A Marsh is a wetland or an area of land where the ground is covered by water for a long period of time. A Marsh and a swamp are not the same. A swamp is filled with trees while a marsh does not normally have trees but is filled with grasses and other herbaceous plants.
Herbaceous plants can be annuals, biennials or perennials which means they can grow anew every year, two years or more to complete their life-cycle. Marsh grasses and other herbaceous plants grow in the marshes filled with water and rich soil deposited by rivers. The roots of the plant bind to the muddy soil and the slow water flow allows the plants to spread out across the marsh.
There are three types of marshes: Tidal Salt Marshes, Tidal Freshwater marshes, and inland freshwater marshes. Each type of marsh is unique with its on special ecosystem.
Tidal Salt Marshes and Tidal Freshwater Marshes are extremely important because they serve unique functions for the environment. They serve as a buffer for storms, help slow coastal erosion, provide shelter and nesting areas for migratory birds, and they even absorb extra nutrients to help maintain balanced oxygen levels in the sea. For example, from Louisiana all the way to Florida, hurricanes are a huge problem. Marshes help to act as a buffer to slow down the storms and even absorb surging water from the Gulf of Mexico. Coastal communities need the marshes for protection from storms and as a continued protection for erosion. Fisheries in the Gulf Coast areas need the marshes for a habitat for birds, fish and other animals who depend on the marshes for food and shelter.
Tidal Salt Marches
Tidal Salt Marshes are typically located near river mouths, bays and along coastlines protected from the ocean. They are made of a grassy fringe. The marsh fills two times a day from the ocean tides that rise and fall with the tide. The marsh will be shallower at low tide and deeper at high tide. Special plants, like sawgrass and pickleweed, can tolerate the fluctuating tidal waters which are salty. Tidal Salt Marshes are the perfect environment for a wide variety of birds, fish, insects and crustacean species. Ducks and cormorants rely on the grassy marsh for nesting sites and the food supply that include fish, shrimp and crabs. Osprey, which are large raptors, can even be found in the tidal marshes.
Tidal Freshwater Marches
Tidal Freshwater Marshes are located further away from the salty oceans, but are still close enough to the coast to be impacted by the tidal ebbs and flows. The water levels in Tidal Freshwater Marshes rise and fall twice a day just like the Tidal Salt Marshes with the tides. However, Tidal Freshwater Marshes are fed by freshwater streams that do not have a lot of salt content. Sedges, or herbaceous plants, are what make up the most of the tidal freshwater marsh ecosystem. Lots of insects live in the freshwater tidal marshes and they provide food for birds such as ducks, herons and wrens. Tidal Freshwater Marshes also provide the perfect spawning grounds for fish like shad and herring.
Inland freshwater marshes are found along the fringes of lakes and rivers and vary in size. The sizes range from a bowl-shaped depression (prairie potholes) to tremendous watery grasslands like the Florida Everglades. The vegetation in these freshwater marshes depend on water. Wet Meadows provide the perfect ecosystem for frogs, snakes and even bears. A wet meadow does not support aquatic plants because it does not have standing water for most of the year. Each year, plants will only bloom with the annual or biannual flooding of the meadow. The Everglades, which is the largest freshwater marsh in the U.S., have water year round. The Everglades are made of dense beds of water lilies, underwater plants, and papyrus and provide the perfect environment for alligators, fish, insects, birds and more. Did you know that there are even marshes in the middle of the Kalahari Desert?
Marshes are such an important part of the world for plants, animals and people.