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Widgeon Grass

Ruppia maritima

Widgeon grass grows in many places, from the rivers of the upper/middle Chesapeake Bay to the saltier lower Bay. (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service)
Widgeon grass grows in many places, from the rivers of the upper/middle Chesapeake Bay to the saltier lower Bay. (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service)

Widgeon grass is a bay grass with delicate, thread-like leaves that grow alternately along slender, branching stems. It ranges from slightly brackish upper and middle Chesapeake Bay rivers to the saltier lower Bay.

Appearance:

  • Delicate, thread-like leaves with rounded tips
  • Leaves have a sheath at the base
  • Leaves grow alternately along slender, branching stems
  • Grows in two forms: an upright, branched form with flowers that stand several feet tall, and a short, creeping form with leaves at the base of the plant
  • In late summer, long stalks with clusters of individual black, pointed seeds grow from the base of the leaves.
  • Extensive root system with creeping rhizomes that lack tubers

Habitat:

  • Grows in a wide range of salinities, from slightly brackish to salty waters
  • Has been found in fresh water and non-tidal tributaries
  • Most common in shallow areas with a sandy bottom, but can also grow in soft, muddy sediments

Range:

  • Ranges from the rivers of the upper/middle Chesapeake Bay to the saltier lower Bay
  • Widgeon grass and eelgrass are the dominant bay grass species in the Virginia portion of the Bay

Predators:

  • Migratory waterfowl

Reproduction and Life Cycle:

  • Reproduces sexually between late spring and late summer when two flowers, which are enclosed in a sheath at the base of the leaves, emerge and grow on a stalk toward the water’s surface. Pollen floating on the water’s surface fertilizes the flowers, which then produce seeds
  • Asexual reproduction takes place when new stems grow from the plant’s root and rhizome system

Other Facts:

  • Also known as ditch grass because it sometimes grows in ditches along road sides and farm fields
  • Can be confused with sago pondweed, slender pondweed and horned pondweed. Widgeon grass can be distinguished by its leaves, which grow alternately along the branches, and its seeds, which grow on individual stalks.

Sources and Additional Information:

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