloating None

Source: USDA, NRCS, PLANTS Database,
National Plant Data Center, Baton Rouge, LA 70874-4490 USA