Animals & Exhibits    >    Animal Guide    >    Plants & Algae    >   

American dune grass

American dune grass

Not on Exhibit

Animal Facts

  • Scientific Name

    Leymus mollis

  • Animal Type

    Plants & Algae

  • Diet

    photosynthesis (converts energy from sunlight and nutrients)

  • Size

    to 6 feet (1.8 m) tall

  • Relatives

    other grasses; Family: Poaceae

Natural History

This hardy grass grows on the dunes just above the beach. By anchoring shifting sand and cutting coastal winds, dune grass creates a place where other plants can grow more easily. 

Established coastal sand dunes guard the coast against storm waves that could flood the land beyond the dunes. Conditions here are harsh for plants; few nutrients, almost no water, extreme temperature changes and blowing sand characterize dune habitats. But dune grass's special adaptations make survival possible—its thick, shiny leaves prevent loss of water and also reflect drying sunlight.

The first colonizers of newly formed sand dunes must grow and establish themselves before the sand shifts beneath their "feet." American dune grass is one of these important pioneer plants. It has long, underground stems (rhizomes) that send shoots upward and roots downward. These rhizomes anchor American dune grass and the surrounding shifting sand, creating places where other dune plants can survive.


Beaches and dunes are extreme environments, with pounding surf, blowing sand and blazing sun. Plants and animals here "live on the edge," often very susceptible to human impacts.

Cool Facts

Native people wove dried brown leaves of dune grass into mats, baskets, tote sacks and ropes. They used the tough, sharply pointed leaves as "needles and thread" for sewing.

Marram dune grass, a European native introduced into North America to stabilize dunes, is aggressive and has been crowding out our native L. mollis.

Dune grasses have a symbiotic relationship with underground fungi. The fungi decompose organic material, which supplies nutrients and water to dune grasses. The dune grasses, in turn, supply food (carbohydrates) for the fungi.

This grass grows from spreading, underground stems that help keep it from being buried by wind-blown sand.

 Animal Guide Home