Thursday, September 19, 2019

The River of Grass

Growing Up EC

Photos by Savannah Oglesby

A charming part about growing up and living in the Everglades is getting to watch the endless open spaces of Sawgrass, dancing in the cool wind. If you’re ever driving down highway 41 or highway 29, looking out your window you can see Sawgrass stretching for miles. That is what’s called the “River of Grass,” which is what the Everglades is famed for.

Environmental activist Marjory Stoneman Douglas spoke about the Sawgrass in many of her books and country music singer John Anderson sang about it in his song, “Seminole Wind.” Sawgrass is one of a kind and is an important aspect to the Everglades ecosystem. Many that hear the name Sawgrass or see it in person believe it is indeed a member of the grass family. But interestingly, Sawgrass is not a type of grass at all. It is actually a part of the sedge family.

Just like other types of sedges, Sawgrass has lanky, angular leaves and prefer being in areas where it is moist. The name it has is an accurate accusation since each blade of Sawgrass has tiny ridges on the sides that are very sharp. It can cut you easily if you aren’t careful. It’s not good to be around it with your feet bare as well as your legs and arms. A noteworthy fact about the plant itself is that scientists contemplate that sawgrass is one of the oldest plant species.

You can generally find it near riverbanks in southern parts of the United States ranging from Texas to Virginia, but many know about the plant being in Florida because of the wetlands of the Everglades. Sawgrass itself grows rapidly and when it grows it is very dense. The plant manages to grow very tall and can reach up to a whopping nine feet in height! It also produces tiny, unique-looking flowers on the top of the stems. The stems that hold the petite flowers are around three feet in height.

Even though Sawgrass can be dangerous if people come into contact with it, many other animals tend to find it very useful. Alligators are known to nest in sawgrass for protection purposes, and other birds use it to protect their nesting locations. Migrating birds such as geese and ducks eat the seeds from Sawgrass to give them energy and nutrients. The majority of dense Sawgrass areas however don’t have many diverse species that spend their time there.

Sawgrass marshes for most of the year contain water which helps with the growth of the plant. The longer the hydroperiod is and the deeper the water, the Sawgrass will end up growing thick and tall. When a drought occurs or there is limited water and depth, Sawgrass will have a very limited growth. Throughout the year since the soil is moist it protects the roots of the Sawgrass from fires and control burns. The plant tissues that are above-ground are burned but the roots being in the wet soil will help the plant make a whole recovery when it grows back. But fires aren’t a bad thing when it comes to Sawgrass habitats. It’s important to the habitat since fires limit any type of invasion from woody vegetation that would change the Sawgrass marshes drastically.

So, if you’re ever driving or visiting in the Everglades make sure you take in the majestic, swaying Sawgrass, because the “River of Grass” is truly one of the most beautiful places on Earth.

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