A salt marsh in summer is a bristling emerald cloak thrown across the blue-grey silks of shallow bays and estuaries. I want to run my hand across the ticklish tops of her marsh grasses. Wet and sulfurous, she luxuriates, begs you to wade into her maze of water and mud and green reeds. In the summer, she spreads out like a banquet set for all-comers, and she is: she feeds glass minnows and mollusks, ibis and algae alike.

In the fall, her marsh grasses yellow, and orb spiders spin webs across her million green-gold fingers. She is weathered and aged, dynamic and changing, teeming with life and smelling of rot and ruin. The skeletal remains of her bulrushes and sea-blite cast grasping shadows as the sun sinks lower in the sky. Her grackles add their rusty gate warning calls to the cackling of the gulls. She wears a veil of mist in the mornings, and she is the proper midwife to the season of ghosts and goblins.

When I started writing Queen Hag, I knew the salt marshes of eastern North Carolina would be a main character. While forests and cemeteries make fine settings for horror, a salt marsh is the liminal space par excellence, and without marsh grasses, there would be no marsh, so today, I sing the praises of marsh grass.

The grasses giveth; the grasses taketh away.

Sometimes the marsh seems to take sides, play favorites, but wait. She is equitable and just and grisly in her indifference. She lends periwinkle snails cordgrass and spartina to escape rising tides and hungry black drum. Perched high on her lifesaving stalks, the snails become a feast for egrets and sandpipers and birds migrating south for the winter.

At her crossroad, the snail consumes the cordgrass, the crow consumes the snail, and the grass consumes us all in the end, and this dynamic exchange influences the distribution and abundance of species, the flow of energy and nutrients, and even the structure of the marsh itself. The rise and fall of the tides, the growth of the grasses, and the movements of both snails and birds remind us that we escape one danger only to expose ourselves to others. Danger is everywhere that life is. To climb or not to climb, that is the question.

The grasses connect us all.

Rushes, reeds, and many other marsh grasses are rhizomatic, meaning they have underground stems that grow horizontally beneath the sulfurous mud, producing both roots and shoots that allow them to spread like an army of spinners. They weave their way across the marshy land. As they do, they stabilize the soil with their far-reaching root systems, making them foundational to their ecosystem. They are shallow, but they are many, and there are many more to come, stitching loose soil and rock and detritus together into wholecloth.

In philosophical contexts, the rhizome becomes a metaphor for thought and knowledge that’s non-hierarchical, nonlinear, and interconnected. Rhizomatic ideas are those that spread like sawgrass, intersect, and evolve without a clear origin or straightforward progression. The marsh grasses reach out and take unto themselves and make everything marsh, like the internet memes or a grassroots coup grows. They are continually spreading, continually seeking new territory. They infiltrate, adapt, conquer, and succumb, setting a stage for an endless drama of survival, interaction, and transformation.

The marsh speaks of time, resilience, and the tidal pull between beginnings and endings, growth and decay. She is alive and spinning stories of survival and loss, cooperation and betrayal, all the good stuff, with her million green-gold fingers.

Botanical Information

Scientific Name: Spartina alterniflora

Folk Names: Saltwater Cordgrass, Marsh Grass

Family: Poaceae

Habitat and Distribution: Found primarily in intertidal salt marshes and estuarine environments, Spartina alterniflora is a perennial deciduous grass that thrives along the coastal regions of the eastern United States. It has spread its influence far beyond the marshes of America to enmarsh other parts of the world, including Europe and Asia.

Cultural Uses: The dense root systems help to prevent erosion and improve water quality by filtering pollutants. Historically, it has been used in some coastal communities for thatching roofs and as fodder for livestock. Its importance in protecting coastal ecosystems has also led to its use in wetland restoration projects.

References & Inspiration

Spartina bakeri.” North Carolina Extension Gardener Plant Toolbox.

The cordgrass is alive, and it’s hungry.

Write a story that takes your reader into the heart of a cursed marshland, where the boundary between the natural world and the supernatural is blurred, and terror lurks around every bend of the winding waterways. Explore the relationship between the marsh, the cordgrass, and the ancient powers that linger there.

Can your characters escape the marshland’s curse, or will they become part of local legend themselves? What secrets does the cordgrass hide, and what will it reveal to those who dare to venture too close?

Let the whispers of the cordgrass guide your tale into the dark and unknown. The marsh is waiting.