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Black Needlerush

Juncus roemerianus

Range/Geographical Distribution: Along the coast from Delaware to Texas.

Habitat: Salt and brackish water marshes in the high marsh. 

Description: Leaves are black/gray/green and stem-like, with very sharp points.  Occurs in dense stands. 

Size: Can reach five feet in height.

Breeding: Flowers from May to October and produces tiny, dark seeds from July to November.

Predators/Ecological Function: Large, dense, areas of black needlerush protect shorelines, help filter suspended solids, take up nutrients, and facilitate soil oxygenation. Birds and muskrats use the seeds and vegetation of needlerush.

Conservation Status: No legal status.

Interesting Facts: Black needlerush is one of more than 30 rushes that can be found in Georgia.  This rush is often used to help restore estuaries. 

On the Coast: Black needlerush is a dominate plant of the saltmarsh and can cover large areas in the high marsh along Georgia’s coast.  Be careful when walking through these areas as the sharp leaves of this plant can cause injuries.

Cabbage Palm

Sabal palmetto

Range/Geographical Distribution: Along the coast from North Carolina to Louisiana, also in the Bahamas and Cuba.

Habitat: Freshwater swamps, low coastal areas, hammocks, pine forests, and hardwood forests. 

Description: A solitary palm with a single trunk and a canopy of 24-36 leaves that can reach over six feet in length and three feet in width.

Size: Can grow to 80 feet in height.

Reproduction: Flowers spring to fall. Produces green fruits called drupes that are about a half inch in diameter and turn black when mature.  Seeds germinate in two to three months.

Predators/Ecological Function: The small fruits are eaten by birds, squirrels, bears, raccoons, and deer.  The flowers provide nectar for butterflies and birds use the leaf fibers for building nests.  Epiphytes grow on the trunk or the base of the leaves and frogs and bats use the leaves for shelter.

Conservation Status: No legal status.

Interesting Facts: The cabbage palm is the state tree of Florida and South Carolina.  It is cold hardy to at least 15˚F.  Cabbage palm leaves were used by indigenous people to make nets, baskets, and thatch.  Seminoles used the trucks for poles, paddles, arrows, and more.  People still cook and eat the terminal bud or “cabbage” of the palm, calling it heart of palm.  Eating the bud kills the palm. 

On the Coast: Cabbage palms are common along the Georgia coast and are highly hurricane and fire resistant.

Live Oak

Quercus virginiana

Range/Geographical Distribution: Along the coast from Virginia to Mexico.

Habitat: Woodlands, sand ridges, maritime forests, and other dry areas along the southeastern coast. 

Description: Short, thick trunk that is divided into many branches. Gray bark is deeply divided into furrows and becomes blocky with age.  Leathery, green, oval leaves are pale gray/green below and can reach five inches in length.

Size: Can grow to more than 60 feet tall and have a limb spread of 80 feet.

Breeding: Produces acorns in the fall, some years copiously and some years none at all.  Acorn caps cover about 1/3 of the nut and acorns are grouped in clusters of two to five.

Predators/Ecological Function: Epiphytes such as Spanish moss, resurrection fern, and ball moss are common along the branches of live oaks.  Birds, bear, deer, and squirrels eat the acorns.

Conservation Status: No legal status.

Interesting Facts: The live oak retains its old leaves until new ones appear and is thus considered “evergreen”. 

On the Coast: Live oaks are one of the most recognizable trees of the south and are common all along Georgia’s coast.

Longleaf Pine

Pinus palustris

Range/Geographical Distribution: Along the coastal plain from Virginia to Texas.

Habitat: Well-drained, sandy areas with other trees including oak, dogwood, blackgum, sweetgum, persimmon, and sassafras. 

Description: An evergreen conifer with scaly bark and 8-18 inch needles. 

Size: A mature tree may reach a height of 100 to 120 feet.

Breeding: Begins to reproduce at 30 years of age and 10 inches in diameter. The six to eight inch cones usually contain about 35 winged seeds.   The seeds germinate in one to two weeks, seedlings are initially stem-less, and production of branches occurs after the seeding reaches at least ten feet in height.

Predators/Ecological Function: Longleaf pine forests are a habitat for many bird species as well as deer, gopher tortoises, and squirrels.  Birds and small mammals eat the pine seeds and old pine trees provide a nesting habitat for the endangered red-cockaded woodpecker.

Conservation Status: The longleaf pine is not an endangered species but many endangered plant and animal species can be found in longleaf pine communities.  In Texas, these communities are considered threatened by the Texas Natural Heritage Program.  It is estimated that longleaf communities once covered 90 million acres but now only cover 5-10 million acres in the United States.

Interesting Facts: Longleaf pines can hybridize with the loblolly pine and the slash pine.  These trees may live four or five centuries. The longleaf pine is fire-resistant and fires help reduce competition from other trees as well as help seeds germinate by exposing the soil. 

On the Coast: Current longleaf pine communities are mostly found on private hunting plantations and military land although this type of forest was the dominant woodland in coastal Georgia before European settlement

Perennial Glasswort

Salicornia virginica

Range/Geographical Distribution: Along the coast from Nova Scotia to Florida and Texas as well as from Alaska to Mexico.  Also found in India, Japan, Korea, Russia, SW Asia, and Europe.

Habitat: Salt marshes and salt flats. 

Description: A bright green succulent plant with braches that look like pickles. 

Size: Can reach one foot in height.

Breeding: Flowers in summer and fall and the flowers are hermaphroditic.

Predators/Ecological Function: Provides cover for small animals.

Conservation Status: Listed as threatened in New Hampshire.

Interesting Facts: Burned glasswort plants are used to make glass and fresh plants have been used externally in the treatment of arthritic pain, rheumatism, aches, pains, and swellings.  Glasswort is currently being tested for use as a biofuel since it is composed of 32% oil. 

On the Coast: Perennial glasswort is common along the high marsh on Georgia’s coast.  Its leaves are edible and have a very salty taste.  It can be found in grocery stores.

Prickly Pear

Opuntia humifusa

Range/Geographical Distribution: The eastern and mid-western United States from Massachusetts south to Florida, west to New Mexico, and north to Ontario, Canada.

Habitat: Rocky or sandy, well-drained soil. 

Description: Green, flattened, segmented stems or “pads” are paddle shaped and covered in bristles and long spines. 

Size: Can grow to two feet high and four feet wide.

Breeding: Produces waxy yellow flowers three inches long in the spring.  Green, two to three inch fruits then form and turn pink/purple in the fall when they are ripe.

Predators/Ecological Function: Hummingbirds and bees visit the flowers of the prickly pear.

Conservation Status: Listed as endangered or rare in some northeastern states.

Interesting Facts: Prickly pear pads are edible and can be peeled, chopped, sautéed, or diced.  They are said to taste similar to green beans.  The pads will also root easily to start a new plant. 

On the Coast: This cactus lives in sandy areas along Georgia’s coast.  Watch out when hiking through these areas because prickly pear spines can reach one inch in length and are very sharp.

Saltmeadow Cordgrass

Spartina patens

Range/Geographical Distribution: Along the east and west coasts of the United States and Canada.  Also found along the coast of the Gulf of Mexico.

Habitat: Saltmarshes and sandy meadows. 

Description: A wiry grass with long stems and 1/8th inch wide, rolled leaves.  Green in summer and light brown in winter. 

Size: Usually less than 40 inches tall.

Breeding: Flowers from June to October and produces wheat-like fruits on only one side of the stalk.

Predators/Ecological Importance: Saltmeadow cordgrass acts as a pollution filter and helps buffer the shoreline against flooding and erosion.

Conservation Status: Saltmeadow cordgrass is listed as an invasive species on the west coast including Washington, Oregon, and California.

Interesting Facts: Like some other plants adapted to live in a saline environment, cordgrass has specialized cells in the roots that exclude salt and prevent the loss of fresh water. 

On the Coast: Saltmeadow cordgrass can be seen in large stands along the high marsh of Georgia’s coast.

Sargassum Seaweed

Sargassum spp.

Range/Geographical Distribution: Worldwide.

Habitat: Temperate, tropical, and subtropical waters, both intertidal and subtidal. 

Description: Algae of this genus are generally brown or green in color and are made up of a holdfast, a stipe, and a frond.  Some species have gas-filled bladders that help keep the fronds afloat. 

Size: Some species reach over 30 feet in length.

Breeding: Reproduces sexually by releasing haploid gametes or vegetatively through growth.

Predators/Ecological Importance: Rafts of these algae provide habitat and food for many species of larval and adult fish, many invertebrates, and loggerhead sea turtle hatchlings.

Conservation Status: No legal status.

Interesting Facts: Large mats of sargassum seaweed make up the “Sargasso Sea” in the Atlantic Ocean, a very specialized habitat home to many species of animals found no where else. 

On the Coast: Pieces of sargassum seaweed sometimes wash up on Georgia’s beaches, especially during the summer after storms.

Saw Palmetto

Serenoa repens

Range/Geographical Distribution: Along the coast from South Carolina to Texas.

Habitat: Forests with well-drained soil. 

Description: An understory shrub with creeping, horizontal, multi-branched stems and green, fan-shaped leaves. The sharp spines on the petioles of the leaves give the saw-palmetto its common name.  

Size: The shrub form usually only reaches a height of seven feet but the tree form may reach 25 feet in height.

Breeding: Produces white flowers between April and July that grow from the leaf axils.  Fruits are green or yellow and ripen to blue or black.

Predators/Ecological Importance: Provides habitat for many birds, reptiles, and small mammals.  Black bears and white-tailed deer also eat the fruit.  Saw palmettos help with watershed protection and erosion control.

Conservation Status: No legal status.

Interesting Facts: Dried, ripe fruits are processed into a drug called serenoa that is used to treat bladder, prostate, and urethra infections. 

On the Coast: Large clumps of saw palmettos may be seen within coastal Georgia’s forests and barrier islands.

Sea Lettuce

Ulva lactuca

Range/Geographical Distribution: Worldwide.

Habitat: Attached to hard surfaces along shores in brackish water and estuaries, also may be found as a free-floating mass in sheltered waters.

Description: A bright green algae with broad, crumpled, translucent fronds.   Resembles terrestrial lettuce, hence its name.

Size: Clumps may reach a foot in diameter.

Breeding: Adult plants produce zoospores that settle and form haploid male and female plants similar to the adults. These haploid males and females release gametes.  The gametes combine and produce a zygote which grows into an adult plant.

Predators/Ecological Importance: Sea lettuce may be eaten by humans, manatees, some fish, and many invertebrates.

Conservation Status: Listed as not threatened.

Interesting Facts: The fronds of sea lettuce are only two cell layers thick.

On the Coast: Sea lettuce can be found attached to rocks and docks along the Georgia coast as well as washed up along the beach.

Sea Oats

Uniola paniculata

Range/Geographical Distribution: Along the coast from Virginia to Florida and the Gulf Coast to Texas and south to Mexico. Also found in the Bahamas and Cuba.

Habitat: Barrier islands in foredunes and dune crests. 

Description: A semitropical, perennial grass with pointed, eight to 16 inch long leaves. 

Size: Can reach six feet in height.

Breeding: Flowering varies by region and flower spikelets can reach 20 inches.  Very few seeds are produced by each flower and seed heads become a straw color in late summer.

Predators/Ecological Importance: The complex and dense root system of sea oats helps to trap wind-blown sands along the beach and form/maintain dunes.  Seeds also provide a food source for birds and mammals.

Conservation Status: On Tybee Island it is illegal to harvest sea oats or walk on the dunes.

Interesting Facts: Sea oats are highly tolerant of sea water for short periods and thrive in salt spray conditions. Scientists believe that the salt spray may be a source of micronutrients for these plants that normally grow in the barren beach sand.

On the Coast: Sea oats are the dominant plant found along the dunes on Georgia’s barrier islands.

Sea Oxeye Daisy

Borrichia frutescens

Range/Geographical Distribution: Along the coast from Maryland to Texas.

Habitat: Saltwater and brackish water marshes.

Description: A shrub-like perennial plant with fleshy, oval, green/gray leaves.

Size: Can reach four feet in height.

Breeding: Flowers from June to August and the flowers have yellow rays with a brown/yellow disk. Fruits are small and inconspicuous.

Predators/Ecological Importance: Flowers provide nectar for many species of butterflies.  Vegetation provides food for other insects and habitat for birds and small mammals.

Conservation Status: Listed as endangered in Maryland.  Invasive species in Bermuda, the Bahamas, and Cuba.

Interesting Facts: The sea oxeye daisy can live for more than five years. 

On the Coast: Sea oxeye daisies may be seen in the high marsh along the Georgia coast.

Smooth Cordgrass

Spartina alterniflora

Range/Geographical Distribution: Along the east coast from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico.  Also found on the west coast from Washington to California.

Habitat: Saltmarshes. 

Description: A large, coarse, green grass specially adapted to live in a saline environment. 

Size: Can reach eight feet in height.

Breeding: Exhibits sexual and vegetative reproduction.

Predators/Ecological Importance: Smooth cordgrass acts as a pollution filter and helps buffer the shoreline against flooding and erosion. It is eaten by West Indian manatees, snow geese, and muskrats.  These grasses provide an attachment for ribbed mussels and provide cover for many birds, small mammals, fish, and shellfish.

Conservation Status: Considered an invasive species in Washington, Oregon, and California.

Interesting Facts: Periwinkle snails are often seen on the stems of smooth cordgrass.  These animals create wounds on the leaves of the grass which then grow a fungus.  The periwinkle snails consume the fungus.

On the Coast: Smooth cordgrass can be found in large, dense stands in the saltmarshes along Georgia’s coast.  Dead cordgrass stems, called wrack, wash up on beaches and help to form dunes.  Mats of wrack within the marsh create habitat for crabs, snails, and juvenile diamondback terrapin turtles

Southern Magnolia

Magnolia grandiflora

Range/Geographical Distribution: Along the coast from Maryland to Texas.

Habitat: Lowland woods, hammocks, and maritime forests. 

Description: A medium-sized evergreen tree with large, oval, waxy green leaves that can reach a foot in length.

Size: Can reach 90 feet in height and the trunk can reach three feet in diameter.

Breeding: Produces large, white, fragrant flowers from April to June. Seeds hang by silken threads from mature cone-like fruits from September through late fall.

Predators/Ecological Importance:  Birds and small mammals eat the seeds.

Conservation Status: No legal status.

Interesting Facts: Extracts from the leaves, fruit, bark, and wood of the southern magnolia have potential for pharmaceutical applications.  The species name “grandis” and “flor” translate from Latin to “big flower.” 

On the Coast: Southern magnolias are common in urban areas along the Georgia coast but can also be found in maritime forests and other well-drained areas.

Southern Red Cedar

Juniperus silicicola

Range/Geographical Distribution: Along the coast from North Carolina to Texas.

Habitat: Usually within 30 miles of saltwater, in maritime forests. 

Description: A medium-sized evergreen tree with red, peeling bark and flat, fine, green needles. 

Size: Can reach 45 feet in height.

Breeding: Dioecious: male cones shed pollen January to February, female cones mature October to November. Produces grey/blue berry-like fruits that are covered in a wax-like coating.

Predators/Ecological Importance: Many animals eat the fruit and foliage as well as use this tree for protective and nesting cover.

Conservation Status: No legal status.

Interesting Facts: The wood from cedar trees is used for products such as pencils and furniture while the berries are used to flavor food and drink.  The redcedar is sometimes used as a Christmas tree and the fruits are also called juniper berries.

On the Coast: Southern redcedar can be found along Georgia’s coast growing near the water within maritime forests.

Spanish Moss

Tillandsia usneoides

Range/Geographical Distribution: Along the coast from Virginia to Texas and south to Chile and Argentina. It has been introduced to Hawaii and Australia.

Habitat: Wet habitats including swamps, rainforests, mangroves, and near waterways.  Commonly found hanging from bald cypress, live oak, elm, gum, pecan, and pine trees. 

Description: A fibrous and rootless plant that droops from tree limbs.  Stringy gray stems with narrow, fuzzy, gray leaves. 

Size: Masses can reach 20 feet in length.

Breeding: Blooms in late summer with small blue/green flowers.  Seed capsules split open when ripe and release seeds into the wind.

Predators/Ecological Importance: Although Spanish moss does not directly harm its host, it can cause increased wind resistance and reduce the amount of light that can penetrate its hosts’ leaves.

Conservation Status: No legal status.

Interesting Facts: Spanish moss is considered an epiphyte (“air plant”) and not a parasite because it photosynthesizes and produces its own energy. This plant was once harvested for stuffing car seats, mattresses, and furniture as well as for packing material.

On the Coast: Spanish moss is abundant along the Georgia coast where it can be seen hanging from trees, bushes, and sometimes even man-made structures.


Vaccinium arboretum

Range/Geographical Distribution: The southeast United States from Virginia south to Florida, west to Texas, and north to Kansas.

Habitat: Sandhills, scrubs, dunes, coastal hammocks, and oak woodlands. 

Description: A small tree with reddish orange to greenish gray, flaking bark.  Stiff, glossy, green leaves are one half to two inches long and turn reddish-purple in the fall. 

Size: Can reach a height of 20-30 feet and a trunk diameter of 10 inches.

Breeding: Flowers in the spring and produces half inch long, white and bell-shaped flowers. Gritty, non-juicy berries are produced in October and may last through the winter.

Predators/Ecological Importance: A source of food for many birds and small mammals as well as a few larger mammals including bears. Also a larval host plant for butterfly caterpillars.

Conservation Status: No legal status.

Interesting Facts: Sparkleberry is closely related to native blueberries but, unlike blueberries, sparkleberries are inedible to humans.  The bark from this tree has been used in tanning leathers and root extracts were traditionally used to treat diarrhea.  Also known as farkleberry.

On the Coast: Sparkleberry is considered an important food for white-tailed deer in Georgia.

Wax Myrtle

Morella cerifera

Range/Geographical Distribution: From New Jersey south to Texas and west to Oklahoma.  Also found throughout the Bahamas, Mexico, and Central America.

Habitat: Pinelands, swampy areas, and other moist areas. 

Description: An evergreen, multi-stemmed shrub with olive green foliage and gray bark.

Size: Can reach 40 feet in height.

Breeding: Dioecious (separate male and female plants), flowers from February to June, and is wind pollinated.  Mature drupes (fruits) are blue/gray and covered in wax.

Predators/Ecological Importance: Offers food and cover for many birds and small animals.

Conservation Status: No legal status.

Interesting Facts: Berries from the female plant were used to make candle wax during colonial times.  Wax myrtle is also highly flammable.  The fragrant leaves can be crushed and used as bay leaves for cooking. 

On the Coast: Wax myrtle is common on Georgia’s barrier islands and all along the coast.  It is a favorite food for the painted bunting, an endangered bird.

Yaupon Holly

Ilex vomitoria

Range/Geographical Distribution: The southeastern United States from Virginia to Texas and Oklahoma.

Habitat: The coastal plain and maritime forests including sandy areas, open fields, forest edges, and swamps. 

Description: A member of the holly family that has shiny, evergreen leaves up to 1.5” in length and upright, gray, smooth trunks. 

Size: Can reach 45 feet in height.

Breeding: Male and female plants produce small green/white flowers in the spring. Berry-like red fruits that are 1/4” diameter ripen on female plants in the fall.

Predators/Ecological Importance: The berries are an important winter food source for birds and small mammals.  The dense leaves and branches also provide cover and nesting habitat for animals as well as food for white-tailed deer.

Conservation Status: No legal status.

Interesting Facts: Yaupon holly leaves and twigs contain caffeine.  The American Indians used this plant to prepare a tea for ceremonies.  They drank large quantities and then vomited the tea back up, hence the Latin name vomitoria.  Yaupon holly does not actually induce vomiting and the tea is still enjoyed today. 

On the Coast: Yaupon holly bushes are common along the edges of the saltmarsh and within the maritime forests of coastal Georgia.