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The Seashore

Succession is concerned with community development over time. Find out more in our general section on succession.

Spartina spp. (cord grass)

Cord grass

Cord grass with salt crystals

Extremely tolerant of inundation (>4.5 months fully submerged)

Two types of root exist (1) shallow roots in aerated surface layer (2) deep roots help anchor the plant and have <60% aerenchymatous tissue, air is drawn down from the aerial parts of the plant to the roots. Oxygen leaks out of the roots and this aerates the rhizosphere (area around the root).

Salt is ‘excreted’ through salt glands on the upper surface of the leaf, this excretion is of liquid salt so it does cost the plant some water reserves.

Stomata are sunk into grooves on the leaf for water conservation which reduces throughput of salty water

C4 photosynthetic pathway is used which is water efficient and photosynthesis can continue when the plant is immersed (see saltmarsh environment link). Without going into detail this allows it to absorb carbon dioxide with partially open stomata or at night when transpiration is low and store it chemically. It can then photosynthesise during the day with its stomata only partially open (thus conserving water). Most plants in temperate climates use the C3 pathway which is chemically more efficient but you have to have your stomata fully open (to absorb carbon dioxide) during photosynthesis, so you lose more water by transpiration. The majority of C4 plants live in tropical climes where photosynthesis is so fast that carbon dioxide becomes limiting and water efficiency is important.

Long ago there was but one species of Spartina in the UK. This was known as Spartina maritima. Then, in the 1820s someone discovered another species of Spartina called Spartina alterniflora. The newcomer originated in North America and because it was first found in Southampton Water it was assumed it had been introduced via shipping.

The American Spartina then crossed with the native Spartina to make a hybrid form. This was called Spartina X townsendii. This version was infertile but could spread vegetatively.

In an astonishing bout of natural genetic engineering Spartina X townsendii doubled its chromosome number. The resulting species was called Spartina anglica. It was fertile and successful possessing what people sometimes call hybrid vigour. It spread to such an extent that people began to worry about it colonising mud flats and depriving wading birds and fish of food in the form of the worms and molluscs that lived there. In Milford Haven the vigorous hybrid was introduced deliberately during World War Two. The plant in the picture is on The Gann salt marsh near Dale. Spartina anglica was first found here in 1952.


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