Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute
Marine Botany
Distichlis spicata

Human Uses


Agriculture and Forage:

Although not considered an especially good source of nutrients, saltgrass often remains green through drought periods and is quite resistant to the effects of animal trampling. This often leaves Distichlis plants as the only available forage, and both cattle and horses have been known to graze on the blades and seeds of the plant. Severe rumen compaction, however, has been known to result in livestock who feed exclusively on this plant for a significant length of time, and in practice animals eating large quantities of saltgrass usually need to be fed some quantity of alfalfa as well. [10]

One of the more interesting applications of saltgrass involves its use in the reclamation of salinated soils for forage and agricultural use. Although data is still being collected on the effectiveness of Distichlis for this purpose, as of March 2003, at least one variation of saltgrass, Distichlis spicata var yensen-4a, also known as "NyPa Forage," had been engineered specifically to produce larger seed for livestock consumption and was being marketed commercially (refer to the company who engineered this seed, NyPa, for more information). A number of studies are currently underway, many sponsored by the government of Australia, to test the long term potential of using Distichlis plants to produce food in this fashion [9].

As far as its role in American history, saltgrass along the Atlantic coast, interestingly, represented the primary source of hay for early colonists [12].

Landscaping and Restoration:

The Las Pilatas Nursery, publishers of the Manual of California Native Plants, note that saltgrass can be utilized for erosion control in alkaline areas, and specifically recommend salt grass for use in lawns, restoration of salt marshes and in parks [7].

The USDA Forest Service notes that Distichlis is very well suited for water and wind erosion control in saline sites. Examples of stabilized sites include salt-contaminated oil drills, red mud mine tailings, dry lakebeds, irrigation ditches, previously disturbed riparian sites and roadside ditches [10].

Other uses :

The saltgrass plant has some medicinal properties, and Florida physicians have been known to prescribe a derivative made by Mile Pharmaceutical to treat respiratory allergies. [12]

Native Americans who inhabited the coast of California also apparently used saltgrass as a seasoning, threshing the blades and collecting the salt. The resulting spice was said to taste like a salty dill pickle. [12]

Last updated March 2003, Justin Kitzes.

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