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Watershed Habitats – High Marsh

The High Marsh…a foot makes all the difference

In the Inland Bays a foot of elevation can make all the difference. 

Sand beach transitions to low marsh, which transitions to high marsh at the James Farm Ecological Preserve.

Sand beach transitions to low marsh, which transitions to high marsh at the James Farm Ecological Preserve.

As a transition zone between the damp lower salt marsh and the Maritime forest, the ‘High Marsh” area sits just a little higher up in elevation than the rest of the marsh. As a result, it is not flooded as often, only being overtaken during storm tides and king tides.

High Marsh Diagram

Bayberry bush in the high marsh.

This area is important habitat for many species of songbirds including the sharp-tailed sparrow, Seaside sparrow and red-winged Blackbird.

Take a look, you’ll even spot some hawks, foxes, raccoons, deer, or a muskrat hanging around!

Perhaps one of the most recognizable plants found here is Spartina patens (known as salt marsh hay or saltmeadow cordgrass). This was once used as insulation, mulch and even bedding and feed for livestock in many coastal communities!

The “High Marsh” is incredibly diverse. For the plant-lovers out there, other common species include spike grass (Distichlis spicata), sea lavender (Limonium carolinianum), salt marsh aster (Aster tenuifolius), and more!

A Grounsel bush in the high marsh.

Then, as the elevation increases, larger shrubs like groundsel bush, marsh elder, and bayberry are found as well as invasive Phragmites. Eventually the marsh transitions into the Maritime forest which features larger trees like the Loblolly pine, and American Holly.

This habitat is in particular trouble, as areas are filled in for development purposes and as sea level rise threatens coastal areas.

Kids in high marsh by by Westbranchsandy (Own work) CC liscence via wikimedia

Kids in high marsh by by Westbranchsandy (Own work) CC liscence via wikimedia