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Spartina foliosa is distributed In coastal southwest North America along the Pacific Ocean shoreline and estuaries of Mexico and California. This aquatic plant grows in shallow near-shore waters, salt marshes or on mudflats in the intertidal zone. The species is severely restricted to elevations less than five meters above mean sea level.

The plant, also known by its common name California cordgrass, grows from rhizomes which are typically bedded in shallow coastal muds below mean sea level. Leaves are emergent, and stems are generally 60 to 150 meters in length. The species in threatened due to introduction of the alien species Spartina alternifolia, which hybridizes with the native, which process is sometimes known as genetic pollution, in cases such as this where the native stock then declines in population, due to a hardier hybrid.

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