(see also Morphology: Microscopic)
Complete plant with shoots and underground rhizome, Elkhorn Slough,
Distichlis spicata is a perennial, warm-season grass that
shares a number of characteristics with other species of grasses
commonly found throughout the world.
Above ground, saltgrass exhibits a pattern of paired
blades which grow off opposite sides of the stem in the shape of a "V".
The greenish-gray blades are stiff and pointed and dry to a golden-brown
color (many of the photos on this website were taken during the winter
in the month of February and hence show Distichlis in this
dry, golden state).
Branching Distichlis blades, Hopkins Marine Station and Moss
Below the ground, Distichlis grows and spreads
through a network of rhizomes, a horizontal subterranean stem that
sends out both roots and the shoots that eventually form the above-ground
stems and blades. These rhizomes grow at depths on average approximately
four inches below the soil surface. They are generally scaly and pointed
and are extremely good at piercing even shales and very dense clays,
making them a common pioneer species in areas without developed soils [3, 10].
A small section of rhizome can actually grow into an entire Distichlis plant,
providing a second method of reproduction in addition to by seed.
The roots system is generally dense but shallow - one
study in Nevada never found roots growing more than sixteen inches
under the surface .
Close up of rhizome and root system of plant at top of page
Of primary importance to the lives and growth of Distichlis plants
are the structure and function of the plants' salt
glands, which extrude an extremely concentrated, largely sodium
brine from specially evolved cells on the blades and stem. An entire
section of this website has been devoted to this unique feature.
Additionally, numerous studies have indicated that
the growth and morphology of a Distichlis plant is strongly
influenced by the soil and/or water salinity it encounters at
a given location. The salinity
and morphology section of this site has more information on
this specific topic.
Last updated March 2003, Justin Kitzes.
Copyright and reproduction information can be found here.