By Joseph Colbert
JIA Wildlife Biologist
Muhly grass—or “sweetgrass”—meadows are a rare coastal habitat found only in four states along the south Atlantic east coast. These meadows are some of the most productive wildlife habitats found along the Atlantic east coast, harboring high populations of small mammals and predators that rely on them. Muhly meadow habitats have been widely reduced due to their locality along beaches being converted to coastal development.
Muhly grass also has cultural significance as it has been historically used by Native Americans and Gullah-Geechee peoples of the southeast to make beautiful baskets.
This January, JIA’s conservation department used prescribed fire to maintain a restored muhly meadow along Beachview Road. Using fire helps maximize the grass community and prevents bushy trees like wax myrtles and pines from taking over. When the conservation department implements a prescribed fire, they choose conditions that allow for a methodical and safe fire that can be controlled. Burns are accomplished early in the year as it warms up so the plants in the muhly meadow may begin growing back right away.
The overall goal of a prescribed burn is to restore, maintain, and enhance muhly meadows on Jekyll Island for visitors, residents, and wildlife to flourish and enjoy these rare and beautiful habitats.