Checklist » Zosteraceae » Zostera marina
Last updated 2/25/2009 by David Giblin.
Zostera marina L.[FNA22, HC, HC2]
common eelgrass, seawrack

Publication: Sp. Pl. 2: 968. 1753.

Origin: Native

selected vouchers: WTU

Notes: FNA22: "Zostera marina is adapted to the cold waters of the North Atlantic and North Pacific. It extends southward to North Carolina in the Atlantic and Baja California in the Pacific. At the southern limits of its range, active growth mostly is in the cooler months of autumn and spring, with flowering and fruiting mostly in the spring and the plants dying in the hotter summer months, the vegetation becoming dislodged from the substrate and floating to the water surface. The fruits apparently remain in the floating vegetation for a period of time, eventually falling from the shoots to the substrate. Movement in dislodged vegetative material is the only adaptation the fruits have for dispersal (C. den Hartog 1970).

The species is found mostly in the sublittoral region, only rarely being exposed at low tide. It occurs in more or less sheltered areas on soft mud or firm sand. Plants of sandy substrates had narrower leaves than plants growing on muddy substrates (C. H. Ostenfeld 1905). Fruits fall from the floating vegetation to the substrate and settle on the substrate ripple marks, which run more or less perpendicular to the direction of current. Seedling establishment is parallel with the ripple marks, forming vegetated ridges separated by depressions, which gradually fill with sediments, and the plants then grow laterally into them, forming a meadow (C. den Hartog 1970). The vegetation lowers the velocity of current flow, causing some suspended particles to settle out and accumulate around the base of the plants, slowly building the substrate. As more particles accumulate, the substrate gets deeper over the rhizomes, since the rhizomes grow horizontally, not vertically. Eventually, the rhizomes are too deep, and the plants begin to die back, a phenomenon followed by erosion."


» Backman, T. W. H. 1991. Genotypic and phenotypic variability of Zostera marina on the west coast of North America. Canad. J. Bot. 69: 1361–1371.
» Cock, A. W. A. M. de. 1980. Flowering, pollination and fruiting in Zostera marina L. Aquatic Bot. 9: 201–220.
» Phillips, R. C. 1964. Comprehensive Bibliography of Zostera marina. Washington. U.S.D.I. Fish Wildlife Serv., Special Sci. Rep. Wildlife 79.
Synonyms & Misapplied Names:
Zostera marina L. var. stenophylla Asch. & Graebn.