Salt hay grass, commonly found in high marsh areas.
Salt hay grass, commonly found in high marsh areas.
Courtesy: NOAA

Salt Hay Grass (Spartina patens)

Alternate common name: Saltmeadow Hay, Marsh Grass, Saltmeadow Cordgrass.
Appearance: Hay-like grass found in the upper areas of the marsh. Grows 1 to 2 feet high; green in spring and summer, turns light brown in late fall and winter.
Habitat: High salt marsh zone.
Seasonal appearance: Blooms June to October.


Salt hay grass is a slender and wiry plant that grows in thick mats 1 to 2 feet high. Its stems are wispy and hollow, and the leaves roll inward and appear round. Because its stems are weak, the wind and water action can bend the grass, creating the appearance of a field of tufts and cowlicks. Like its relative smooth cordgrass, salt hay grass produces wheat-like fruits and flowers on only one side of the stalk. Flowers are a deep purple from June to October and turn brown in the winter months.

Life History and Growth

Salt hay grass is found in high marsh zones where it is covered at times by high tides. Specialized cells are able to exclude salt from entering the roots, preventing the loss of fresh water. This grass is less tolerant to salt water than other marsh grasses.

A healthy salt marsh depends on the presence of both salt hay grass and smooth cordgrass. These grasses provide rich habitat for juvenile and adult crustaceans, mollusks, and birds, and serve as a major source of organic nutrients for the entire estuary. Mats of salt hay grass are inhabited by many small animals and are an important food source for ducks and sparrows.

Special Notes

Adapted from The Uncommon Guide to Common Life on Narragansett Bay. Save The Bay, 1998.