Ammophila Breviligulata - American Beachgrass | Fire Island, New York

© Sophie W. Smith

Joined October 2012

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Scientific classification
Kingdom: Plantae
(unranked): Angiosperms
(unranked): Monocots
(unranked): Commelinids
Order: Poales
Family: Poaceae
Genus: Ammophila
Species: A. breviligulata
Binomial name
Ammophila breviligulata

Ammophila breviligulata (American beachgrass or American marram grass) is a species of grass that is native to eastern North America, where it grows on sand dunes along the Atlantic Ocean and Great Lakes coasts. Beachgrass thrives under conditions of shifting sand, sand burial, and high winds; it is a dune-building grass that builds the first line of sand dunes along the coast. Beachgrass is less vigorous in stabilized sand, and is only infrequently found further inland than the coastal foredunes. A. breviligulata was introduced to the Pacific coast of North America in the 1930s. It is proving to be invasive, and is increasingly important to coastal ecology and development in Oregon, Washington, and British Columbia.

The leaves of A. breviligulata have deeply furrowed upper surfaces and smooth undersides, and grow 2 to 3 feet (0.6 to 0.9 m) tall. The plant’s inflorescence is a spike-like panicle that can reach 10 inches (25 cm) long; the seed head appears in late July or August. The species name breviligulata derives from the Latin brevis (“short”) and ligula (“tongue”), which refers to a feature of grass leaves called the ligule.

Photograph of a sandy beach with two types of beachgrass; there are trees in the background with leaves turning to autumn colors.
Two varieties of American beachgrass growing on the eastern shore of Lake Ontario. The greener stand in the distance is Cape variety, and has been introduced to this area; it is native to the Atlantic Ocean coasts of North America. The stand in the foreground that is browner is the native “Champlain beachgrass”, which is sometimes considered a separate species A. champlainensis. October photograph taken in Black Pond Wildlife Management Area, New York.
A. breviligulata is quite similar in appearance and ecology to a second species of beachgrass, Ammophila arenaria (European beachgrass). As Nick Page has summarized, “Ammophila breviligulata is distinguished from A. arenaria by smaller ligules (1-3 mm versus 10-30 mm long in A. arenaria), wider and less inrolled leaves, longer flower spike (25-35 cm versus 15-25 cm long in A. arenaria), and scaly rather than puberulent leaf veins on the upper leaf surface.” Read more

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