The vegetation of a coastal marsh in southern James Bay was examined in reference to the salinity and hydrological processes. Regional hydrologic influences related to the freshwater budget of James Bay reduce the local salinity so that the vegetation typifies that of a fresh to brackish marsh system, in contrast to the Hudson Bay salt marshes reported in the literature. Thus species that thrive in areas of higher salinity have only limited occurrence at the study site. Infrequent tidal inundation of low salinity bay water diminishes surface salinity, which is primarily controlled by the interaction of marsh hydrology with fossil salt diffusing upward from postglacial deposits. The soil water salinity increases with depth and distance inland. However, local hydrologic gradients near raised beach ridges and incised stream channels affect surface runoff and groundwater recharge and discharge, producing further distinct spatial variations in salinity. These processes thus control the distribution of saline water in the rooting zone and hence the patterns of vegetation.