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Types of Marsh Grass

By Amber Kelsey ; Updated September 21, 2017

Marsh grasses, also called cord grasses, are soft-stem, coarse plants that have adapted to thrive in soil that is continuously saturated. Marshes can be either saltwater or freshwater wetlands, and both types of marshes support a variety of wildlife. The southern, western and eastern coasts of the United States all have marshes with various types of marsh grass.

Common Cattails

Common cattails (Typha latifolia), sometimes called North American cattails, are a common type of marsh grass. These semiaquatic or aquatic plants feature pale gray-green leaves and cylindrical brown flower spikes growing on top of 3- to 10-foot-tall stems. Common cattail is commonly found growing on the edges of freshwater marshes where the water is shallower. These perennial herbs typically flower in May and June, and each flower spike can contain up to 268,000 seeds.

Spike Grass

Spike grass (Distichlis spicata) is a perennial marsh grass belonging to the Poaceae family. This plant grows on the high ground surrounding saltwater marshes. Spike grass leaves have salt glands that excrete any excess salt. Also known as seashore salt grass or marsh salt grass, spike grass grows up to 2 feet tall. It blooms with yellow flowers from mid-August through mid-October. This plant often forms dense mats in marshes.

Oyster Grass

Oyster grass (Spartina alterniflora), also called smooth cord grass, is an invasive salt marsh grass belonging to the Gramineae family. This rhizomatous perennial grass stands 2 to 4 feet tall. The stems are hairless and hollow, while the leaves consist of a fringe of hairs. A 2- to 3-inch spike bears inconspicuous flowers. Taller varieties of marsh grass grow along the banks, while the stunted varieties grow at the interior of the marsh. Oyster grass grows very fast, and can quickly crowd out native marine and wildlife. Oyster grass actively grows in the spring and summer months.

Saltmeadow Cord Grass

Saltmeadow cordgrass (Spartina patens), also called wire grass, is a rhizomatous grass in the Poaceae family. This type of marsh grass is characterized by its clusters of long, straw-colored, grass-like leaves. Saltmeadow cordgrass reaches 4 foot high and its leaf blades range from 4 to 20 inches long. In its native regions, saltmeadow cordgrass is used to stabilize and vegetate freshwater and saltwater marshes. This type of marsh grass is limited to higher salt marches because it cannot tolerate the lower oxygen levels of the lower marshes. Saltmeadow cordgrass typically produces flower spikes from July to October.


Sawgrass (Cladium jamaicense) is the predominant marsh grass in the Everglades. Sawgrass is a course, perennial sedge with an extensive network of rhizomes. The flat leaves have saw-toothed edges and reach up to 10 feet long. This type of marsh grass is typically found growing in shallow, freshwater marshes. It thrives in seasonally flooded areas and prefers a water depth of about 1 foot. Sawgrass grows best in deep, organic soils and has very low nutrient requirements.