LEANNA MCMILLAN, Staff Naturalist The wonders of nature are abundant as the Lowcountry starts its subtle transition from long, hot summer days to shorter, cooler days to be enjoyed outside. Nature all around us is attai- ning its fruition before heading into gentle winter dormancy. The changes may be hard to notice for some since the Lowcountry is made of maritime forest dominated by evergreen flora. Customary signs of fall, like leaves turning yellow to crimson and golden brown, are few and far between. One change that everyone should notice is the change in color of the Spartina grass (Spartina alterniflora) in the saltmarsh shifting from bright green to gold. Spartina grass, also called smooth cordgrass, has a vast expanse spreading across the landscape between islands and the mainland, along narrow saltwater creeks, and inlets. South Carolina has more Spartina grass than any other state, and Beaufort County has more than any other county in the state. Spartina grasses are beautiful and abundant, revealing the season to us in a very subtle, yet obvious way. Lush or decaying, it serves the flora and fauna in especially important ways. As the grasses reach the end of their vibrant green growth stage, they begin to turn a golden color while starting to flower and go to seed. These seeds along with rhizomes help form new grasses that help keep our saltmarsh ecosystem productive and healthy. Spartina is a perennial grass that spreads both vegetatively through underground rhizomes, as well as through seed dispersal. These flowers and seeds are an essential food source for migrating birds in the fall. By winter, the grasses turn brown and die off accumulating as mats of detritus “wrack” on the surface. The dead, decaying grasses are a critical source of organic material that nouri- shes the entire salt marsh ecosystem. Thanks to Spartina alterniflora, the salt marsh is the second most productive ecosystem on the planet. Over 75% of the commercially important species in the Southeast use the salt marsh during their life cycle. Spartina grasses also help with erosion control and filtering pollutants from the water column. This fall, be sure to walk (or paddle!) along the marsh front and take note of the changes in color and life cycle of the beautiful Spartina grasses that dominate our salt marsh.