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Sea Couch Grass

Elytrigia atherica

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Plant Profile

Flowering Months:
Poaceae (Grass)
Also in this family:
Alpine Catstail, Alpine Foxtail, Alpine Meadow-grass, Annual Beard-grass, Annual Meadow-grass, Arrow Bamboo, Barren Brome Grass, Bearded Couch Grass, Bearded Fescue, Bermuda Grass, Black Bent, Black Grass, Blue Fescue, Blue Moor-grass, Bog Hair-grass, Borrer's Saltmarsh Grass, Bread Wheat, Bristle Bent, Brown Bent, Brown Sedge, Bulbous Foxtail, Bulbous Meadow-grass, California Brome Grass, Canary Grass, Carnation Sedge, Cocksfoot, Cockspur, Common Bent, Common Cord-grass, Common Millet, Common Reed, Common Saltmarsh Grass, Compact Brome Grass, Corn, Couch Grass, Creeping Bent, Creeping Soft-grass, Crested Dog's-tail, Crested Hair-grass, Cultivated Oat, Curved Hard Grass, Cut Grass, Dense Silky Bent, Downy Oat-grass, Drooping Brome Grass, Drooping Tor Grass, Dune Fescue, Early Hair-grass, Early Meadow-grass, Early Sand-grass, False Brome Grass, False Oat-grass, Fern Grass, Fine-leaved Sheep's Fescue, Flattened Meadow-grass, Floating Sweet-grass, Foxtail Barley, French Oat, Giant Fescue, Glaucous Meadow-grass, Great Brome Grass, Greater Quaking Grass, Grey Hair-grass, Hairy Brome Grass, Hairy Finger-grass, Hard Fescue, Hard Grass, Harestail Grass, Heath Grass, Holy Grass, Hybrid Marram Grass, Italian Rye Grass, Knotroot Bristlegrass, Lesser Hairy Brome Grass, Lesser Quaking Grass, Loose Silky Bent, Lyme Grass, Marram Grass, Marsh Foxtail, Mat Grass, Mat-grass Fescue, Meadow Barley, Meadow Fescue, Meadow Foxtail, Meadow Oat-grass, Mountain Melick, Narrow-leaved Meadow-grass, Narrow-leaved Small-reed, Neglected Couch Grass, Nit Grass, Orange Foxtail, Pampas Grass, Perennial Rye Grass, Plicate Sweet-grass, Purple Moor-grass, Purple Small-reed, Purple-stem Catstail, Quaking Grass, Ratstail Fescue, Red Fescue, Reed Canary Grass, Reed Sweet-grass, Reflexed Saltmarsh Grass, Rescue Grass, Rough Meadow-grass, Rush-leaved Fescue, Sand Catstail, Sand Couch Grass, Scandinavian Small-reed, Scottish Small-reed, Sea Barley, Sea Fern Grass, Sheep's Fescue, Silver Hair-grass, Six-rowed Barley, Slender Brome Grass, Small Cord-grass, Small Sweet-grass, Smaller Catstail, Smooth Brome Grass, Smooth Cord-grass, Smooth Finger-grass, Smooth Meadow-grass, Soft Brome Grass, Somerset Hair-grass, Sorghum, Spreading Meadow-grass, Squirreltail Fescue, Stiff Brome Grass, Stiff Saltmarsh Grass, Sweet Vernal Grass, Tall Fescue, Timothy Grass, Tor Grass, Tufted Hair-grass, Two-rowed Barley, Upright Brome Grass, Velvet Bent, Viviparous Fescue, Wall Barley, Wavy Hair-grass, Wavy Meadow-grass, Whorl Grass, Wild Oat, Wood Barley, Wood Fescue, Wood Meadow-grass, Wood Melick, Wood Millet, Yellow Oat-grass, Yorkshire Fog
Life Cycle:
Maximum Size:
90 centimetres tall
Mountains, roadsides, rocky places, saltmarshes, sand dunes, seaside, walls.

Green, no petals
Solitary spikelets which alternate up the stem. Common Couch (Elytrigia repens) is similar in appearance but the spikes of Sea Couch are usually shorter and more pointed. Occasionally the glumes are awned.
A dry one-sided seed called a caryopsis.
Glaucous, linear leaves which are normally tightly inrolled.
Other Names:
Sea Couch.
Frequency (UK):
Occasionally seen  

Similar Species

Other Information


Elytrigia atherica (synonyms Elymus athericus, Leymus athericus) is a species of grass that is native to the Arctic and boreal regions of the northern hemisphere, including parts of North America, Europe and Asia. It typically forms dense, tufted clumps and spreads by means of underground rhizomes. The leaf blades are typically 20–40 cm (8–16 in) long and 3–5 mm wide. The inflorescence is a spike-like panicle that can be up to 20 cm long. It produces inconspicuous, greenish-brown flowers in the summer and it is wind-pollinated.

This species is commonly found in tundra and alpine habitats, such as rocky ridges, gravel pits and dry, nutrient-poor soils. It can also grow on dry and nutrient-poor soils in cold climates, as well as on sandy and gravelly soils along shorelines and riverbeds. It is highly adaptable and has a wide ecological amplitude, also it is useful to stabilize the soil. It is considered a valuable plant for revegetation of degraded and disturbed habitats and it's also hardy to cold, frost and snowy winter conditions.


Sea couch grass (Elytrigia atherica), also known as dune grass, is a perennial plant species that is widely distributed along the coastlines of Europe, North Africa, and Asia. It is a hardy and adaptable plant that has been known to colonize and stabilize sand dunes, making it an important component of coastal ecosystems.

Physical Characteristics

Sea couch grass has a dense, fibrous root system that helps it to anchor firmly in the shifting sands of coastal dunes. The plant can grow up to 3 feet tall and has long, narrow leaves that are tough and leathery, with sharp edges that help it to withstand strong coastal winds. The flowers of sea couch grass are small and inconspicuous, and the plant produces seeds that can be dispersed by wind or water.

Ecological Importance

Sea couch grass is an important plant species in coastal ecosystems, as it plays a crucial role in stabilizing sand dunes and preventing erosion. The dense root system of the plant helps to hold the sand in place, while the leaves trap blowing sand and help to build up the dune. This, in turn, creates a habitat for other plant species and provides a buffer against coastal storms and flooding.

Sea couch grass is also an important food source for a variety of coastal animals, including rabbits, deer, and various bird species. The plant provides cover and nesting sites for a variety of bird species, including sandpipers, plovers, and terns.

In addition to its ecological importance, sea couch grass has also been used for a variety of practical purposes throughout history. In some parts of Europe, the plant has been used to make baskets, thatched roofs, and even clothing.


Despite its importance in coastal ecosystems, sea couch grass populations have been threatened in recent years due to human activities such as coastal development and recreational use. In addition, climate change has also had an impact on sea couch grass populations, as rising sea levels and more frequent storms can cause erosion and habitat loss.

To protect sea couch grass populations, conservation efforts are needed to prevent further habitat loss and degradation. This can include measures such as limiting coastal development, controlling invasive species, and implementing strategies to reduce erosion and promote dune stabilization.

Sea couch grass is an important plant species in coastal ecosystems, playing a crucial role in stabilizing sand dunes and providing habitat for a variety of coastal animals. However, it is also threatened by human activities and climate change, highlighting the need for conservation efforts to protect this valuable plant species and the ecosystems that depend on it.

More Information about Sea Couch Grass

Sea couch grass is a highly adaptable plant species that is able to survive in a range of environmental conditions, including salty soils and high winds. It is also able to tolerate some level of flooding, which is important in coastal areas that are prone to storm surges and rising sea levels.

One of the unique characteristics of sea couch grass is its ability to spread and colonize new areas quickly. The plant is able to spread through its rhizomes, which are underground stems that can send out new shoots and roots. This allows the plant to form dense patches that help to stabilize the sand and prevent erosion.

In addition to its ecological importance, sea couch grass has also been used for medicinal purposes. The plant contains compounds that have been shown to have anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties, and it has been used to treat a variety of ailments such as sore throats, skin irritations, and digestive issues.

Despite its many benefits, sea couch grass is also considered an invasive species in some parts of the world, particularly in North America where it has been introduced. Invasive sea couch grass can outcompete native plant species and disrupt local ecosystems, highlighting the importance of careful management and monitoring of sea couch grass populations.

Sea couch grass is a valuable plant species that plays a critical role in coastal ecosystems. Its ability to stabilize sand dunes, provide habitat for coastal animals, and adapt to changing environmental conditions make it an important species for conservation and management efforts. However, it is also important to carefully monitor and manage sea couch grass populations to prevent the negative impacts of invasive species and ensure that this valuable plant continues to thrive in coastal ecosystems around the world.

Sea couch grass is also important in the context of climate change. Coastal ecosystems, including those in which sea couch grass is found, are particularly vulnerable to the impacts of climate change, such as sea level rise, increased storm frequency and intensity, and changes in temperature and precipitation patterns.

Sea couch grass is able to help mitigate some of these impacts by stabilizing sand dunes and protecting coastlines from erosion, flooding, and storm damage. In addition, the dense root system of the plant can help to sequester carbon from the atmosphere, contributing to efforts to mitigate climate change.

However, sea couch grass populations are also vulnerable to the impacts of climate change, particularly if they are unable to adapt to changing environmental conditions. Rising sea levels and more frequent and intense storms can cause erosion and habitat loss, and changes in temperature and precipitation patterns can alter the growing conditions for sea couch grass.

To help ensure the long-term survival of sea couch grass and the ecosystems that depend on it, it is important to take steps to address the root causes of climate change, such as reducing greenhouse gas emissions. In addition, conservation efforts should focus on protecting and restoring coastal ecosystems, including the promotion of sea couch grass populations and the development of strategies to enhance their resilience to climate change.

Overall, sea couch grass is a valuable and important plant species that plays a critical role in coastal ecosystems. Its ecological and practical benefits, as well as its potential to help mitigate the impacts of climate change, highlight the need for continued efforts to conserve and protect this important plant.

Distribution Map

Reproduced by kind permission of the BSBI.

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