Date of introduction and origin
The smooth cord-grass Spartina alterniflora was
introduced from the east coast of North America to Southampton
Water prior to 1870 and was first found on mudflats near Hythe
(Stapf 1913). Its subsequent crossing with the native small
cord-grass S. maritima resulted in the appearance of a
fertile amphidiploid, the common cord-grass S. anglica
(and in the sterile hybrid S. townsendii which preceded
it). Their identification is covered by Marchant (1967).
Method of introduction
It is thought that Spartina alterniflora was
originally introduced in ships' ballast water.
Reasons for success
Following its formation through hybridisation and tetraploidy,
Spartina anglica was successful through having a rapid
rate of growth, high fecundity and aggressive colonisation (Benham
Rate of spread and methods involved
Following the appearance of Spartina anglica, it was
extensively planted throughout Britain to stablise soft sediments
(Hubbard & Stebbings 1967) and in Europe, China and eastern
USA. Spartina has also spread naturally. At many sites it
remained dormant as seeds for a number of years then showed a
considerable expansion over a relatively short period. This
expansion appears to be correlated with a year in which early seed
development takes place and seedling establishment is extensive.
Thereafter, clumps of Spartina arise by vegetative growth
from seedlings and these gradually coalesce to form monospecific
swards (Doody 1984).
In Britain Spartina anglica is widespread around the
east and west coasts and is still expanding in the west. However,
on the south coast, having initially spread extensively, it died
back (Doody, 1984). It is generally found in sheltered, estuarine
conditions where mud flats are present. Elsewhere in Europe it is
found in estuaries in the west (P. Doody pers. comm.).
Factors likely to influence spread and distribution
The availability of mud flats for colonisation, change in
sediment patterns, tidal regimes and climate (it appears less able
to set viable seed in colder climates) have influenced its
Effects on the environment
The rapid colonisation of Spartina over extensive
flats in sites with large wintering populations of waders and
wildfowl is a major concern because of the birds' loss of habitat
for feeding and roosting (Davidson et al. 1991). It is
believed that Spartina anglica may have helped the die
back of the native S. maritima as the latter is much less
widely spread than formerly (Perring & Walters 1976). In
addition, by taking over the mantle of the native pioneer species,
S. anglica has altered the course of succession. It
usually produces a monoculture which has much less intrinsic value
to wildlife than the naturally species-diverse marsh (Davidson
et al. 1991).
Effects on commercial interests
Amenity interests may be affected, though it has been used in
the past as an aid to saltmarsh enclosure.
Control methods used and effectiveness
Before World War II, copper sulphate was sprayed on
Spartina as a treatment (Hardy 1968). More recently there
have been several attempts to control Spartina anglica
where it has invaded nature reserves (Doody 1984) by spraying it
with the herbicides Dalapon and Feneron, and attempts have also
been made to dig up seedlings. Dalapon is reported to have been up
to 80% successful, but is generally considered to be not very
effective. Pesticide trials have been carried out at Lindisfarne
National Nature Reserve off the Northumberland coast and at several
The ability of Spartina to colonise open mudflats at
a faster rate, and further seaward, than its competitors has been
seen as of potential benefit to man. As a consequence it was
extensively planted throughout Britain (Hubbard & Stebbings
1967), in Europe, and even as far as China, as an aid to
stabilisation of coastlines and a stimulus to enclosure and
land-claim (Davidson et al. 1991).
Spartina anglica is now the main species of
cord-grass found throughout Great Britain.
Burd, F. 1994. Guide to the identification of British
saltmarsh plants. National Rivers Authority, on behalf of the
Institute of Estuarine and Coastal Studies, University of
Benham, P.E.M. 1990. Spartina anglica - a research
review. Huntingdon, Institute of Terrestrial Ecology. (ITE
Research Publication No. 2.)
Davidson, N.C., Laffoley, D.d'A., Doody, J.P., Way, L.S.,
Gordon, J., Key, R., Drake, C.M., Pienkowski, M.W., Mitchell, R.,
& Duff, K.L. 1991. Nature conservation and estuaries in
Great Britain. Peterborough, Nature Conservancy Council.
Doody, J.P., ed. 1984. Spartina anglica in Great
Britain. A report of a meeting held at Liverpool University on 10th
November 1982. Huntingdon, Nature Conservancy Council. (Focus
on nature conservation, No. 5.)
Hardy, E. 1968. The control of Spartina townsendii in
a tidal estuary. Dock Harbour Authority, 41:
Hubbard, J.C.E., & Stebbings, R.E. 1967. Distribution,
date of origin and acreage of Spartina townsendii
(s.l.) marshes in Great Britain. Proceedings of the
Botanical Society of the British Isles, 7: 1-7.
Marchant, C.J. 1967. Evolution of Spartina
(Gramineae). I. The history and morphology of the genus in Britain.
Journal of the Linnean Society (Botany), 60: 1-24.
Perring, F.H., & Walters, S.M. 1976. Atlas of the
British flora. Botanical Society of the British Isles.
Stapf, O. 1913. Townsend's grass or ricegrass. Proceedings
of the Bournemouth Natural Science Society, 5:
Acknowledgements (contributions from questionnaire)
Dr J.P. Doody, Joint Nature Conservation Committee.