Pluff Mud

I’m describing something salt marsh-ubiquitous. You’ve likely smelled it and maybe even stepped in it. Some have even smeared it on their face and body. If you’ve done these things, you’re allowed to call yourself a pluff-mudder. Oysters grow on it and spartina grows in it. Fiddler crabs stir it up. This stuff can suck the boots right off your feet.

I say pluff. Others say plough. So what’s it made of? -Fine sands, silts, clays, and organics. Sands, silts, and clays come from weathered and eroded mountains. As you can imagine, this process takes a while. Sands, silts, and clays (sediments), over vast stretches of time, make their way to the coast. Once at the coast, waves, wind, and water currents sort these sediments. The finer particles (what we call mud) settle in the quiet, low energy area behind the barrier islands (a.k.a. the ‘back barrier’). Periodic tides regularly nourish the back barrier salt marsh with new mud. Once the mud accumulates to at least average high tide elevation, spartina alterniflora (marsh grass) grows on it.

Any casual observer on my Salt Marsh Adventure recognizes many forms of life within the back barrier. Several species of crabs, mollusks, echinoderms, mammals, fish, and birds live here. Guess what else they do here? Mhmmm, so this accounts for some of the organic fraction of our pluff mud. Think about this next time you eat a muddy oyster. Proper oyster roast hosts make great efforts to wash all the mud off the oysters.

I’ve gotten the question, “can I walk on that mud?” From my own experience, I explain what happens if attempted. “You’ll sink to your calves, then you’ll struggle to move, then sink to your knees and maybe your thighs.” Lots of un-matched boots now live in the marsh. In the winter during oyster season, pluff-mudding becomes a necessity. Wear tight-fitting boots.

Captain Anton DuMars, a coastal geologist and 30-year Folly Beach resident.

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  1. Hello, or How Y’all Doing Ta-day! I’m an author of the novel “Leave No Evidence” an intriguing mystery read. I am writing a new novel that will encompass the attributes of Folly Beach, old and new, to enhance the whimsical and interesting life of islanders swirled together in a fine murder drama that breaks as beautiful as a wave heard crashing on the approach of a summer coastal storm. That you would have to wear an old pair of tennis shoes or boat shoes for stomping in the marshy areas when pushing a boat for flounder gigging, my husband Zack says, is an understatement. He also reminds those who brave the banks of mud marsh that the hose in the backyard could scaresly remove the salt marsh from your skin without applying extreme pressure of a thumb partially covering the mouth of the old water hose. Only a Southerner can be so educated in these fortunate occurrences and appreciate them all in the same instance.
    Dat’s it Y’all! Regards, Marilyn Harley Irick

  2. I spent most of my younger life on Folly, and pluff mud was a big part of my life!! Moved to Idaho for 7 years, and when I came home to visit,  I drove straight to Folly, windows open, smelling the pluff and the salt air! There is nothing like it anywhere else in the USA!!!

  3. The old highway paved of cemented peble-rock became a dance floor for the vehicles wheels turning towards the ocean breezes ahead. The homemade airconditioning came with imagination as we would roll down the car windows as far as they would go. This gave the most heavenly comfort from the blazing sun but that brought a whole other memory to mind. As the car crossed the bouncing bridges the marshy wet lands had a distinct fragrance that permitted the senses. This was puff mud at its best and the prize of a sea shore up ahead.

  4. The old highway paved of cemented peble-rock became a dance floor for the vehicles wheels turning towards the ocean breezes ahead. The homemade airconditioning came with imagination as we would roll down the car windows as far as they would go and stretch our cupped hands navigating the outside air onto our faces. This gave the most heavenly comfort from the blazing sun, but that brought a whole other memory to mind. As the car crossed the bridges, bouncing with thunderous claps, the marshy wet lands had a distinct fragrance that permeate anyones senses calling you to come home. This was pluff mud at its best holding tight to its sawgrass of waving smiles just before the prize of Folly filled seashore.

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