Smooth Cordgrass - Spartina alterniflora
This grass grows in the wettest area of the marsh, and is on the "front-line" of the salt marsh as it evolves from the mud flats. Smooth Cordgrass provides nutrients to the marsh food chain and at high tide provides a haven for the marsh snails that cling to its tall stalks until the tide subsides. The food chain begins when the marsh grass dies and bacteria begin to compose the dead organic matter (detritus). Plankton then feed upon the detritus and in turn are fed upon by clams, crabs, shrimp fry and other animals. These animals then provide food for birds, larger mammals, fish and humans.
As a way of surviving the high salinity of the salt marsh, Smooth Cordgrass discharges excess salt, as evidenced by the visible crystals that appear on its leaves. Its roots are submerged deep within the mud and receive little oxygen, therefore the plant must rely upon its hollow stems to transport the oxygen from the leaves to the roots. Value is placed on the role this grass plays in buffering storms and absorbing mercury, lead and other pollutants before they reach the sea. However, its most important role is the contribution it makes to the food chain.