Martin Johnson Heade painted more than one hundred scenes of tidal marshes. Haystacks depicts a salt marsh during harvest time. The wood boards in the foreground might be used to make a staddle (a haystack frame). Nineteen haystacks and a partially filled hay wagon occupy the middle distance, and in the background a lone figure in a red coat walks away from the field.
Although painted in Florida, Haystacks is probably based on Heade's studies of marshes near Newburyport or Marshfield, Massachusetts. In those works, he concentrated on the different hours of the day, various weather conditions, and water and air as reflectors of light and atmosphere. This painting, with its delicate handling of the gleaming light of sunset reflecting off still water, is characteristic of Heade's portrayal of nature's quiet moods.