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Sea Barley

Hordeum marinum

Please keep in mind that it is illegal to uproot a plant without the landowner's consent and care should be taken at all times not to damage wild plants. Wild plants should never be picked for pleasure and some plants are protected by law.
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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 Couch Grass, 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:
Annual or Perennial
Maximum Size:
50 centimetres tall
Ditches, marshes, roadsides, saltmarshes, sand dunes, seaside, walls, wasteland.

Green, no petals
The spike is a maximum of 5cm in length. It has stiff, strongly spreading awns, up to 2.5cm long.
The fruit is a caryopsis. A caryopsis is a type of dry, one-seeded fruit.
An tufted, erect, annual species with glaucous, velvety leaves.
Other Names:
Mediterranean Barley, Salt Marsh Barley, Sea Barley Grass, Seaside Barley, Squirrel Tail Grass, Wall Barley Grass.
Frequency (UK):

Similar Species

Other Information


Hordeum marinum, also known as sea barley or salt marsh barley, is a species of grass that is native to coastal regions of Europe and North America. It is a hardy plant that can tolerate salty soils and is commonly found in tidal salt marshes, sand dunes, and other coastal habitats. Hordeum marinum is a perennial grass that has thin, upright stalks that can reach heights of up to 1 meter (3 feet) and has long, narrow leaves that are a bright green color. The plant produces small, inconspicuous flowers that are followed by small, hard seeds that are contained in a hull. Hordeum marinum is not typically grown as a crop plant, but it is sometimes used for soil stabilization and erosion control in coastal areas. It is also an important food source for a variety of birds and animals.


Sea barley (Hordeum marinum) is a species of grass that is native to the salt marshes and tidal flats along the coastlines of North America, Europe, and Asia. This hardy plant is well adapted to life in saltwater environments and can tolerate salt concentrations up to six times higher than seawater.

Sea barley is an important part of the intertidal ecosystem, providing habitat and food for various species of birds and small mammals. The plants can grow up to three feet tall and produce dense clusters of seeds that are a valuable source of food for shorebirds such as sandpipers and plovers.

The leaves of sea barley are long and narrow, with a distinctive bluish-green color. The plant produces spikes of small flowers that are arranged in a dense cluster at the top of the stem. The flowers are pollinated by wind and insects, producing a large number of seeds that are dispersed by wind and water.

In addition to its ecological value, sea barley has a long history of use by humans as a food and medicinal plant. In traditional Chinese medicine, sea barley is used to treat various ailments including high blood pressure, liver disease, and skin conditions. In Europe, the seeds of sea barley were once used as a food staple, and in many cultures, the plant was used to make beer and other fermented drinks.

Despite its importance, sea barley is vulnerable to habitat destruction and over-harvesting, particularly in areas where salt marshes are being drained or converted to other uses. To protect this valuable species, conservation efforts are underway in many countries, including the creation of protected areas, monitoring of populations, and the implementation of sustainable harvesting practices.

Sea barley is also an important component of salt marsh restoration projects, as it helps to stabilize the soil and prevent erosion in these vulnerable ecosystems. This makes it an essential part of efforts to conserve and restore these important habitats, which provide vital ecosystem services such as filtering pollutants from the water, reducing the impact of storms, and supporting a diverse array of wildlife.

Sea barley is also being researched for its potential as a bioenergy crop. The plant is well suited to growth in saltwater environments and can produce a large amount of biomass, making it a promising source of renewable energy. In addition, the plant can be used to extract salts and heavy metals from wastewater, making it a useful tool in efforts to clean up contaminated sites.

Despite its many benefits, sea barley faces a number of challenges. Climate change is affecting the distribution and abundance of sea barley, with rising sea levels and increased frequency of severe weather events having a negative impact on populations. In addition, sea barley is vulnerable to invasion by non-native plant species, which can outcompete it for resources and alter the composition of the salt marsh ecosystem.

To ensure the survival and continued ecological importance of sea barley, it is essential to implement effective conservation and management strategies. This includes protection of remaining salt marsh habitats, restoration of degraded areas, and control of non-native plant species. By taking these steps, we can ensure that this valuable species continues to play a vital role in maintaining the health of coastal ecosystems and supporting the livelihoods of local communities.

Furthermore, sea barley is a valuable resource for the study of plant adaptation to extreme environments. The plant's ability to tolerate high levels of salt and withstand harsh conditions has made it a subject of interest for researchers investigating the genetic and physiological mechanisms underlying salt tolerance. The study of sea barley may also contribute to our understanding of the impact of climate change on coastal ecosystems, as well as the development of more effective salt tolerance strategies for crops grown in salt-affected soils.

Additionally, sea barley has potential as a crop for phytoremediation, the use of plants to clean up contaminated soils and water. The plant is able to remove heavy metals and other pollutants from the environment, making it a valuable tool in efforts to clean up contaminated sites.

Overall, sea barley is a versatile and valuable species with a wide range of ecological, economic, and cultural significance. To ensure its survival and continued importance, it is essential to implement effective conservation and management strategies, including protection of remaining habitats, restoration of degraded areas, and control of non-native species. By doing so, we can ensure that sea barley remains a vital component of coastal ecosystems and a valuable resource for future generations.

Distribution Map

Reproduced by kind permission of the BSBI.

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