1290 Cladium jamaicenseCommon Names: sawgrass,saw-grass,Jamaica swamp sawgrass Family: Cyperaceae (sedge Family)
Sawgrass is a large grasslike sedge normally around 3 ft (1 m) tall, but sometimes reaching heights up to 10 ft (3 m). Sawgrass has faintly 3-angled stems and narrow flat leaves 1-3 ft (30-90 cm) long and about a half inch (13 mm) wide. The leaves are tough and sharply serrated on their edges and on the midrib of their undersides. The leaves can cut bare skin. Sawgrass spreads on thick stolons, often forming dense stands to the near exclusion of other plants. The inflorescence is a multi-branched chestnut-brown panicle held drooping above the leaves for several weeks in late spring. There are 2-6 spikelets (flower clusters) at the ends of each branchlet. The nutlets (technically, achenes) are nearly spherical with one end pointed; they are wrinkled on the surface and about a tenth of an inch (2.5 mm) long.
Cladium jamaicense grows in brackish and freshwater marshes, swamps, ditches, and shoresides near the sea coast from northern South America, through Central America and the Caribbean islands, and along the Gulf and Atlantic coasts from Texas to Virginia. Sawgrass occurs in marshes and other wetlands throughout Florida, but is rarely encountered more than 100 miles (169 km) from the seacoast anywhere in its range.
Light: Sawgrass has little tolerance for shade. Moisture: Sawgrass tolerates soils that are saturated, acidic, calcareous, even oxygen depleted, but cannot withstand soils that stay dry for extended periods. Hardiness: USDA Zones 7 - 11 . Propagation: Sawgrass is wind pollinated and the seeds are dispersed by water and probably birds and insects as well. Pretreatment with cold stratification for a month and soaking seeds in bleach for a few hours significantly increased germination rates in a recent study. Sawgrass spreads by sending up new plantlets from thick runners and these can be separated to produce new plants.
Sawgrass can be used in wetland gardens, pond margins, water gardens, erosion control and wetland reclamation sites. Sawgrass thrives in nutrient poor soils and thus is especially useful for reclamation in wetland and aquatic spoil areas. It is very salt tolerant and tolerant of limey conditions.
The Palatka skipper butterfly (Euphyes pilatka) lays its eggs on sawgrass. Although people tend to shy away from close contact with sawgrass, many kinds of birds and reptiles value the cover it provides.
Sawgrass is the plant that defines the Florida Everglades: The River of Grass is actually a River of Sedge!
Sawgrass historically covered almost 2 million acres (800,000 ha) of the Everglades, an ecosystem notoriously poor in nutrients. Sawgrass, more than almost any other wetland plant, thrives in nutrient-poor environments. But nutrient pollution from human activities has allowed other species, notably cattails (Typha domingensis), to outcompete sawgrass, and nowadays some of the Everglades is a River of Cattails.
Do not attempt to walk through a sawgrass marsh unless you are wearing protective clothing!
Steve Christman 6/30/17