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Spartina anglica

Identifying Characteristics

  • bright green to greyish-green leaves with reddish stems
  • up to 1.5 metres tall
  • flat leaves, about 5-12 mm wide and 5-40 cm long
  • flower heads resemble wheat - erect with 2-12 spikes along one side only
  • flowers June through September
  • grows in circular clumps
This is a photograph of Spartina. 3 images
This is a map of British Columbia showing the spread of invasive species.
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A water invasive that is taking over mud flats.

Spartina anglica, also known as English Cordgrass, is an aggressive, aquatic alien that invades mud flats, salt marshes and beaches. It is one of four species of Spartina that threaten British Columbia: the others are Dense-flowered Cordgrass, Saltmeadow Cordgrass and Seashore Saltgrass. Spartina is a perennial, salt-tolerant grass, favouring marshy areas that support few other species. The plant has an advantage when it comes to reproduction - it grows two ways, either from a single seed or from a clump of roots.

Impact on Communities and Native Species

Spartina out-competes native plants, spreading quickly over mud flats and leaving large Spartina meadows. These meadows spell a loss of habitat for fish, shellfish and birds, reducing the animal population and the biodiversity of saltwater marshes. Spartina anglica also threatens the coast and tidal patterns with its large root masses and dense stems that slow water movement, trap sediment and raise the elevation of the mud flats. This creates an area that is more terrestrial than aquatic, giving less salt-tolerant plants an opportunity to move in, and increasing the risk of flooding.

Invasion History

Spartina anglica was introduced to the Puget Sound in Washington State in 1961 as a dike stabilizer, oyster packing material and cattle fodder, but quickly spread into the wild. It was discovered in 2003 in British Columbia at Robert's Bank near Vancouver. It is not known how it made its way here, but it likely arrived via an ocean current, stuck to a water bird or in the ballast water of a ship. In Washington State, Spartina has proven to be a significant pest, with millions of dollars spent to control the plant. In the mid-1970s, Spartina covered about 2.7 hectares, but by the mid-1990s that area increased to 3,300 hectares - a significant spread in two decades.