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Robert Glennon, Plant Materials Specialist
USDA, Natural Resources Conservation Service
Harrisburg, Pennsylvania


Sam DePue, District Conservationist
USDA, Natural Resources Conservation Service
Princeton, West Virginia


American beachgrass was planted in an abandoned coal refuse pile in March, 1991 to cool the surface, add organic matter to the substrate, and trap seeds from the adjacent plant communities. After four growing seasons, the area has been colonized by indigenous species. Both forbs and woody plants have established themselves. On the edge of the pile close to a wooded area, there is an average of 41 stems per 9 square meter plot. Ragweed and joe-pye weed are the principle forbs. blackberry and smooth sumac are the principle woody species. The beachgrass is still present at an 26 percent survival rate of the plants established with an average density of 6.6 culms per established plant at a 0.6-meter spacing. In the center of the pile 30 to 45 meters away from the wooded area, there is an average of 14 stems per 9 square meter plot. Stickseed and ragweed are the principle forbs. Black birch is the only woody species. The beachgrass is present at a 57 percent survival rate with 18 stems per plant.


Coal mining and processing produces a large amount of unused overburden, also referred to as refuse or gob. This refuse presents an obstacle in the reclamation process in that it is coarse, droughty, infertile material often concentrated in relatively small areas. In large expansive strip mining operations, it can be spread out in the floor of the reclaimed strip and covered with soil material that can be readily revegetated. In deep mining, the area available for spreading the refuse is limited and the soil material to place on top is scarce. Alternative revegetation methods for these areas are needed that do not require spreading the refuse or topsoil to cover it.


The study area is a Soil Conservation Service Rural Abandoned Mine Program (RAMP) site located in McDowell County in southern West Virginia. The site had been abandoned for more than twenty years. Most of the area disturbed by roads and other grading had been reclaimed in the 1980's. Those areas had been seeded to a mixture of tall fescue, sericea lespedeza, and redtop; and had an excellent stand of vegetation that was being colonized by plants from the adjacent wooded area. The refuse pile was a 2-hectare sire located at the northern end of the site outside the mine opening. Half of the refuse pile was a 1:1 slope; the remainder was flat. When the site was reclaimed, there was no land available to spread the refuse or soil to cover it. Engineering estimates were $80,000 to spread and cover the site f it was possible. A small test planting had demonstrated that 'Cape' American beachgrass had the potential to survive and foster colonization of the site.

Materials and Methods

A contract was awarded to a private firm to revegetate the pile with 'Cape' American beachgrass planted at 2 culms per hole spaced 0.6 meter apart. The culms were grown by the Cape May, New Jersey Plant Materials Center; dug and stored in 10o Cesius cold storage until shipping; shipped in 12 hours to the site; and stored in cold storage until planting. Holes were dug with hand spades, fertilized with 30 grams of Osmocote 10-10-10 slow release fertilizer, the 2 culms placed in the hole and the hole closed and packed by hand. Plants in alternate rows were offset half a spacing and the rows were spaced 0.6 meters apart. No supplemental fertilizer or irrigation was provided. The planting was done in March, 1991. Evaluation of the beachgrass performance has been done twice a growing season each year. Evaluation of the succession was done in June, 1994 and 3 adjacent 0.6 by 15 meter plots adjacent to the wooded area and 3 in the center of the pile.

Data-Edge of Pile-Woody Plants
Species Plants
per Plot
Height (cm)
Blackberry (Rubus allegheniesis) 11.1 42
Smooth Sumac (Rhus glabra) 6.7 117
Trumpet-Creeper (Campsis radicans) 4.1 33
Sugar Maple (Acer saccharum) 1 21
Shagbark Hickory (Carya ovata) 1 120
Black Cherry (Prunus serotina) 0.7 150
Summer Grape (Vitis aestivalis) 0.3 90
Sycamore (Platanus occidentalis) 0.3 9
Total 25.7

Data-Edge of Pile-Herbaceous Plants
Species Plants
per Plot
Height (cm)
Ragweed (Ambrosia bidentata) 5.3 3
Joe-Pye Weed (Eupatorium fistulosum) 4.7 39
Goldendod (Solidago sp.) 2.7 9
Milkweed (Asclepsis syriaca) 1.7 27
Stickseed (Lappula echinata) 1.3 30
Birdsfoot Trefoil (Lotus corniculatus) 0.7 12
Broomsedge (Andropogon virginicus) 0.7 9
Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale) 0.3 21
Total 17.3
Beachgrass (Ammophilia breviligulata) 6.6  
  6.6 stems/plant

Data-Center of Pile-Woody Plants
Species Plants
per Plot
Height (cm)
Black Birch (Betula lenta) 0.3 15
Total 0.3 15

Data-Center of Pile-Herbaceous Plants
Species Plants
per Plot
Height (cm)
Stickseed (Lappula echinata) 8.3 33
Ragweed (Ambrosia bidentata) 4 3
Broomsedge (Andropogon virginicus) 1 9
Birdsfoot Trefoil (Lotus corniculatus) 0.7 9
Total 14
Beachgrass (Ammophilia breviligulata) 14.3
18 stems/plant


American beachgrass was planted on a gob pile that had not been colonized by indigenous vegetation over its 20 year history. Within 4 years, the planted area adjacent to the woods had been colonized by 43 plants per 9 square meter plot. The area in the center of the plot 30 to 45 meters from the woods had been colonized by 14 plants per 9 square meter plot. The beachgrass died out as the colonizing plants dominated the area. Planting American beachgrass is an effective method of modifying the surface of a gob pile to allow native plants to colonize the pile.

1991 COSTS

Large piles of overburden left from coal processing operations pose difficult and expensive reclamation challenges. Costs for grading, topsoiling and seeding these 'GOB' piles average $30,000 per acre. A two-acre site in southern West Virginia was stabilized in place with 'Cape' American Beachgrass for $3,750 per acre.

Costs per acre include:
180 manhours at $10 per manhour$1800
12,000 planting units at .10 per unit
(planted at a 2 foot x 2 foot spacing)
750 pounds of 13-13-13 osmocote fertilizer
(1 ounce per plant) at $1 per pound

Previous plot research indicates the plants will spread at a rate of one foot per year and trap litter and seed from adjacent native plant communities. Pioneer species become readily established once the plants have spread and seed is trapped in place.

Submitted by:Robert J. Glennon
Plant Materials Specialist
USDA, Soil Conservation Service
Suite 340
One Credit Union Place
Harrisburg, PA 17110-2993

Read: Beach Grass: Bringing the Seashore to the Mountains