These fresh and oligohaline tidal marshes are discontinuous along the Atlantic and Gulf coasts of the United States and adjacent Canada from Newfoundland to Texas. Where found, they are the primary vegetation between outer tidal salt and brackish marshes and inland non-tidally influenced vegetation (upland or wetland).
These fresh and oligohaline tidal marshes constitute the primary vegetation between outer tidal salt and brackish marshes and inland non-tidally influenced vegetation (upland or wetland). Examples are found from Newfoundland to Texas along the Atlantic and Gulf coasts of the United States and adjacent Canada. They may grade into uplands or non-tidal freshwater marshes and swamps. Most examples of this vegetation are characterized by a mixture of annual and perennial grasses, forbs, sedges, rushes, other grass-like plants, floating or submerged aquatics, shrubs, and scattered tree saplings. Dominance patterns change seasonally, yearly, and geographically. In addition to regional variability, freshwater tidal marshes may also exhibit floristic zonation based on age, water depth, tidal regime, and other factors, into a low and high marsh. This vegetation supports broad-leaved emergent plants such as Nuphar advena, Nuphar orbiculata, Nuphar sagittifolia, Peltandra virginica, Pontederia cordata, and Sagittaria spp.; annual and perennial grasses such as Calamagrostis canadensis, Leersia oryzoides, Panicum hemitomon, Spartina cynosuroides, Spartina patens, Zizania aquatica, Zizaniopsis miliacea; sedges and rushes such as Carex spp., Cladium mariscus ssp. jamaicense, Eleocharis spp., Fuirena spp., Schoenoplectus pungens, Schoenoplectus tabernaemontani; other grass-like plants and annual and perennial forbs such as Acorus calamus, Amaranthus cannabinus, Ambrosia trifida, Bidens spp., Impatiens capensis, Hibiscus moscheutos, Kosteletzkya virginica, Polygonum spp., Sium suave, Typha spp.; and scattered shrubs such as Cephalanthus occidentalis and Morella cerifera.
Among the hundreds of species found in freshwater tidal marshes (Tinder 2013), there appear to be few that are unique to this type, apart from Aeschynomene virginica, which is a federally threatened plant species (Odum et al. 1984). Tidal and non-tidal freshwater habitats share many species. Rather than the presence of specific freshwater species, this vegetation might better be differentiated by a mixture of wetland plants that are also tolerant of low salinity levels, including annual and perennial grasses, forbs, sedges, rushes, other grass-like plants, floating or submerged aquatics, shrubs, and scattered tree saplings. Dominance patterns change seasonally, yearly, and geographically. In addition to regional variability, freshwater tidal marshes may also exhibit floristic zonation based on age, water depth, tidal regime, and other factors, into a low and high marsh. Some species that occur in and may dominate or co-dominate various examples of this vegetation across its range include Bidens spp., Cladium mariscus ssp. jamaicense (= Cladium jamaicense), Eleocharis spp., Hydrocotyle spp., Panicum hemitomon, Peltandra virginica, Polygonum spp., Pontederia cordata, Sagittaria spp., Schoenoplectus pungens, Schoenoplectus tabernaemontani, and Spartina cynosuroides, Spartina patens, Zizania aquatica, and Zizaniopsis miliacea.
Some researchers consider fresh tidal marshes narrowly, including only marshes with salinity levels below 0.5 ppt. Based on floristic similarities between fresh and oligohaline tidal marshes, we have taken a broader view by including both in this macrogroup. We also include vegetation influenced by irregular, low-amplitude, wind-driven tides, not just lunar tides. Floristic overlap can be seen in many studies of fresh and oligohaline marshes (Penfound and Hathaway 1938, Chabreck 1972, Gosselink et al. 1979, Gosselink 1984, Mitsch and Gosselink 1986c, Visser et al. 1998, 2000, Tiner 2013). Salinity levels vary seasonally, temporally and spatially but as indicated by vegetation dominants are expected to be in the range of fresh to oligohaline. Species composition strongly overlaps with non-tidal freshwater marshes. Association membership of tidal marsh macrogroups/groups (fresh/oligohaline versus salt/brackish) may need further review. More research is needed to interpret the complex interactions between temporal and spatial disturbance patterns (e.g., hydrology, salinity), geomorphology, species life histories, and other factors to better elucidate the rangewide and local patterns in vascular plant communities of freshwater tidal marshes. In addition, more work is needed to better understand the ecology of nonvascular plants in this ecosystem (Mitsch and Gosselink 1986c).
This macrogroup currently encompasses a single group that represents all of the tidal fresh to oligohaline marshes of the Atlantic and Gulf coasts of North America. Further consideration should be given to a latitudinal split. Such a split might require additional floristic information from marsh occurrences along the latitudinal gradient. The current alliance structure reflects this separation except for three broad-ranging alliances and associations that would need to be split: Zizania aquatica - Zizaniopsis miliacea Tidal Freshwater Marsh Alliance (A1485), Stuckenia pectinata - Zannichellia palustris - Ceratophyllum demersum Freshwater Subtidal Marsh Alliance (A3581), and Morella cerifera - Rosa palustris Tidal Freshwater Shrubland Alliance (A0806). In addition, more information is needed to better document the relative role of annuals in this vegetation regionally. Are annuals more important in northern latitudes? Are perennial grasses more important along the Gulf Coast? One common perennial grass in this vegetation, Zizania aquatica, acts as an annual in northern latitudes and a perennial in southern (Godfrey and Wooten 1979). Do the unique deltaic processes of coastal Louisiana support floristic differences at the group level, or do the differences between the deltaic processes of Louisiana marshes and the processes associated with drowned river valleys more common throughout the rest of the range of this vegetation support such floristic differences? Great temporal and spatial floristic variability at local and regional scales, especially the seasonal and annual differences (driven by a myriad of interrelated factors such as hydrology, sedimentation, salinity, erosion, scouring, wrack deposition, seed banks, competition, herbivory, and other disturbances) complicate the sampling and classification of this vegetation, especially at the lower levels such as alliance and association.
Vegetation of this macrogroup extends from the Atlantic provinces of Canada south to the inland portions of the Hudson, Connecticut, Merrimack, Kennebec, and Penobscot rivers and their tributaries, as well as the rivers of southern New Jersey, to include the Chesapeake Bay and Delaware Bay drainages. It also includes the embayed region of North Carolina and Virginia. It continues from the vicinity of Morehead City, North Carolina (south of the Embayed Region), south around Florida, and along the northern Gulf of Mexico in northwestern Florida, southern Alabama, and southeastern Mississippi. Large expanses are found in the deltaic and chenier plains of Louisiana. It extends along the Gulf coast south to approximately Corpus Christi Bay. These marshes are estimated to cover about 164,000 ha along the Atlantic Coast (Odum et al. 1984), and 468,000 ha in Louisiana (Chabreck 1972). Approximately one-half of the coastal tidal freshwater marshes that exist along the middle Atlantic seaboard occur in New Jersey (Odum et al. 1984). Not included here are estimates of area occupied by freshwater tidal marshes in the remaining coastal areas of the northeastern Gulf of Mexico and Canada.
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Most examples of this vegetation are characterized by a mixture of annual and perennial grasses, forbs, sedges, rushes, other grass-like plants, floating or submerged aquatics, and more rarely, shrubs, and scattered tree saplings (Tiner 2013). The importance of annuals in this vegetation can lead to high variability in yearly and seasonal dominance patterns. In some high marsh occurrences, annual forbs begin to grow early in the season and appear to dominate, but a little latter perennials overtop them, only to be overtopped themselves by emergent annuals later in the season (Leck et al. 2009).
There are no plant species unique to freshwater tidal habitats (Odum et al. 1984), and the list of possible components numbers in the hundreds (Tiner 2013). Most examples of this vegetation are characterized by a mixture of annual and perennial grasses, forbs, sedges, rushes, other grass-like plants, floating or submerged aquatics, shrubs, and scattered tree saplings (Tiner 2013). Dominance patterns change seasonally, yearly, and geographically. In addition to regional variability, freshwater tidal marshes may also exhibit floristic zonation based on age, water depth, tidal regime, and other factors, into a low and high marsh (Odum et al. 1984, Mitsch and Gosselink 1986c, Tiner 2013). Zonation in freshwater tidal marshes is not as pronounced as in salt marshes (Odum et al. 1984, Mitsch and Gosselink 1986c, Tiner 2013), and may often be more of a spatial mosaic driven by a diverse seed bank (Leck and Simpson 1987). Where present, low marsh is younger, more erodible, more deeply flooded for longer periods of time, has lower litter accumulation, lower organic matter in the soils, and lower primary productivity than high marsh (Odum et al. 1984, Mitsch and Gosselink 1986c, Tiner 2013).
The low marsh is typically characterized by species such as Amaranthus cannabinus, Heteranthera reniformis, Nuphar advena, Nuphar orbiculata, Nuphar sagittifolia, Peltandra virginica, Pontederia cordata, Sagittaria spp., Schoenoplectus pungens, Schoenoplectus tabernaemontani, and Zizania aquatica. The high marsh is more diverse and often includes a mixture of annual and perennial grasses, forbs, sedges, rushes, other grass-like plants, and shrubs (Odum et al. 1984, Mitsch and Gosselink 1986c). In the mid-Atlantic a high marsh may be dominated by a mixed group of annuals in mid-season (e.g., Acorus calamus, Bidens laevis, Hibiscus moscheutos, Impatiens capensis, Iris versicolor, Polygonum spp. Pilea pumila, Amaranthus cannabinus, Symphyotrichum subulatum, Zizania aquatica and others); later in the season perennial grasses such as Spartina cynosuroides, Typha spp., and Zizaniopsis miliacea may become monodominant (Odum et al. 1984, Mitsch and Gosselink 1986c, Tiner 2013). Dominants in Louisiana freshwater tidal marshes include Bidens laevis, Eleocharis spp., Hydrocotyle spp., Panicum hemitomon, Sagittaria lancifolia, Schoenoplectus pungens, Spartina patens, and Zizaniopsis miliacea. Associates include Alternanthera philoxeroides (non-native), Bacopa monnieri, Cladium mariscus ssp. jamaicense (= Cladium jamaicense), Echinochloa walteri, Leptochloa fusca ssp. fascicularis (= Leptochloa fascicularis), Pluchea camphorata, Pontederia cordata, Sagittaria spp., Schoenoplectus californicus, and Vigna luteola (Gosselink et al. 1979, Gosselink 1984, Visser et al. 1998, 2000). Plant composition of freshwater tidal marshes in New Jersey generally occurs as a mosaic of patches dominated by a few or a single species and has dramatic seasonal variation. Tidal freshwater marshes (0-0.5 ppt) are characterized by Acorus calamus, Ambrosia trifida (levees), Bidens laevis, Eleocharis spp., Impatiens capensis, Peltandra virginica, Polygonum punctatum, Pontederia cordata, and Sagittaria spp. Freshwater tidal flats (0-0.5 ppt) are characterized by sparse, low-growing mats of Bidens eatonii, Crassula aquatica, Eriocaulon parkeri, Isoetes riparia, Lindernia dubia, Ludwigia palustris, Polygonum punctatum, and Sagittaria subulata. Freshwater tidal communities in this region often contain one or more regionally or globally rare plant species, such as Aeschynomene virginica, Eriocaulon parkeri, and Bidens bidentoides (Walz et al. 2007). In addition, some of these same dominants may comprise another type of freshwater tidal marsh, a floating marsh (flotant), where the marsh vegetation and the underlying mat of roots, organic matter, and sediments detach from and float above the mineral substrate (Sasser et al. 1995, 1996, 2009). Flotants are the most common freshwater marsh in the Louisiana's delta marshes, estimated to cover approximately 130,000 ha (Sasser et al. 2009).
Many of the dominant and characteristic species in this macrogroup (e.g., Asclepias incarnata, Cephalanthus occidentalis, Echinochloa walteri, Hibiscus moscheutos, Kosteletzkya virginica, Eleocharis palustris, Eleocharis quadrangulata, Leersia oryzoides, Mikania scandens, Panicum virgatum, Peltandra virginica, Polygonum arifolium, Polygonum sagittatum, Polygonum punctatum, Polygonum densiflorum, Polygonum hydropiperoides, Pontederia cordata, Rosa palustris, Rumex verticillatus, Sagittaria latifolia, Sagittaria lancifolia ssp. media (= Sagittaria falcata), Saururus cernuus, Schoenoplectus tabernaemontani, Schoenoplectus americanus, Scirpus cyperinus, Spartina cynosuroides, Typha latifolia, Typha domingensis, Typha angustifolia, Typha x glauca, and Zizania aquatica) occur across a range of salinities that span fresh (<0.5 ppt) to oligohaline (0.5-5.0 ppt) (Odum et al. 1984). While some species that characterize this vegetation (e.g., Spartina patens) are tolerant of mesohaline water (5.0-18.0 ppt), they occur in freshwater tidal habitats in a mixture with species most common in oligohaline or freshwater habitats. Once salinity becomes greater than 5.0 ppt, freshwater marshes tend to turn over to saltwater marshes (Mitsch and Gosselink 1986c).
Tidal fresh marshes exist along low-relief coastlines and upper reaches of tidal rivers and creeks where there is sufficient freshwater input from rain and rivers, and enough tidal amplitude to reach upstream into marshes along bays and rivers (e.g., Hudson River, Delaware River, Cape Fear River). Both lunar and wind tides are important, though wind tides may be more important in areas where tidal amplitude is low (e.g., the Gulf coast and the embayed region of NC and VA). Along the Atlantic coast this vegetation is often found on rivers where there is a geomorphological constriction that increases tidal amplitude (Odum et al. 1984). Within any specific region tidal marshes occur along elevational gradients that result in varying water depths. Tidal freshwater marshes tend to be common along the coastal edge of river systems with large watersheds and no dams (Tiner 2013). Most of the Atlantic coast freshwater tidal marshes are riverine (Odum et al. 1984). They formed as sea level rose after the last glaciation. Sediment carried by streams and rivers filled drowned river valleys that were downcut during the Pleistocene glaciations. Marshes built up and expanded as streams and rivers deposited their sediment load and the tides helped to extend the area of available habitat. Similar marshes are present along the Gulf coast, but in Louisiana where the majority of freshwater tidal marshes in the U.S. are found, freshwater marshes were formed through the deltaic processes of the Mississippi River (Gosselink 1984, Mitsch and Gosselink 1986c, Visser et al. 1998, 2000). Hydrology and salinity are the most important driving processes determining the range of potential vegetation in this macrogroup. Variations in flooding, sedimentation rates, erosion, scouring, wrack deposition and salinity are regular disturbances (Tiner 2013).
Tidal freshwater marshes occur in a variety of settings, including "mature marshes," marshes that may be more than 500 years old with a well-developed peat substrate (found most commonly on the Atlantic coast), "floating marshes," marshes that have broken loose from the mineral substrate and float on the water surface (found on the northern Gulf coast), and "new marshes" in areas where sedimentation by rivers is exceeding erosion and subsidence such as prograding deltas (found throughout the range) (Odum et al. 1984, Mitsch and Gosselink 1986c, 2000, Mitsch et al. 2009, Tiner 2013). In some areas, marshes have expanded in the recent past as a result of streams and rivers carrying and depositing higher sediment loads because of inland erosion (Odum et al. 1984). Soils in older marshes tend to be high in organic matter and those in younger marshes high in clays and silts (Odum et al. 1984).
More research is needed to interpret the complex interactions between temporal and spatial disturbance patterns (e.g., hydrology, salinity, sedimentation, erosion, herbivory, hurricanes, etc.), geomorphology, species life histories, and other factors to better elucidate the rangewide and local patterns in vascular plant communities of freshwater tidal marshes. It is unclear how subsidence, freshwater withdrawal, sea level rise, and climate change will impact this ecosystem, but changes are expected. Though causation is unclear, vegetation changes have already been documented in Louisiana since 1968 (Visser et al. 1999) and New Jersey (Leck et al. 2009).
Common characteristics of tidal freshwater marshes include variable rates of sedimentation and vertical accretion of sediments and organic matter (Perry et al. 2009). In many places, this is often offset by subsidence, reduced sedimentation due to water diversion, and a rising sea level. The substrate of tidal wetlands varies from primarily black, fibrous organic muck over sandy or silt clay loam occasionally mixed with woody peat, underlain by deep coastal plain quartzite sand deposits in New Jersey (Tedrow 1986), to thin or thick mats of floating roots and peat over muck and clay in Louisiana (Sasser et al. 2009). The New Jersey Geological Survey publication by Waksman et al. (1943) entitled "The Peats of New Jersey and Their Utilization" distinguishes marine salt marsh peats found along the coast and in bays that have fine mud rich in organic matter derived of decomposed grasses from the freshwater tidal marshes of drowned estuarine streams with freshwater alluvial peat and sedge-and-reed-peat characterized by coarse fibrous organic material often with wood particles and large amounts of mineral sediment (Walz et al. 2007). Odum et al. (1984) described the substrate underlying most tidal freshwater marshes in the eastern U.S. as "a dark, mucky soil" with high levels of silts and clays in the low marsh and higher levels of organic matter in the high marsh.
Tidal freshwater and oligohaline marshes are complex entities that are affected by movement of the salt line resulting from seasonal fluctuations in precipitation as well as changes in the periodicity and amplitude of tidal inundation (lunar and wind). Sea level rise due to global warming, and the resulting change in salt intrusion, vegetation composition, marsh acreage, and function, are serious concerns for the future of these critically important estuarine wetlands (Walz et al. 2007).
Hydrology and salinity are the most important driving processes determining the range of potential vegetation in this macrogroup. Variations in flooding, sedimentation rates, erosion, scouring, wrack deposition and salinity are regular disturbances (Tiner 2013). Seed bank dynamics also drive the temporal and spatial diversity (Leck et al. 2009). Herbivory and competition also play an important role in vegetation patterns and some components (e.g., Typha and Peltandra virginica) are reported to be allelopathic (Bonasera et al. 1979). Rising sea level is an important driver of longer term vegetation trends, including expansion into adjacent swamp areas. Fire is also an important natural process in all but the smallest and most isolated patches. C. Frost (pers. comm.) estimates that many marshes burned as often as every three years in presettlement times and were an important source of ignition for adjacent communities. Marshes that have not burned recently have lower species richness, are more strongly dominated by the large graminoids, and are believed to be poorer habitat for waterfowl. Lack of fire may also allow for invasion of trees into the marsh. Marshes often show evidence of transition to or from treed communities, in the form of young invading trees and shrubs or standing dead older trees (Odum et al. 1984, Tiner 2013). More research is needed to interpret the complex interactions between temporal and spatial disturbance patterns (e.g., hydrology, salinity, sedimentation, erosion, herbivory, hurricanes, etc.), geomorphology, species life histories, and other factors to better elucidate the rangewide and local patterns in vascular plant communities of freshwater tidal marshes. It is unclear how subsidence, freshwater withdrawal, sea level rise, and climate change will impact this ecosystem, but changes are expected. Though causation is unclear, vegetation changes have already been documented in Louisiana since 1968 (Visser et al. 1999) and other areas (Barendregt and Swarth 2013).
J. Teague      Version Date: 15Jun2015
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USNVC Credits: Detailed Description of the National Vegetation Classification Types
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Faber-Langendoen, D., T. Keeler-Wolf, D. Meidinger, D. Tart, B. Hoagland, C. Josse, G. Navarro, S. Ponomarenko, J.-P. Saucier, A. Weakley, P. Comer. 2014. EcoVeg: A new approach to vegetation description and classification. Ecological Monographs 84:533-561 (erratum 85:473).
Franklin, S., D. Faber-Langendoen, M. Jennings, T. Keeler-Wolf, O. Loucks, A. McKerrow, R.K. Peet, and D. Roberts. 2012. Building the United States National Vegetation Classification. Annali di Botanica 2: 1-9.
Jennings, M. D., D. Faber-Langendoen, O. L. Louckes, R. K. Peet, and D. Roberts. 2009. Standards for
associations and alliances of the U.S. National Vegetation Classification. Ecological Monographs
FGDC [Federal Geographic Data Committee]. 2008. Vegetation Classification Standard, FGDC-STD-005,
Version 2. Washington, DC., USA. [http://www.fgdc.gov/standards/projects/FGDC-standards-projects/vegetation/NVCS_V2_FINAL_2008-02.pdf]
For additional information contact:
Implementation of the U.S. National Vegetation Classification Standard - Alexa McKerrow
NatureServe's Development of NVC Type Descriptions - Don Faber-Langendoen (don_faber-
Ecological Society of America's Review of the Type Descriptions Scott.Franklin@unco.edu
Federal Geographic Data Committee - Vegetation Subcommittee's Activities - Marianne Burke
We have incorporated significant descriptive information previously compiled by D. Faber-Langendoen and M. Pyne.