Invasive Species Compendium

Detailed coverage of invasive species threatening livelihoods and the environment worldwide

Datasheet

Ammophila arenaria
(marram grass)

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Datasheet

Ammophila arenaria (marram grass)

Summary

  • Last modified
  • 14 November 2018
  • Datasheet Type(s)
  • Invasive Species
  • Preferred Scientific Name
  • Ammophila arenaria
  • Preferred Common Name
  • marram grass
  • Taxonomic Tree
  • Domain: Eukaryota
  •   Kingdom: Plantae
  •     Phylum: Spermatophyta
  •       Subphylum: Angiospermae
  •         Class: Monocotyledonae
  • Summary of Invasiveness
  • A. arenaria is a grass species specially adapted to growing on sand dunes. It is native to Europe and western Asia and has been introduced as a very effective sand binder to a number of other countries but has...

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Pictures

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PictureTitleCaptionCopyright
Ammophila arenaria (marram grass); flowering plants at the seaward side of a sand dune.
TitleHabit
CaptionAmmophila arenaria (marram grass); flowering plants at the seaward side of a sand dune.
Copyright©Trevor James/Hamilton, New Zealand-2015
Ammophila arenaria (marram grass); flowering plants at the seaward side of a sand dune.
HabitAmmophila arenaria (marram grass); flowering plants at the seaward side of a sand dune.©Trevor James/Hamilton, New Zealand-2015
Ammophila arenaria (marram grass); single flowering clump oa on a sand dune.
TitleHabit
CaptionAmmophila arenaria (marram grass); single flowering clump oa on a sand dune.
Copyright©Trevor James/Hamilton, New Zealand-2015
Ammophila arenaria (marram grass); single flowering clump oa on a sand dune.
HabitAmmophila arenaria (marram grass); single flowering clump oa on a sand dune.©Trevor James/Hamilton, New Zealand-2015
Ammophila arenaria (marram grass); vegetative plants on a sand dune.
TitleHabit
CaptionAmmophila arenaria (marram grass); vegetative plants on a sand dune.
Copyright©Trevor James/Hamilton, New Zealand-2015
Ammophila arenaria (marram grass); vegetative plants on a sand dune.
HabitAmmophila arenaria (marram grass); vegetative plants on a sand dune.©Trevor James/Hamilton, New Zealand-2015
Ammophila arenaria (marram grass); young plants, pulled, showing fibrous roots with vertical and horizontal rhizomes.
TitleRoots and rhizomes.
CaptionAmmophila arenaria (marram grass); young plants, pulled, showing fibrous roots with vertical and horizontal rhizomes.
Copyright©Trevor James/Hamilton, New Zealand-2015
Ammophila arenaria (marram grass); young plants, pulled, showing fibrous roots with vertical and horizontal rhizomes.
Roots and rhizomes.Ammophila arenaria (marram grass); young plants, pulled, showing fibrous roots with vertical and horizontal rhizomes.©Trevor James/Hamilton, New Zealand-2015
Ammophila arenaria (marram grass); flower head.
TitleFlower head
CaptionAmmophila arenaria (marram grass); flower head.
Copyright©Trevor James/Hamilton, New Zealand-2015
Ammophila arenaria (marram grass); flower head.
Flower headAmmophila arenaria (marram grass); flower head.©Trevor James/Hamilton, New Zealand-2015
Ammophila arenaria (marram grass); close-up of flower head.
TitleFlower head
CaptionAmmophila arenaria (marram grass); close-up of flower head.
Copyright©Trevor James/Hamilton, New Zealand-2015
Ammophila arenaria (marram grass); close-up of flower head.
Flower headAmmophila arenaria (marram grass); close-up of flower head.©Trevor James/Hamilton, New Zealand-2015
Ammophila arenaria (marram grass); vegetative shoot.
TitleVegetative shoot
CaptionAmmophila arenaria (marram grass); vegetative shoot.
Copyright©Trevor James/Hamilton, New Zealand-2015
Ammophila arenaria (marram grass); vegetative shoot.
Vegetative shootAmmophila arenaria (marram grass); vegetative shoot.©Trevor James/Hamilton, New Zealand-2015
Ammophila arenaria (marram grass); ligule (image oriented 90° anti-clockwise).
TitleLigule
CaptionAmmophila arenaria (marram grass); ligule (image oriented 90° anti-clockwise).
Copyright©Trevor James/Hamilton, New Zealand-2015
Ammophila arenaria (marram grass); ligule (image oriented 90° anti-clockwise).
LiguleAmmophila arenaria (marram grass); ligule (image oriented 90° anti-clockwise).©Trevor James/Hamilton, New Zealand-2015

Identity

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Preferred Scientific Name

  • Ammophila arenaria (L.) Link

Preferred Common Name

  • marram grass

Other Scientific Names

  • Ammophila arenaria subsp. arenaria
  • Ammophila arenaria var. arundinacea (Host) Husn.
  • Ammophila arundinaceae Host
  • Ammophila littoralis (P.Beauv.) Rothm.
  • Ammophila pallida (C.Presl) Fritsch
  • Arundo arenaria L.
  • Calamagrostis arenaria Roth
  • Diarrhena littoralis (P.Beauv.) Raspail
  • Psamma arenaria (L.) Roem. & Schult.
  • Psamma littoralis P.Beauv.
  • Psamma pallida J. Presl

International Common Names

  • English: common marram; European beach grass; European marram grass; marram; san francisco grass; sea mat grass; seamat grass
  • Spanish: amofila; barrón; grama de las dunas
  • French: ammophile des sables; élyme des sables; oyat; roseau des sables
  • Portuguese: estorno

Local Common Names

  • Denmark: sand-hjaelme
  • Germany: gemeiner strandhafer; helm; sandrohr; sandschilf; strandhafer
  • Italy: sparto pungente
  • Netherlands: helmriet
  • Sweden: sandroer; sandrör

EPPO code

  • AMOAR (Ammophila arenaria)

Summary of Invasiveness

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A. arenaria is a grass species specially adapted to growing on sand dunes. It is native to Europe and western Asia and has been introduced as a very effective sand binder to a number of other countries but has become a problem in many of these. In the countries to which A. arenaria has been introduced it invades coastal sand dunes, thriving in areas of active sand movement. In such places it not only disturbs and replaces native vegetation but can also change the topography and composition of whole foredune systems. In the USA, it has replaced the foredune vegetation, greatly reducing biodiversity, and the foredune topography has changed to much steeper slopes and whilst dune ridges further inland used to be perpendicular to the coast they are now parallel to the coast (Russo et al., 1988). In California it is negatively impacting on a number of endangered species of plants. It is reported as a major alien invader in Australia, New Zealand and South Africa where it is also having a negative environmental impact.

Taxonomic Tree

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  • Domain: Eukaryota
  •     Kingdom: Plantae
  •         Phylum: Spermatophyta
  •             Subphylum: Angiospermae
  •                 Class: Monocotyledonae
  •                     Order: Cyperales
  •                         Family: Poaceae
  •                             Genus: Ammophila
  •                                 Species: Ammophila arenaria

Notes on Taxonomy and Nomenclature

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A. arenaria has been given other binomial names in the past but its current name is now accepted as correct (ITIS, 2015). Two subspecies A. arenaria subsp. arenaria and A. arenaria subsp. arundinacea are also accepted (ITIS, 2015). The separation of these subspecies is based on morphological differences in structure and relative length of the glumes and the length of the hairs at the base of the floret, with the hairs surrounding the base of the lemma being about half as long as the lemma (Huiskes, 1979). Rodriguez-Echeverri et al. (2008) used the inter- simple sequence repeats (ISSR) technique to examine the genetic diversity and inter-relatedness of seven populations collected from northern and southern Portugal, the Mediterranean coast of France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Belgium, England and Wales. They found that the ISSR markers were useful in showing genetic diversity among and within populations but also clearly distinguish between the two subspecies. The authors also speculated that the genetic differences may be related to abiotic factors like substrate temperature and precipitation, suggesting that perhaps the longer seed hairs in the southern subspecies arundinacea may permit better germination in areas with lower and more irregular precipitation.

Description

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A stout, erect, perennial, rhizomatous grass, up to 120 cm high. Rhizomes spreading horizontally and vertically; the younger parts of the rhizome with white coherent pith and bearing yellowish-white overlapping scale leaves; the older parts yellow-brown and hollow, the scale leaves mostly perished. Roots white and fleshy when young, becoming brownish and wiry with age, up to four per node. Aerial shoots formed mainly along the vertical rhizomes, forming dense tufts; the stems of the aerial shoots form elongated internodes when buried, thus becoming vertical rhizomes. Leaves up to 6 mm wide and 60 cm long, but sometimes as much as 90 cm long, sharply pointed, usually tightly inrolled, except under moist conditions; the abaxial surface greyish-green and smooth, without distinct ribs, the adaxial surface glaucous, closely ribbed with ribs densely and minutely hairy; sheaths overlapping. Ligule up to 2.5 cm long, acuminate, split at the top when young and usually torn when older. Panicle 7-15 cm long, dense, stout, spike-like, narrowly oblong to lanceolate-oblong, tapering upwards, whitish, branches erect. Spikelets 10-16 mm long, compressed, narrowly oblong, gaping when dry, with one floret. Glumes slightly unequal, whitish, keeled, slightly pointed, margins hyaline, keel serrate, exceeding the lemma and palea; lower glume 1-nerved, upper glume 3-nerved. Lemma lanceolate, minutely rough, 5-7-nerved, keeled, 8-12 mm long, with two short points at the top, and a short stout awn less than 1 mm long in between; surrounded at the base with fine hairs c. 1/3 of the length of the lemma. Palea 2-4-nerved, compressed, acute, keeled, shortly ciliate on the keel. Lodicules c. 1 mm long, tapering. Stamens three, 4-7 mm long, up to ten times as long as wide, hanging outside the floret. Styles short. Ovary glabrous. Grains brown, obovate, shed while still enclosed by the hardened lemma and palea (Huiskes, 1979).

Plant Type

Top of page Grass / sedge
Herbaceous
Perennial
Seed propagated
Vegetatively propagated

Distribution

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A. arenaria subsp. arenaria is more prevalent in northern Europe whilst A. arenaria subsp. arundinacea is more prevalent in southern Europe and the Mediterranean region, North Africa, Asia Minor and the Middle East, although there seems to be some overlap in their distribution (Euro+Med Plantbase, 2011). Exact details of the countries in which these subspecies are present can be found in the distribution table. The populations introduced to the USA, Australia and New Zealand all seem to be of subspecies arenaria, which could be a reflection of where the original material came from, probably various parts of Britain.

According to Huiskes (1979), the northern limit of distribution coincides with the 0ºC January isotherm. Near to this northern limit, the vigour of A. arenaria declines. In the Faeroes (half way between Norway and Iceland) the species grows only by vegetative means. The southern limit of distribution (in the Northern Hemisphere) is at about 30º N.

Distribution Table

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The distribution in this summary table is based on all the information available. When several references are cited, they may give conflicting information on the status. Further details may be available for individual references in the Distribution Table Details section which can be selected by going to Generate Report.

Continent/Country/RegionDistributionLast ReportedOriginFirst ReportedInvasiveReferenceNotes

Asia

IsraelPresentNativeEuro+Med PlantBase, 2011; USDA-ARS, 2015A. arenaria subsp. arundinacea
LebanonPresentNativeEuro+Med PlantBase, 2011; USDA-ARS, 2015A. arenaria subsp. arundinacea
Saudi ArabiaPresentNativeUSDA-ARS, 2015
TurkeyPresentNativeEuro+Med PlantBase, 2011; USDA-ARS, 2015A. arenaria subsp. arundinacea

Africa

AlgeriaPresentNativeEuro+Med PlantBase, 2011; USDA-ARS, 2015A. arenaria subsp. arundinacea
EgyptPresentNativeEuro+Med PlantBase, 2011; USDA-ARS, 2015A. arenaria subsp. arundinacea
LibyaPresentNativeUSDA-ARS, 2015
MoroccoPresentNativeEuro+Med PlantBase, 2011; USDA-ARS, 2015A. arenaria subsp. arundinacea
South AfricaPresent only in captivity/cultivationUSDA-ARS, 2015
Spain
-Canary IslandsPresentNativeEuro+Med PlantBase, 2011; USDA-ARS, 2015A. arenaria subsp. arundinacea
TunisiaPresentNativeEuro+Med PlantBase, 2011; USDA-ARS, 2015A. arenaria subsp. arundinacea

North America

CanadaPresentPresent based on regional distribution.
-British ColumbiaPresentIntroducedUSDA-NRCS, 2015
-Nova ScotiaPresentIntroducedUSDA-NRCS, 2015
USAPresentPresent based on regional distribution.
-CaliforniaPresentIntroducedUSDA-NRCS, 2015
-HawaiiPresentIntroducedUSDA-NRCS, 2015
-MarylandPresentIntroducedUSDA-NRCS, 2015
-OregonPresentIntroducedUSDA-NRCS, 2015
-PennsylvaniaPresentIntroducedUSDA-NRCS, 2015
-WashingtonPresentIntroducedUSDA-NRCS, 2015

Europe

AlbaniaPresentNativeEuro+Med PlantBase, 2011; USDA-ARS, 2015A. arenaria subsp. arundinacea
BelgiumPresentNativeEuro+Med PlantBase, 2011; USDA-ARS, 2015A. arenaria subsp. arenaria
BulgariaPresentNativeEuro+Med PlantBase, 2011; USDA-ARS, 2015A. arenaria subsp. arundinacea
CroatiaPresentNativeEuro+Med PlantBase, 2011; USDA-ARS, 2015A. arenaria subsp. arundinacea
CyprusPresentNativeEuro+Med PlantBase, 2011; USDA-ARS, 2015A. arenaria subsp. arundinacea
DenmarkPresentNativeEuro+Med PlantBase, 2011; USDA-ARS, 2015A. arenaria subsp. arenaria
EstoniaPresentNativeEuro+Med PlantBase, 2011; USDA-ARS, 2015A. arenaria subsp. arenaria
FinlandPresentNativeEuro+Med PlantBase, 2011; USDA-ARS, 2015A. arenaria subsp. arenaria
FrancePresentNativeEuro+Med PlantBase, 2011; USDA-ARS, 2015A. arenaria subsp. arenaria and A. arenaria subsp arundinacea
-CorsicaPresentNativeEuro+Med PlantBase, 2011A. arenaria subsp. arundinacea
GermanyPresentNativeEuro+Med PlantBase, 2011; USDA-ARS, 2015A. arenaria subsp. arenaria
GreecePresentNativeEuro+Med PlantBase, 2011; USDA-ARS, 2015A. arenaria subsp. arundinacea
IrelandPresentNativeEuro+Med PlantBase, 2011; USDA-ARS, 2015A. arenaria subsp. arenaria
ItalyPresentNativeEuro+Med PlantBase, 2011; USDA-ARS, 2015A. arenaria subsp. arundinacea
LatviaPresentNativeUSDA-ARS, 2015
LithuaniaPresentNativeEuro+Med PlantBase, 2011; USDA-ARS, 2015A. arenaria subsp. arenaria
MaltaPresentNativeEuro+Med PlantBase, 2011A. arenaria subsp. arundinacea
NetherlandsPresentNativeEuro+Med PlantBase, 2011; USDA-ARS, 2015A. arenaria subsp. arenaria
NorwayPresentNativeEuro+Med PlantBase, 2011; USDA-ARS, 2015A. arenaria subsp. arenaria
PolandPresentNativeEuro+Med PlantBase, 2011; USDA-ARS, 2015A. arenaria subsp. arenaria
PortugalPresentNativeEuro+Med PlantBase, 2011; USDA-ARS, 2015A. arenaria subsp. arundinacea
RomaniaPresentNativeEuro+Med PlantBase, 2011; USDA-ARS, 2015A. arenaria subsp. arundinacea
Russian FederationPresentPresent based on regional distribution.
-Northern RussiaPresentNativeEuro+Med PlantBase, 2011A. arenaria subsp. arenaria
SerbiaPresentNativeEuro+Med PlantBase, 2011A. arenaria subsp. arundinacea
SpainPresentNativeEuro+Med PlantBase, 2011; USDA-ARS, 2015A. arenaria subsp. arenaria and A. arenaria subsp. arundinacea
-Balearic IslandsPresentNativeEuro+Med PlantBase, 2011A. arenaria subsp. arundinacea
UKPresentNativeEuro+Med PlantBase, 2011; USDA-ARS, 2015A. arenaria subsp. arenaria
Yugoslavia (former)PresentNativeEuro+Med PlantBase, 2011; USDA-ARS, 2015A. arenaria subsp. arundinacea

Oceania

AustraliaPresentIntroduced Invasive USDA-ARS, 2015
-New South WalesPresentIntroduced Invasive Weeds of Australia, 2011Less common or scattered in coastal districts
-South AustraliaPresentIntroduced Invasive Weeds of Australia, 2011Common and widespread in coastal areas of southeast
-TasmaniaPresentIntroduced Invasive Weeds of Australia, 2011Common and widespread in coastal areas
-VictoriaPresentIntroduced Invasive Weeds of Australia, 2011Common and widespread in coastal areas
-Western AustraliaPresentIntroduced Invasive Weeds of Australia, 2011Common and widespread in coastal areas of southwest
New ZealandPresentIntroduced Invasive Edgar and Connor, 2010Coastal sand dunes, occasionally inland
Norfolk IslandPresentIntroduced Invasive Weeds of Australia, 2011

History of Introduction and Spread

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A.arenaria was introduced into the USA (in the 1900s), Australasia (Australia 1890s and New Zealand, 1872) and South Africa (1870s) by European settlers, who, having seen its great success as a sand-binder in its native range, believed it could usefully perform the same role in other places. Most of the spread to new continents took place during the nineteenth century. In addition to binding sand, A. arenaria was soon found to displace native species and change the shape and structure of coastal sand dunes. 

In New Zealand. A. arenaria was very widely planted to stabilize sand dunes before plantations of Pinus radiata were established on formerly active dunes. Afforestation was vigorously carried out during the 1950s, 1970s and 1980s and as a result A. arenaria is now the dominant species around most of the North Island and South Island (Hilton, 2006). Today in New Zealand only two areas still contain dune systems substantially free of A. arenaria (Hilton, 2006). 

Curiously, today it is still being planted in some areas whilst being actively controlled in others (Russo et al., 1988).

Introductions

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Introduced toIntroduced fromYearReasonIntroduced byEstablished in wild throughReferencesNotes
Natural reproductionContinuous restocking
Australia UK 1890s Habitat restoration and improvement (pathway cause) Yes No CHAH (2015); Council of Heads of Australasian Herbaria (2015) Serious problem along the south coast
New Zealand UK 1872 Habitat restoration and improvement (pathway cause) Yes No Thompson (1922) Serious problem in coastal areas
South Africa UK 1870s Habitat restoration and improvement (pathway cause) Yes No Lubke et al. (1995) Potential problem along Cape coast
USA UK early 1900s Habitat restoration and improvement (pathway cause) Yes No Russo et al. (1988) Serious problem along the Pacific coast

Risk of Introduction

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A. arenaria is largely restricted to temperate zones and has not yet been introduced into all of the countries in which it may survive. Given the potentially useful characteristics of the species, further deliberate introductions are always possible. Rhizomes can withstand immersion in sea water for up to 70 days (especially in cooler winter water) (Konlechner and Hilton, 2009). This allows for local spread and possibly even wider distribution under some circumstances.

Habitat

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A. arenaria grows most vigorously on mobile and semi-fixed dunes, where ‘soils’ are unstable, freely drained and have low nutrient status as well as low organic matter (Huiskes, 1979). It can tolerate extreme conditions of exposure and wide diurnal fluctuations of temperatures between 10ºC at night to 40ºC or more during the day. The species can be found on dunes with a water table far below the surface, such as at Braunton Burrows in Devon, UK, where it was found to be abundant even where the water table was up to 26 m below the surface (Willis et al., 1959). 

A. arenaria grows most vigorously in the open habitat of mobile and semi-fixed dunes where it can tolerate extremes of exposure and wide diurnal fluctuations in soil temperature. The species occurs on sand dunes far above the water table with most roots extending to about 1 m in depth but roots can be found down to depths of 2 m and even 5 m (Huiskes, 1959).

Once sand deposition falls, as is the case in older dunes, the grass loses its dominance and eventually disappears altogether. Under these conditions dunes became susceptible to wind erosion and attempts at replanting of A. arenaria to limit this erosion are rarely successful.

Habitat List

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CategorySub-CategoryHabitatPresenceStatus
Terrestrial
Littoral
Coastal areas Principal habitat
Coastal dunes Principal habitat

Hosts/Species Affected

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In North America, A. arenaria has escaped from plantations and has become naturalized north of San Francisco where it now dominates beaches formerly dominated by Elymus mollis [Leymus mollis] (Russo et al., 1988). Despite L. mollis being more salt tolerant than A. arenaria, A. arenaria can withstand sand accumulation of up to 1 m per year (Willis et al., 1979).

In Australia, native beach plants most commonly affected are beach spinifex (Spinifex sericeus), beach fescue (Austrofestuca littoralis), dune sedge (Carex pumila) and glistening saltbush (Atriplex billardieri). In addition to A. littoralis and S. sericeus, in New Zealand the native species affected by the spread of A. arenaria include pingao (Desmoschoenus spiralis [Ficinia spiralis]) and New Zealand sea spurge (Euphorbia glauca).

Biology and Ecology

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Genetics

The diploid number of 2n = 28 has been reported (Fedorov, 1969) however. Skalinska (1957) reported a tetraploid population with 2n = 56 in Poland.

Reproductive Biology

Clonal spread is more important for A. arenaria than sexual reproduction. Seedlings are found in the field but most die out from desiccation, burial or sand erosion (Huiskes, 1979). Seedlings survive only where these factors are less damaging, such as in damper areas of sand dunes. Inflorescences are not produced until two or more years after germination; after that an individual plant (or genet) may flower every year, but as succession proceeds, flowering becomes rarer and surviving plants may be entirely vegetative (Huiskes, 1979).

Inflorescences are found mainly in areas of mobile sand (Huiskes, 1979). Tillers are monocarpic (i.e. they die after flowering), but most tillers, especially those in semi-fixed and fixed dune areas, die from other causes such as disease or predation. The average number of spikelets per inflorescence, which can be almost 300, does not differ significantly in the different stages of the dune, but the number of fully developed caryopses (up to about 225 per inflorescence on the first dune ridge) is much lower in older dune areas. Inflorescences appear in May and June the UK. Anthesis occurs in July and August and the species is wind pollinated. Ripe caryopses (seeds) are shed at the beginning of September (Huiskes, 1979). Some seeds germinate straight away but the majority of seeds germinate the following spring.

Seedlings are only found on foredunes, on leeward sides of the first dune ridge, in the young slacks (low lying area between ridges, where moisture is usually more readily available) and in sheltered places on windward slopes of the second dune ridge (Huiskes, 1979).

Strands of rhizome can be transported in sea water. A study by Konlechner and Hilton (2009) found that the rhizome could regenerate after at least 70 days in sea water and could remain buoyant for 161 days. Seawater temperature was found to be one of the major factors determining how long rhizomes remained viable. At 5ºC, rhizomes retained viability for up to 40 days (the length of the experiment) whilst those at 15ºC or 25ºC lost their viability relatively quickly (Konlechner and Hilton, 2009). The authors suggested that this may help explain the distribution of A. arenaria in New Zealand. In contrast however, Aptekar and Rejmánek (2000) found that in sea water, rhizomes remained viable for much shorter times than those proposed by Konlechner and Hilton (2009) but they may well have been working with higher water temperatures.

Physiology and Phenology

Huiskes (1979) found that fluctuating temperatures stimulated seed germination and that germination increased after a cold (5ºC) pre-treatment. The highest rates of germination were recorded at temperature regimes of 5ºC for 16 h and 10ºC for 8 h or at 10/20ºC. Huiskes (1979) comments that these requirements for germination are appropriate for the strongly fluctuating soil temperatures found on sand dunes, as measured by Willis (1959).

A. arenaria is very drought tolerant, which is sometimes attributed to its high content of long chain cyclopropane fatty acids (25% in the phospahtidyl choline fraction) which may confer drought and frost resistance (Huiskes, 1979). Plants are also known to tolerate temperatures of over 50ºC and the tightly rolled leaves and stomata only being present between the ribs on the inner side of the rolled leaves helps reduce water loss from the leaves.

The main period of shoot growth is during the spring and summer (in the UK starting in April and ending in September). Growth of tillers and individual leaves is very slow in autumn and winter (Huiskes, 1979).

After formation of a main shoot from a caryopsis or rhizome bud, the axillary buds give rise to daughter tillers or new rhizomes. When buried, the newly formed internodes on the stem elongate according to the depth of burial and the time of year. Most of the buds on the vertical rhizomes develop as tillers, but many buds on the horizontal rhizomes remain dormant (Huiskes, 1979).

The number of live tillers per unit area is fairly constant at 150-200 live tillers m-2 in mobile calcareous dunes, about twice the density of that found in semi-fixed and fixed dune areas (Huiskes, 1979). Gemmell et al. (1953) found that clumps of tillers occur because tillers probably develop more frequently on the vertical parts of the rhizomes than on the horizontal parts. This gives rise to a pattern of clusters at a scale of 20-40 cm (Gemmell et al., 1953). A tussock pattern at a scale of 80-160 cm, possibly through growth of buds on the horizontal rhizomes has also been observed (Greig-Smith, 1961).

Russo et al. (1988) explained the role of A. arenaria in dune formation. Young plants become established along the upper beach, often in the lee of driftwood or other beach species. As the grass grows taller, wind is deflected over the plant, slowing the air current and causing sand particles to be deposited. This sand deposition stimulates the plant to grow and this then encourages yet more sand deposition. Too much sand deposition slows growth and too little leads to senescence. The species can withstand burial rates of up to a meter a year with the stem internodes elongating rapidly to allow for this (Russo et al., 1988). The mineral nutrient status of dunes increases with age and stabilization but the amount of nutrients is still low in older dunes. The chemical characteristics of sand from dune systems in Britain with A. arenaria in abundance along with the chemical characteristics of soils from different successional stages in one dune system were studied by Huiskes (1979). Results found that sand was low or very low in important elements and that calcium levels were very variable. Lux (1964) reported that A. arenaria responded positively to the addition of nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium, elements that are all deficient on dune sand.

It has been speculated that the vigour of A. arenaria in a mobile dune area may be due to nitrogen supplied by non-symbiotic nitrogen-fixing micro-organisms, probably Azotobacter species, in the rhizosphere (Hassouna and Wareing, 1964). Abdel-Wahab (1975) suggested that species of Bacillus may play a role in nitrogen fixation in the mobile dunes, a claim that others have expressed doubts about (Huiskes, 1979).

Longevity

Huiskes (1979) suggests that tufts of A. arenaria found in fixed dunes are probably the remains of plants that became established when the dune was mobile and if this is the case, a genet may reach an age of hundreds of years.

Associations

In the early stages of dune succession A. arenaria is often present in small numbers (Huiskes, 1979) and the vegetation is dominated by more salt tolerant species. In Britain these are predominantly Agropyron junceiforme [Elymus farctus] together with Elymus arenarius, Cakile maritima, Honckenya peploides and Salsola kali (Tansley, 1953). Later in succession A. arenaria becomes the dominant species in the in the more heavily accreting parts and mixed Ammophiletum in less mobile areas, especially the lee slopes of mobile dunes (Willis et al., 1959). In the pure Ammophiletum, A. arenaria may be almost the only species present, although other species may occur at low frequencies. In the mixed Ammophiletum, several species are associated with the dominant A. arenaria.

Environmental Requirements

A. arenaria grows in areas with a warm temperate or continental climate. Rather surprisingly, A. arenaria is not especially tolerant of salt. Benecke (1930) found that 1.5% sea salt in soil was almost always lethal. The higher areas of the beach and lower foredunes are therefore only colonized by A. arenaria when the risk of flooding by the sea has ceased (Huiskes, 1979). However, dune sand drains easily so salt is soon lost.

A. arenaria is not the dominant or primary foredune specialist species north of 38º S latitude, where Spinifex sericeus dominates. Invasion of A. arenaria by stranded rhizome is common south of this latitude, but is rarely observed further north (Konlechner and Hilton, 2009). This is believed to be due to declining sea temperatures from the north to the south, and that storms, when rhizomes are likely to be dislodged, are more frequent in winter (Konlechner and Hilton, 2009). 

Climate

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ClimateStatusDescriptionRemark
Cf - Warm temperate climate, wet all year Preferred Warm average temp. > 10°C, Cold average temp. > 0°C, wet all year
Cs - Warm temperate climate with dry summer Preferred Warm average temp. > 10°C, Cold average temp. > 0°C, dry summers
Cw - Warm temperate climate with dry winter Preferred Warm temperate climate with dry winter (Warm average temp. > 10°C, Cold average temp. > 0°C, dry winters)
Df - Continental climate, wet all year Preferred Continental climate, wet all year (Warm average temp. > 10°C, coldest month < 0°C, wet all year)
Ds - Continental climate with dry summer Preferred Continental climate with dry summer (Warm average temp. > 10°C, coldest month < 0°C, dry summers)
Dw - Continental climate with dry winter Preferred Continental climate with dry winter (Warm average temp. > 10°C, coldest month < 0°C, dry winters)

Soil Tolerances

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Soil drainage

  • free

Soil reaction

  • alkaline
  • neutral

Soil texture

  • light

Special soil tolerances

  • infertile
  • saline
  • shallow

Natural enemies

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Natural enemyTypeLife stagesSpecificityReferencesBiological control inBiological control on
Meromyza pratorum Herbivore Growing point/Leaves Huiskes, 1979

Notes on Natural Enemies

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In the UK, rabbits, sheep and cattle will all graze on A. arenaria but it is not often preferred (Huiskes, 1979). Small mammals and insects will eat the seeds. Larvae of Meromyza pratorum have been seen to destroy the vegetative points of individual tillers. However A. arenaria can tolerate 30-40% losses (Huiskes, 1979).

A list of insects found feeding on A. arenaria can be found in Huiskes (1979). A number of fungi have been found living on A. arenaria, although it has been suggested that most of these are non-specific saprophytes or weak parasites on senescing parts of the plant (Huiskes, 1979).

Means of Movement and Dispersal

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Natural Dispersal

The spread of A. arenaria into new areas occurs naturally as a result of coastal transport of rhizome material bearing live and active buds in sea water. Such fragments can withstand long periods of submersion in the sea (Konlechner and Hilton, 2009); that the rhizome was found to regenerate after at least 70 days in sea water and could remain buoyant for 161 days. In addition to this seawater temperature was found to be one of the major factors determining how long rhizomes remained viable (Konlechner and Hilton, 2009).

The species will also spread locally by clonal reproduction (Huiskes, 1979).

Intentional Introduction

The introduction of A. arenaria into new countries or continents seems to have been deliberate as this species was viewed as a valuable stabilizer of sand dunes.

Pathway Causes

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CauseNotesLong DistanceLocalReferences
Habitat restoration and improvementCommonly introduced as a sand stabilizer Yes Yes Russo et al., 1988

Pathway Vectors

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VectorNotesLong DistanceLocalReferences
Floating vegetation and debris Yes Yes Konlechner and Hilton, 2009
Water Yes

Impact Summary

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CategoryImpact
Environment (generally) Positive and negative

Economic Impact

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Control of A. arenaria is both costly and time consuming and therefore has a negative economic impact.

Environmental Impact

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Impact on Habitats

In North America, A. arenaria has escaped from plantations and has become naturalized north of San Francisco where it now dominates beaches formerly dominated by Elymus mollis [Leymus mollis] (Russo et al., 1988). Despite L. mollis being more salt tolerant than A. arenaria, A. arenaria can withstand sand accumulation of up to 1 m per year (Willis et al., 1979). A. arenaria can also form dense monotypic stands which can not only replace native sand dune vegetation but has often changed the whole structure of coastal morphology. Where A. arenaria grows, sand dunes are higher and steeper than those caused by native species and, at least in California, sand dunes are now parallel to the coast where they used to be perpendicular to the coast (Russo et al., 1988). A. arenaria has also been seen to alter costal morphology in Australia and New Zealand.

Impact on Biodiversity

Invasion of A. arenaria changes the whole structure and succession of sand dune vegetation and also modifies dramatically the habitats where shore birds nest (Moore and Davies, 2004; Weeds of Australia, 2015). When introduced into new areas competition by A. arenaria can pose serious threat to native dune species. According to Pickart (1997) a number of endangered plants that occur on Californian coastal dunes are affected by A. arenaria. These include Chorizanthe howellii, C. pungens var. pungens [C. pungens], Erysimum menziesii, Gilia tenuiflora ssp. arenaria and Layia carnosa.

It has been suggested that A. arenaria may be detrimental to western snowy plover, Charadrius nivosus nivosus, by displacing nesting sites and enhancing cover for predators (Pickart, 1997).

In Australia, native beach plants most commonly affected are beach spinifex (Spinifex sericeus), beach fescue (Austrofestuca littoralis), dune sedge (Carex pumila) and glistening saltbush (Atriplex billardieri). In addition to A. littoralis and S. sericeus, in New Zealand the native species affected by the spread of A. arenaria include pingao (Desmoschoenus spiralis [Ficinia spiralis]) and New Zealand sea spurge (Euphorbia glauca). In Tasmania, A. arenaria is considered to be a threat to the only known population of coast New Holland daisy (Vittadinia australasica var. oricola) (Weeds of Australia, 2015).

In New Zealand A. arenaria was very widely planted to stabilize sand dunes before plantations of Pinus radiata were established on formerly active dunes. Afforestation was vigorously carried out during the 1950s, 1970s and 1980s and as a result A. arenaria is now the dominant species around most of the North Island and in the South Island (Hilton, 2006). Today in New Zealand only two areas still contain dune systems substantially free of A. arenaria (Hilton, 2006).

Threatened Species

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Threatened SpeciesConservation StatusWhere ThreatenedMechanismReferencesNotes
Chorizanthe howelliiNational list(s) National list(s)CaliforniaCompetition - monopolizing resourcesPickart, 1997
Chorizanthe pungens var. pungens (Monterey spineflower)NatureServe NatureServe; USA ESA listing as threatened species USA ESA listing as threatened speciesCaliforniaCompetition - monopolizing resourcesPickart, 1997
Erysimum menziesiiNational list(s) National list(s)CaliforniaCompetition - monopolizing resourcesPickart, 1997
Gilia tenuiflora subsp. arenariaNational list(s) National list(s)CaliforniaCompetition - monopolizing resourcesPickart, 1997
Speyeria zerene hippolyta (Oregon silverspot butterfly)USA ESA listing as threatened species USA ESA listing as threatened speciesCalifornia; OregonEcosystem change / habitat alterationAbdel-Wahab, 1975

Risk and Impact Factors

Top of page Invasiveness
  • Invasive in its native range
  • Proved invasive outside its native range
  • Has a broad native range
  • Abundant in its native range
  • Tolerates, or benefits from, cultivation, browsing pressure, mutilation, fire etc
  • Pioneering in disturbed areas
  • Highly mobile locally
  • Long lived
  • Fast growing
  • Has high reproductive potential
  • Reproduces asexually
Impact outcomes
  • Altered trophic level
  • Damaged ecosystem services
  • Ecosystem change/ habitat alteration
  • Reduced amenity values
  • Reduced native biodiversity
  • Soil accretion
  • Threat to/ loss of endangered species
  • Threat to/ loss of native species
Impact mechanisms
  • Competition - monopolizing resources
  • Competition - shading
  • Rapid growth
  • Rooting
Likelihood of entry/control
  • Highly likely to be transported internationally deliberately
  • Difficult/costly to control

Uses

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Economic Value

In some countries, the success of A. arenaria as a sand dune fixer has been very effective and has allowed expansion of agriculture into previously unsuitable sites. The flowering stems and leaves of A. arenaria are or have been used for thatching, basketry and making brooms, the rhizomes for making ropes and mats and the stems for making paper (PFAF, 2015). Cuttings of A. arenaria were also used for roof thatching or weaving mats (Huiskes, 1979). This activity, however, ceased before 1979 and the last two mats were woven in 1948 (Huiskes, 1979).

Social Benefit

A. arenaria has made sand dunes higher and steeper both where it has been deliberately planted and in places to which it has spread naturally. In some ways, this had made dunes more ‘exciting’ for activities such as sand-surfing or dune-buggying.

Environmental Services

As demonstrated by its widespread adoption as a valuable sand binder and stabilizer, A. arenaria is considered to be very advantageous to those responsible for coastal defences and their upkeep (van der Putten and Peters, 1995).

Uses List

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Environmental

  • Agroforestry
  • Erosion control or dune stabilization
  • Land reclamation
  • Revegetation
  • Soil conservation

Similarities to Other Species/Conditions

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A. breviligulata, known as American beachgrass, has a short truncate ligule but is in other respects identical to A. arenaria (Huiskes, 1970). This species occurs on dune systems along the Atlantic coast of North America from North Carolina to Newfoundland and on the shores of the Great Lakes.

A hybrid between A. arenaria and Calamagrostis epigejos, known as x Ammocalamagrostis baltica has been found naturally in several places in the British Isles (Huiskes, 1979), Denmark, France, Estonia, Germany, Latvia, Lithuania, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland and Sweden (USDA-ARS, 2015). This hybrid has flat, not rolled leaves, with a shorter, lanceolate ligule.

Prevention and Control

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Control

Cultural Control and Sanitary Measures

Pickart et al. (1997) reported on a number of techniques used for controlling A. arenaria. These included the use of sea water, a treatment which resulted in initial browning of the vegetation but the salt water did not penetrate deeply into the sand for full control.

Physical/Mechanical Control

Manual removal of A. arenaria has been found to be effective but needs intense repeated efforts to ensure that small, overlooked plants do not flourish after removal of larger competitors (Pickart, 1997). The first removal efforts are the most labour intensive. Mechanical removal is only suitable for sites that are easily accessed, relatively flat and with few native plants. Large scale mechanical removal has been attempted, with some promising results (Pickart, 1997). Partridge (1997) found that manual weeding in New Zealand could be effective but must be carried out at least twice a year. He also found that after the initial weeding A. arenaria grew with renewed vigour possibly because of the removal of dead material which may shade and inhibit shoot growth.

Biological Control

Few insect or fungal species have been found to feed or live exclusively on this species and biological control has not been considered.

Chemical Control

Glyphosate has proved successful in controlling A. arenaria although its efficacy depends on the consistency and thoroughness of application. Pickart (1997) highlights the promise that chemical control offers, but cautions that herbicides like glyphosate can affect other species of plants and that its use in some areas may be politically unacceptable.

IPM

Hyland and Holloran (2005) investigated combinations of burning and herbicide application for control of A. arenaria. Burning removes the existing thatch of dead material but stimulates regrowth. The resultant regrowth was treated one year later with glyphosate and then repeated several times over the following year. Hyland and Holloran (2005) claim that this integrated approach shows promise as a way of reducing existing control costs substantially, but point out, that easy access, in-house expertise and the existence of residual native plant communities are all necessary for successful control. In 2001, an ambitious programme was started to eradicate A. arenaria from an area on Stewart Island, New Zealand (DOC, 2015). Each summer the grass is sprayed with haloxyfop, a herbicide that kills grasses but does not affect the native sedge pingao, Desmoschoenus spiralis [Ficinia spiralis]. 

References

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Abdel-Wahab AM, 1975. Nitrogen fixation by Bacillus strains isolated from the rhizosphere of Ammophila arenaria. Plant and Soil, 42:703-705.

Aptekar R, Rejmánek M, 2000. The effect of sea-water submergence on rhizome bud viability of the introduced Ammophila arenaria and the native Leymus mollis in California. In: Journal of Coastal Conservation, 6(1):107-111.

Benecke W, 1930. [English title not available]. (Zur Biologie der Strand- und Dunenflora. Vergleichende Versuche ilber die Salztoleranz von Ammophila arenaria Link, Elymus arenarius L. und Agropyrum junceum L. (= Agropyron junceiforme, (Á. Löve & D. Löve) Á. Löve).) Berichte der Deutschen botanischen Gesellschaft, 48:127-139.

CHAH (Council of Heads of Australasian Herbaria), 2015. Australia's virtual herbarium. Australia: Council of Heads of Australasian Herbaria. http://avh.ala.org.au

DOC, 2015. Mason Bay dune restoration, Rakiura, Southland. Christchurch, New Zealand: Department of Conservation. http://www.doc.govt.nz/Documents/about-doc/concessions-and-permits/conservation-revealed/mason-bay-dune-restoration-lowres.pdf

Edgar E, Connor HE, 2010. Flora of New Zealand - Vol. V: Gramineae, Ed.2 [ed. by Edgar, E.\Connor, H. E.]. Lincoln, New Zealand: Manaaki Whenua Press, Landcare Research, xlii + 23 + 650 pp.

Euro+Med PlantBase, 2011. Euro+Med PlantBase: The information resource for Euro-Mediterranean plant diversity. Palermo, Italy. http://www.emplantbase.org/home.html

Federov A, 1969. Chromosome numbers of flowering plants. Leningrad, USSR: Academy of Sciences of the USSR, 926 pp.

Gemmell AR, Greig-Smith P, Gimingham CH, 1953. A note on the behaviour of Ammophila arenaria (L.) Link, in relation to sand-dune formation. Trans, hot. Soc. Edinb, 36(Pt. 2):132-6.

Greig-Smith P, 1961. Data on pattern within plant communities. 2. Ammophila arenaria (L.) Link. Journal of Ecology, 49(3):695-708.

Hassouna MG, Wareing PF, 1964. Possible role of rhizosphere bacteria in the nitrogen nutrition of Ammophila arenaria. Nature, 202:467-469.

Hilton M, Duncan M, Jul A, 2005. Processes of Ammophila arenaria (marram grass) invasion and indigenous species displacement, Stewart Island, New Zealand. Journal of Coastal Research, 21(1):175-185. http://www.jcronline.org

Hilton MJ, 2006. The loss of New Zealand's active dunes and the spread of marram grass (Ammophila arenaria). New Zealand Geographer, 62(2):105-120. http://www.blackwell-synergy.com/doi/pdf/10.1111/j.1745-7939.2006.00054.x

Huiskes AHL, 1979. Ammophila arenaria (L.) Link (Psamma arenaria (L.) Roem. et Schult.; Calamgrostis arenaria (L.) Roth) biological flora of the British Isles. Journal of Ecology, 67(1):363-382.

Hyland T, Holloran P, 2005. Controlling European beachgrass (Ammophila arenaria) using prescribed burns and herbicide. California Invasive Plant Council Symposium 2005. Chico, California, USA: California Invasive Plant Council. http://ic.ucsc.edu/~kholl/envs160/holloran&hyland.pdf

ITIS, 2015. Integrated Taxonomic Information System online database. http://www.itis.gov

Konlechner TM, Hilton MJ, 2009. The potential for the marine dispersal of Ammophila arenaria (marram grass) rhizome. Journal of Coastal Research, SI 56:434-437.

Lubke RA, Hertling UM, Avis AM, 1995. Is Ammophila arenaria (marram grass) a threat to South African dune fields? Journal of Coastal Conservation, 1(2):103-108.

Lux H, 1964. Biological foundations of planting Ammophila arenaria and sowing Corynephorus canescens in dune stabilization. Angew Pflanzensoziol, 20:5-53.

Moore P, Davies A, 2004. Marram grass Ammophila arenaria removal and dune restoration to enhance nesting habitat of Chatham Island oystercatcher Haematopus chathamensis, Chatham Islands, New Zealand. Conservation Evidence, 1:8-9.

Partridge TR, 1995. Interaction between pingao and marram on sand dunes: completion of permanent plot studies. Wellington, New Zealand: Department of Conservation. http://www.doc.govt.nz/Documents/science-and-technical/sfc003.pdf

PFAF, 2015. Plants For A Future. http://www.pfaf.org/user/Default.aspx

Pickart AJ, 1997. Control of European beachgrass (Ammophila arenaria) on the west coast of the United States. California Exotic Pest Plant Council 1997 Symposium Proceedings. http://www.cal-ipc.org/symposia/archive/pdf/1997_symposium_proceedings1934.pdf

Putten WHvan der, Peters BAM, 1995. Possibilities for management of coastal foredunes with deteriorated stands of Ammophila arenaria (marram grass). Journal of Coastal Conservation, 1:29-39.

Rodriguez-Echeverri A, Freitas H, Putten WHvan der, 2008. Genetic diversity and differentiation of Ammophila arenaria (L.) Link. as revealed by ISSR markers. Journal of Coastal Research, 24(1):122-126.

Russo M, Pickart A, Morse L, Young R, 1988. Element stewardship abstract for Ammophila arenaria European beachgrass. Arlington, Virginia, USA: The Nature Conservancy. http://www.invasive.org/gist/esadocs/documnts/ammoare.pdf

Skalinska M, Banach-Pogan E, Wcislo HL, 1957. Further studies in chromosome numbers of Polish angiosperms. Acta Societatis Botanicorum Poloniae, 26:215-245.

Tansley AG, 1953. The British Isles and their vegetation. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 970 pp.

Thompson GM, 1922. The naturalisation of animals and plants in New Zealand. London, UK: Cambridge University Press, 607 pp.

Thomson GM, 1922. The naturalisation of animals & plants in New Zealand. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 607 pp.

US Fish and Wildlife Service, 2001. In: Revised Recovery Plan for the Oregon Silverspot Butterfly (Speyeria zerene hippolyta). US Fish and Wildlife Service, 121 pp.. http://ecos.fws.gov/docs/recovery_plan/010822.pdf

USDA-ARS, 2015. Germplasm Resources Information Network (GRIN). Online Database. Beltsville, Maryland, USA: National Germplasm Resources Laboratory. https://npgsweb.ars-grin.gov/gringlobal/taxon/taxonomysearch.aspx

USDA-NRCS, 2015. The PLANTS Database. Baton Rouge, USA: National Plant Data Center. http://plants.usda.gov/

Weeds of Australia, 2011. Marram grass: Ammophila arenaria. Queensland, Australia: Biosecurity Queensland. http://keyserver.lucidcentral.org/weeds/data/03030800-0b07-490a-8d04-0605030c0f01/media/Html/Ammophila_arenaria.htm

Willis AJ, Folkes BF, Hope-Simpson JF, Yemm EW, 1959. Braunton Burrows [N. Devon]: the dune system and its vegetation. Part 1. Journal of Ecology, 47(1):1-24.

Contributors

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29/04/2015 Original text by:

Ian Popay, Landcare Research, New Zealand

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