Puget Sound Shoreline, Rae A. McNally

Spartina, commonly known as cordgrass, is an aggressive noxious weed that severely disrupts the ecosystems of native saltwater estuaries in Washington State .

  Four species of non-native Spartina have made their way into in Puget Sound :

Common name Scientific name Orgin Where found in Puget Sound
Smooth cordgrass Spartina alterniflora East coast Skagit, Clallam and Jefferson counties
Saltmeadow cordgrass S. patens East coast Jefferson County
Common cordgrass S. anglica England Skagit, Snohomish and Island counties
Dense flower cordgrass S. densiflora South America Island County

What’s the problem?

Spartina out-competes native vegetation and converts mudflats into single-species meadows. Spartina destroys important habitat for migratory shorebirds and waterfowl, increases the threat of flooding and severely affects the state’s shellfish industry. Spartina spreads by both seed production and belowground root growth.

The Washington State Noxious Weed Control Board classifies Spartina patens and densiflora as Class A noxious weeds. This means that their distribution in Washington State is still limited. By law, property owners and the state must eradicate Class A weeds. 

Spartina alterniflora and anglica are listed as Class B weeds. Class B weeds are either absent from or limited in distribution in some portions of the state but very abundant in other areas. The management approach for Class B weeds is to contain the plants where they are already widespread and prevent their spread into new areas.



Where is spartina in the Pacific Northwest?

On the coast, Willapa Bay is heavily infested with spartina. In Puget Sound, Snohomish and Island counties are most heavily infested. In British Columbia , a large invasion of spartina has formed near Point Roberts and in Boundary Bay , adjacent to Whatcom County .



How did spartina get here?

In Puget Sound, various landowners intentionally introduced smooth cordgrass, planting it to stabilize shorelines. Common cordgrass was intentionally planted at a farm located in Port Susan in the early 1960s to serve as bank stabilization and potential feed for cattle. No one is sure how saltmeadow and dense flower cordgrasses got to Puget Sound.


What’s being done in Puget Sound?  

Efforts to rid Puget Sound of spartina cordgrass are about to become a success story! Thanks to state and local efforts, tribes, volunteer groups and ordinary citizens.  

The Washington departments of Agriculture and Fish and Wildlife have been using chemical, hand-pulling and mechanical harvest and disruption methods--commonly called integrated pest management (IPM)--to control this invasion.

Skagit, Snohomish and Island County noxious weed boards, the Swinomish tribal community, People for Puget Sound, The Nature Conservancy, University of Washington Olympic Natural Resource Center and Washington State University have all helped control and eradicate spartina in the Puget Sound basin.

Volunteers from People for Puget Sound and The Nature Conservancy have spent hours pulling out these pesky plants.

 With funding from the Puget Sound Partnership, People For Puget Sound produced a booklet and waterproof identification cards to help citizens identify invasive spartina and understand environmental impacts and related legal issues. 

Spartina eradication timeline:
2004 Washington State Department of Agriculture treated an estimated 528 solid acres--or 82 percent--of the remaining spartina infestation in the Puget Sound basin.
2005 Agriculture and Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife treated an estimated 520 solid acres--or 95 percent--of the remaining spartina infestation in the Puget Sound basin.
Mid-2006 The remaining spartina totaled about 220 acres, of which the agencies treated about 200 acres.
2010 At current levels of funding, the state expects to control and eliminate spartina infestations!


Citizens provide clues to how spartina moves

Spartina, like most plants, reproduces and spreads by seeds. It can also reproduce from plant fragments. Tides and currents also aid in spreading this invasive plant throughout the

Pacific Northwest ’s marine waters.   

In June 2006, the Washington State Department of Agriculture, the Puget Sound Partnership and the Pacific Coast Joint Venture and partners in British Columbia including Ducks Unlimited Canada, Canadian Wildlife service and the Ministry of Environment, launched a program to better understand how the movement of tides and currents could potentially aid in the spread of spartina. 

Once a month, resource managers in both Washington State and British Columbia release 600 waterproof orange cards into the water. 100 cards are released from six locations--three in Puget Sound and three in the Georgia Basin . The Spartina Drift Card Study provides a phone number and Web address for citizens to report where and when they found a card. 

  >> Learn more

For more information about the Puget Sound Partnership's Aquatic Nuisance Species Program, contact Kevin Anderson, 360.725.5452.


An Exotic Species Detection Program for Puget Sound | PDF
Preliminary List of Exotic and Crytogenic Species in Puget Sound | PDF
Early Detection and Rapid Response Plan for Aquatic Invasive Species in Washington State | PDF