Marram grass – that grey, green prickly grass that catches your legs when climbing up sand dunes, is fantastically adapted to life by the sea.
Metres-long roots reach down in search of moisture, while creeping stems called rhizomes extend widthways below the surface, sending down even more ladder-like rooting structures along their length.
It is these underground networks that capture blown sand making it ideal for stabilising shifting dunes- something I saw in Inner Mongolia, where it is being used to try and stop the march of the mighty Gobi desert across precious grassland. An estimated 3600 km2 (1,390 sq miles) is being lost to sand blow each year.
Marram grass is a Xerophyte – thriving in arid conditions where most plants would curl up and die. Surviving happily on free-draining sand on windy coasts, the plant does everything it can to prevent unnecessary water loss.
The waxy leaves are rolled inwards to prevent evaporation from the surface, while tiny hairs alongside the inside minimise air flow that could carry water away.
The stomata – the openings through which water vapour moves out of plants, are sunk in pits within the curls so they can hang on to as much H20 as possible.
Surprisingly, Marram Grass is not particularly salt tolerant – but can obviously cope with most seaside conditions.
Native to the coasts of the North Atlantic Ocean, Marram Grass has been introduced for stabilisation projects worldwide for centuries – but is now becoming invasive in many countries.
In the past in Northern Europe it was used for thatching, fuel and cattle fodder. Harvesting was banned in the UK in the 17th Century when over-zealous cutting allowed sand to blow inland burying coastal villages and farms.
PS: Came across a website for the Marram Grass Café when Googling for this blog. Looks like a welcoming spot should you be walking the Anglesey Coastal Path – www.themarramgrass.com.