Salt marshes are an important, but highly disregarded
resource, vital to both the environment and wildlife. They are usually
located between bays, sloughs, and dry land and are subject to periodic
flooding. The water and soil of a salt marsh are highly saline, consequently,
the plants and animals have adjusted to these conditions. The majority
of plants could not survive in such an environment because the salt would
clog their pores and cause the plants to die. Certain plants, however,
called halophytes have adjusted to saline environments and have developed
certain ways to get rid of excess salt. Plants such as cordgrass,
pickleweed, and saltgrass can be found within the boundaries of a salt
marsh. If you have samples of these plants, you can show the students.
Their survival modifications are especially noticeable under a magnifying
glass on the underside of the leaf.
One of the most abundant plants found in a salt marsh is cordgrass
which is found closest to the bay in the wetter parts of the marsh.
When cordgrass decomposes it breaks apart and releases small particles,
that microscopic organisms use as food. These microscopic organisms
are in turn eaten by larger sealife such as shrimp. The most important
function of cordgrass is not the production of food, but the production
of one of our most valuable resources, oxygen. Cordgrass cleans the
air and makes oxygen. In fact, cordgrass takes in more carbon dioxide
than any other plant and produces 5-10 times more oxygen per square acre
Salt marshes are important habitats for many different wildlife
and sealife species. The ponds serve as resting areas for migrating
birds and also as food sources for the local waterfowl. They are nurseries
to many fish species.
The plants of the salt marsh provide an environment where
other organisms can live.
- Students should try and get more information
on plants that live in a salt marsh. Instruct students to do a search
on: salt marsh, pickleweed, cordgrass, and saltgrass. Record any
more information that they may find.
Below is an example of a east coast marsh area.
Virginia Beach, Virginia salt marsh
- You may want the students to try and draw the relationship
of pickleweed, cordgrass, and saltgrass. Use the pictures below to help
you draw the plants.