Marsh Border (Zone 6)   4 comments

Marsh Border (Landward Edge) (Zone 6)


A. General information:

There are more species here than in zone 5. Seawater rarely reaches the marsh border and freshwater from higher elevations drains through this zone to the ocean. Many if not most of the plants found here are common in other terrestrial habitats. The species in the marsh border are listed by family, and with the exception of ferns, are arranged in alphabetical order.

B. Plants Commonly Found in the Marsh Border:


Ferns (Division Polypodiophyta)


Osmundaceae (Flowering Fern Family)

Osmunda cinnemomea (Cinnamon Fern)

The light green, deciduous Cinnamon Fern can reach a height of about 1.5 meters or more. Sterile, pinnate Fronds (Fern leaves) arise from a circular base and flare outward. Cinnamon colored fertile leaves (Spore Stalks) bear spores along most of their length. Ferns reproduce asexually from rhizomes (Underground Stems) and sexually from spores. Young sterile fronds can be eaten raw or cooked. Preparations made from fern roots have been used externally to treat rheumatism and internally to treat colds, headaches, etc.

Anacardiaceae (Cashew Family)

 Rhus typhina (Staghorn Sumac)



In most areas, staghorn sumac grows as a small tree. The surface of branches and twigs is covered with small hairs such that it feels like velvet. Staghorn Sumac has pinnately compound leaves each with about 20 lance shaped leaflets (about 8 cm long). The reddish terminal fruit is also hairy. The fruit is consumed by many species of birds.


Aquifoliaceae (Holly Family)

 Ilex verticillata (Winterberry)




Winterberry is a shrub about 3-5 meters tall with toothed, egg-shaped leaves (about 3 cm long) arranged alternately on the stem. The shrub has small white or greenish white flowers and bright red fruit. The bark is reported to be antiseptic and has been used to treat skin sores.

Asclepiadaceae (Milkweed Family)

Asclepias incarnata (Swamp Milkweed)


Milkweed is an erect plant about one meter high. Long, smooth edged, lance-shaped leaves are arranged on opposite sides of the stem. Groups of pinkish flowers are located near the top of the plant. Seed pods are shown below. White sap oozes out when the stem is cut. The milky-white fluid has been used to treat corns and warts. The third and fourth photographs show the seed pods and white sap of the common milkweed Asclepias syriaca.

Asteraceae (Aster Family)

a. Centaurea spp. (Star-thistle)

The star thistle, about 0.5 meters tall, has deeply lobed, spiny leaves that make the plant unpalatable to herbivores. It has been reported that the plant is poisonous to horses. There is a central disc of pink-white flowers and an outer group of pink-white ray flowers.


b. Doellingeria umbellata (Aster, White, Flat Topped)

The flowers generally reach the same height forming a flat top. The stems are erect reaching a height of about 1-2.5 meters. The flowers, about 20 mm across, have a yellow center and about 10 white rays extending outward. The leaves narrow to a point at both ends.


c. Sonchus arvensis (Spiny-Leaved Sow Thistle)

The Spiny-Leaved Sow Thistle is about 1 meter or more tall. The long leaves have pointed edges making them unpalatable to most herbivores. Young leaves, however, can be added to salads or steamed. Dandelion-like flowers develop at the end of erect stems.

Balsaminaceae (Touch-me-not Family)


Impatiens capensis (Jewel Weed)

Jewel weed is an erect plant about one meter high. The leaves, about 75 mm long, are somewhat oval, and arranged alternately on the stem. The 3 petal flower is tube-shaped and generally is orange-yellow with reddish spots. The rear portion of the flower (not shown) comes to a curved point.

Berberidaceae (Barberry Family)

Berberis vulgaris (Common Barberry)


Common Barberry (about 100 cm tall) has numerous spines on the stem. The toothed leaves, about 3 cm long, are compound (3 leaflets) and tend to be clustered together. The oval berries are bright red when mature. This species is native to Europe. Root bark tea has been used as an antiseptic and to induce sweating. Leaf tea has been used to treat coughs while the berries are reported to increase appetite and act as a laxative. The cooked berries can be made into a jelly. These are only a few of the reported uses of this plant.

Caprifoliaceae (Honeysuckle Family)

Viburnum dentatum (Arrowwood)

Northern Arrowwood is an erect shrub, about 4 meters tall, with coarsely toothed leaves (approximately 10 cm long). The leaves are rounded at the base and pointed at the tip. Dark blue berries are clustered at the end of the stem. The berries are consumed by birds and small mammals. The shoots as the common name suggests were used by American Indians to fashion arrow shafts.


Celastraceae (Staff-tree Family)

Celastrus scandens (Climbing Bittersweet)

This species is a woody vine that often overgrows other plant species. The oval, finely toothed leaves are about 6 cm long and have pointed tips. The fruit is orange-red when mature. Root-bark tea has been used as a diuretic and to induce sweating in addition to other medicinal uses.

Clethraceae (White Alder Family)


Clethra alnifolia (Pepperbush, Sweet)






This species is an erect deciduous shrub that ranges in height from about 1 to 3.5 meters. The oval leaves, arranged alternately along the stem, are about 7.6 cm long and taper to a fine point; the leaf edges are entire in the lower part of the leaf and toothed distally. Sweet smelling, 5 petaled white flowers are arranged in a terminal, erect cluster. Dry fruit capsules often remain on the plant throughout the winter.

Convolvulaceae (Morning-glory Family)

Calystegia sepium ( Hedge-bindweed or Wild Morning-glory)


Wild Morning-glory is a climbing vine that produces white to pink trumpet shaped flowers. The stem twists around other plants as it climbs upward (up to 13 meters). The arrowhead shaped leaves are arranged spirally along the stem.

 Cuscuta gronovii (Common Dodder)


Dodder is a parasitic climbing vine with thin orange stems and no visible leaves. Extensions from the stem attach to the host plant allowing the plant to feed on host sap. Whitish flowers, about 5 mm wide, arise from the stem (visible above).

Cornaceae (Dogwood Family)

Cornus alterniflora (Alternate-leaved Dogwood)

This species is similar to the Grey Dogwood except that the leaves are alternate instead of opposite and tend to be clustered at the end of twigs. The leaves are toothed, and the berries dark blue/black when mature.

Fabaceae (Pea or Bean Family)

a. Apios americana (Groundnut)



The ground-nut is a climbing vine that grows from underground roots that enlarge at points along their length (tubers). The leaves are compound, made up of 5-7 lance shaped leaflets. The red flowers resemble those of the beach pea. The fruit is an elongated pod like that of the beach pea. Underground tubers are high in protein and can be eaten raw or cooked. Dried tubers can be ground into fine flour, used as soup or gravy thickener or to make bread.

b. Lathyrus japonicus (Wild (Japanese) Beach Pea)




Vines bear pinnate leaves each consisting of about 12 smooth, linear leaflets. Stipules connecting the leaflets to the leaf are small. Clinging tendrils are present at the end of many of the leaves. Flowers are consistently purple. Seeds (peas) are situated in pods. The peas are edible, however older seeds can be distasteful. The pea family contains a number of poisonous species, nevertheless the beach pea is easy to identify. A concoction made from flowers, contains antiviral compounds, and has been used to treat flu, sore throat, and bronchial pneumonia.

Fagaceae (Beech Family)

Quercus rubra (Red Oak)

Red Oak is a tall, long lived  tree that reaches a height of about 30 meters or more. The alternately placed , lobed (7-9) leaves  are about 13 cm long. The lobes have bristled tips. The bark has longitudinal ridges with light colored centers that run the length of the trunk. Acorns are consumed by a variety of birds (Blue jays, Pheasant, Turkeys, etc.) and mammals (Deer, Rabbit, Squirrels, etc.). Red oak wood is used for the construction of home interiors and as a source of fuel.

Juncaceae (Rush Family)

Juncus effusus (Soft Rush)


The Soft Rush has erect, smooth, rounded stems about 1.5 meters high. The reproductive inflorescence is situated a short distance below the stem tip.

 Lythraceae (Loosestrife Family)

Lythrum salicaria (Purple Loosestrife)



Purple Loosestrife is an erect plant about one meter tall. Lance-shaped leaves , about 2.5 cm in length, are arranged in opposite pairs on the stem. The stem is 4-6 sided in cross section. Roots extend from the stem into the substratum. New plants arise from buds on buried stems allowing the plant to quickly spread to favorable areas. Purple-pink flowers are arranged on erect spikes. This is a non-native (introduced) species that often displaces native plants resulting in loss of food and ground cover for local wildlife. A concentrate prepared from dried flowers, leaves and roots is claimed to act as an astringent used for treating wounds and ulcers.


Myricaceae (Bayberry Family)

a. Comptonia peregrina (Sweet-fern)

Sweet fern is an aromatic shrub, about one meter or more high, with toothed lance-shaped leaves. As the common name suggests ,the plant resembles a fern. Tea, made from dried leaves, has been used as an astringent and also to treat the effects of poison ivy exposure.

b. Myrica gale (Sweet Gale or Bog Myrtle)

Sweet Gale is a deciduous shrub, 1 to 1.5 meters tall, with gray-green leaves, about 3 cm long, arranged spirally along the stem. Leaves have wide toothed tips and taper to a narrow base. This species has separate sexes and flowers are arranged on catkins. Crushed leaves give off a fragrant smell. Dried leaves have been spread on bed linen to ward off biting insects. Dried leaves also can be used as a substitute for bay leaves in various recipes. Leaf extracts apparently have antibacterial activity. Oil derived from the plant, although considered toxic is used in some skin care products. Extracts from tree bark were once used to tan steer hides.

c. Myrica pensylvanica (Morella pensylvanica) (Northern Bayberry)


Northern bayberry is an erect, spreading shrub, about 1.5 meters high with numerous stems. The leathery leaves, about 5 cm long, are simple, green, shiny on top and hairy underneath. Gray, waxy fruit (Nutlets) arranged in clusters are shown above. Bacteria in root nodules fix atmospheric nitrogen that can be used by the host to manufacture proteins and other substances. Dried bayberry leaves can be substituted for bay leaves to flavor sauces, soups, stews and other dishes. Tea made from leaves, bark or roots has been used to treat colds and as an astringent and stimulant. Wax candles can be made from bayberry leaves.


Family Ranunculaceae (Buttercup Family)


Anemone quinquefolia (Wood Anemone)

New plants arise asexually from positions along an underground  horizontal rhizome. Five leaves are arranged in a whorl as shown above. Each leaf is divided into three lobes, each of which is coarsely toothed. A single flower arises at the tip of a stem (about 12 cm high)  that emanates from the center of the whorl of leaves. The flower, about 1.5 cm wide, has 5 white sepals that look like petals. The plant is said to be poisonous if ingested.

Family Rosaceae (Rose Family)

a. Aronia melanocarpa (Black Chokeberry)



This deciduous shrub is generally about 1 to 3 meters tall. It bears toothed, bright green, leaves on the upper 2/3 of the stem. There are clusters of white flowers that develop into blue-black fruit (Pome) later in the summer. The fruit is consumed by birds and small mammals.  Leaves contain high concentrations of polyphenols and anthocyanins, and have been used to stimulate circulation and to treat urinary tract infections.

b. Rosa palustris (Swamp Rose)



The swamp rose is a thorny shrub, about 1 ½ meters in height sporting branching stems with decurved thorns. Compound leaves are made up of seven, toothed, more or less oval, leaflets (about 35 mm long). Pink, 5 petaled flowers are located at the tip of stems. Bright red rose hips contain numerous seeds. The fruit is an important food source for wildlife.

c. Rubus spp. (Red Raspberry)


Red Raspberry grows in thickets. The stem, about 2 meters high, has recurved reddish bristles (Thorns) extending outward. Oval, toothed, compound leaves (3 leaflets) are green on top and whitish underneath. Each leaflet has a broad base extending to a pointed tip. The fruit is edible and a fragrant tea can be prepared by steeping leaves in boiling water. Leaf tea has been used as an astringent and to treat diarrhea.

d. Spiraea alba (Meadow-sweet)



Meadowsweet has an erect stiff stem about 1 meter high. Lance-shaped leaves with finely serrated (Toothed) margins, arise alternately from the stem. Clusters of small, white, rose-like, flowers emerge at the top of the stem. Herbal tea, made by steeping leaves in boiling water, has been used to reduce fever and inflammation. The active ingredient in leaves is methyl salicylate which in high concentrations can be toxic.

Solanaceae (Nightshade Family)

Solanum dulcamara (Bittersweet Nightshade)

Bittersweet Nightshade is a climbing vine that can grow upward to a maximum height of about 4 meters. The arrow shaped leaves (About 1.5 cm long) have two basal lobes. The purple petals are curved backwards exposing the yellow stamens and centrally located style and stigma. The fruit, shown above, is an oval shaped red berry. All parts of the plant contain the alkaloid solanine which lowers body temperature and slows breathing and heart rate. The plant is considered poisonous.


Posted January 15, 2011 by zottoli

4 responses to “Marsh Border (Zone 6)

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  1. Love the site and have found it very hgelpful. However, I think you might want to check a couple of things. In your photos of Lathyrus japonicus, the second photo appears to be of a species of Vicia – vetch – not Lathyrus. The leaflets and inflorescence are both much smaller (and the former are more elongate and parallel-sided) than in beach pea. Both your photos of white oak appear to be (and the closeup certainly is) of northern red oak – Quercus rubra – a common coastal tree. Teeth on the leaves are sharp and pointed; all the members of the white oak group have rounded lobes (both Q. alba and Q. macrocarpa, the bur oak). Also, in your photos of Asclepias, the first, fourth and fifth appear to be of A. syriaca, and the second and third appear to be of the swamp milkweed, A. incarnata.

  2. WOW a web page with the name for my plant thank you (the last in the list), Solanum dulcamara (Bittersweet Nightshade) didnt know it was poison, its LOVED by BEE’s they prefer this to my hollyhocks which came and went but this plant they cant get enough of, (all day long, bee’s bee’s bee’s), the hollyhocks might stand a look in late afternoon / evening. very easy to grow from seed’s (had two and both grew) look like a dead stick in the winter but come summer WOW leaves and flowers (one at a time then 2/3 at a time), bee’s like these they must have posh taste or they are rich in pollination.

  3. Thanks Bob! Beautiful pictures and well-rounded commentary and information. But we still didn’t find the nasty, bristly, red-stemmed ting that left a rash on Pam’s leg. Made me think of Portugese Man O’ War jellyfish stings.

  4. Great post and very useful in identifying some plants for me. Thanks!

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