Salt Marsh Plants

Key Concepts:

  1. The Palo Alto Baylands Nature Preserve is a part of the San Francisco Bay Estuary.
  2. Tides affect how humans, plants, and wildlife exist around the SF Bay Estuary.
  3. Salt marsh plants have special adaptations to live in an environment with tides, waves, and salt water.

Nearly all plants need sun, air, soil, and water to grow and survive. Plants living here in the Palo Alto Baylands, and all around the San Francisco Bay Estuary, grow and survive much differently than most plants in your neighborhood.

The plants you see in front of you grow in a tidal marsh environment. This means that twice a day, this area becomes flooded with salt water from ocean and the San Francisco Bay, and twice a day, the tide goes out, leaving the plants exposed.

Some plants prefer to glow closer to the waters edge, where they can spend more time absorbing water, like cordgrass. However, too much time in the water causes the roots of the cordgrass to rot – so this plant has adapted a hollow stem, like a straw, to breathe air down to its roots.

Plants living higher in the upper marsh zone, like Salty Susan, take in salt water through a specialized root system that filters and blocks much of the salt from entering the stems and leaves of the plant. Rather than block the salts out, another marsh plant, pickleweed, actually soaks in and stores salt inside modified leaves, until it drops the leaves when it has had its fill.

Imagine also getting battered by the waves as they lap against the shore! Many marsh plants utilize an interconnected (braided) root system that helps anchor itself from being washed away by the constant wave action of the tides.

These are just a couple examples of some of the ways these hardy plants have adapted for living in this unique environment. Be sure to check back in later today to see how different this scene is, as the water level changes with the tides. These plants need to spread their seeds somehow, how do you think that happens?