Travelers through Coastal South Carolina often comment on a smell in the air. Locals may call it a scent, while newcomers refer to it as an odor. It is the “pluff mud” in the coastal marsh.
As written on the South Carolina Department of natural resources:
A variety of algae inhabits the salt marsh and serve as primary producers of food. Most rooted plans cannot tolerate any exposure to salt. However, smooth cord grass, often called by its generic name, spartina, has evolved the ability to withstand regular inundation by saltwater. Spartina dominates the low marsh to the exclusion of almost all other plants, a creating a very unusual habitat. Spartina stalks are thick, very tough and well anchored by a root system. The plant’s narrow, tough blades and special glands that secrete excess salt, making it ideal to withstand the high heat and daily exposure to salt water. The soft marsh substrate, referred to as “pluff mud,” prevents large grazing animals from consuming living spartina stalks. Instead, the grass dies back each fall and bacteria decompose it into a rich soup known as detritus that along with algae serves as the basis of the productive salt marsh food web.
Salt marshes serve as an important part of the world’s eco-system, and home to some of the world’s most beautiful wildlife.
If you venture out onto this paradise, be prepared to sink in.