Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute
Marine Botany
Distichlis spicata


Distichlis stalk with seedlet, Hopkins Marine Station

Basic Principles:

Similar to other grasses, saltgrass can reproduce either through seeds or regeneration / extension of a section of rhizome.

Distichlis' underground rhizomes can either (1) extend and produce new sprouts, clones of the original plant, or (2) generate an entirely new plant when removed from the parent plant and placed under proper environmental conditions. In fact, due to the Distichlis' general poor seed production, almost all human-facilitated reproduction of saltgrass (for agricultural, landscaping, or scientific purposes for example) is done by planting cut sections of a rhizome taken from a healthy adult plant and allowing them to regenerate. Rhizomes have been known to sprout even when buried under as much as one foot of soil [10].

Saltgrass seeds, on the other hand, are not as hardy reproducers. They require very specific conditions to germinate into adult plants, namely high temperatures, low salinities and moist soils. Unfortunately, in the ecosystems in which Distichlis is normally found, these conditions occur very rarely. The USDA Forestry Service notes that under natural conditions, for a given plant only a "few seeds will germinate" in any year, and that most growth of new saltgrass plants in nature occurs through extension of the system of rhizomes, as noted above [10].

With regards to seed production, these plants are dioecious - male and female reproductive parts exist on distinct individuals. Male (staminate) spikelets appear thick and yellow (see photograph below) while female (pistillate) appear greener and more membranous than the male [5]. Panicles, both male and female, are usually between four and eight centimeters long with only a few tan spikelets [10, 11].

Close-up of male seed stalk from above plant, Hopkins Marine Station

Saltgrass is a warm-season grass and generally blooms in the springtime. The flower, although not observed directly by the author, is described as yellowish, short and narrow [4]

Last updated March 2003, Justin Kitzes.

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