- Dr. Cynthia Moncreiff, a marine botanist with The University of
Southern Mississippi, is dealing with the kidneys of the coast,
but her operating room is in a greenhouse, not a hospital.
professor of coastal sciences is raising two species of saltmarsh
plants - black needlerush and smooth cordgrass - at the university's
Gulf Coast Research Laboratory in Ocean Springs for use in small-scale
marsh restoration projects.
are the 'kidneys' of the gulf coast," Moncreiff said. "These
two plants are critical components of coastal marshes. They help
the marshes filter nutrients and wastes out of the water and help
keep our coastal bayous and the Mississippi Sound cleaner. They
also prevent erosion. They protect the shoreline during storm events.
They are buffers."
use of local marsh plants will give restoration projects an edge
over efforts that use plants from other environments. Without a
local source, Moncreiff said, plants for restoration would be cut
out of an existing marsh, possibly damaging the donor marsh, or
they might be purchased from commercial growers out of state.
out that the same species from commercial sources are, in effect,
clones of plants that are not from the Mississippi coast. The advantage
of the homegrown plants is in maintaining local genetic variability,
disease resistance and environmental tolerance.
project is supported through a grant from the Mississippi Coastal
Impact Assistance Program (CIAP), which is administered by the Mississippi
Department of Environmental Quality. The marsh plants grown at the
lab will go to CIAP projects involving marsh restoration in Hancock,
Harrison and Jackson counties or to other projects proposing restoration
of two acres or less.
To date, Moncreiff
and her team have collected seeds from 50 to 100 plants in the Ocean
Springs area and are successfully growing about 1,200 black needlerush
and 4,000 smooth cordgrass plants from the seeds. She said an important
aspect of the project is that rates of germination and growth have
are sprouting and growing into lush plants," she said. "The
GCRL greenhouse is full of nearly mature plants, ready for use in
They are doing
so well, in fact, that Moncreiff is looking forward to putting up
a temporary greenhouse and growing more plants. She has completed
another cycle of collecting black needlerush seeds and will collect
smooth cordgrass seeds this fall for planting as the other CIAP
projects call for more plants.
she hopes that the GCRL greenhouse will continue as a self-supporting
source of native plant material after the funding has ended in December
the biggest challenges so far has been convincing the rabbits and
wood rats not to eat our plants," she said. "Apparently
tender marsh plants are very tasty."