Physical Description

  • A true flowering plant, not algae or seaweed.
  • Long, bright green, ribbon-like leaves.
  • Can grow up to three feet long.


  • Grows on both coasts of North America, as well as worldwide.
  • From Labrador, Canada to North Carolina on the East Coast of North America.
  • From southeastern Alaska to Baja California, Mexico on the West Coast of North America.


  • Grows in calm bays and harbors and open coastal areas.
  • Can live in brackish to saltwater.


  • All parts of the plant cycle, including flowering, pollination, and seed germination, occur underwater.
  • The female flowers are fertilized by drifting pollen and develop into seed-bearing shoots.
  • The shoots eventually break off, float to the surface, and release their seeds.
  • Eelgrass can also reproduce asexually by growth and elongation of their rhizomes (underground stems) and formation of turions (wintering buds) that can grow into complete plants. 


  • Like all flowering plants, eelgrass needs sunlight, water, and carbon dioxide to grow via photosynthesis.


  • Eelgrass is eaten by green sea turtles, brant and Canada geese, widgeon, and many ducks.
  • Eelgrass used to be eaten by many Native Americans.
  • Eelgrass blades are also covered in bacteria, diatoms, and detritus that are eaten by many animals.

Interesting Facts

  • Eelgrass provides important nursery habitat for young animals. It stabilizes the shore, cleans the water, and provides food for many fish..
  • Dried eelgrass has been used as stuffing in mattresses and chair cushions, roofing, and housing insulation for many generations..

Sources: NOAA; Seashore to Forest Floor; Cornell University; NRCS; Bayville; Chesapeake Bay Program; Maryland Department of Natural Resources

Photo: Matthew Meier