The harsh conditions in many coastal areas limit the range of plant species that can be grown successfully. Indigenous or locally occurring varieties (plants grown from seed or cuttings collected from native vegetation in the area) have evolved characteristics which make them ideally suited to withstand the effects of the coastal environment, such as:
strong persistent on-shore winds carrying sand and salt spray which dry out the leaves and soil, and can cause physical damage to less hardy plants;
often low nutrient and dry sandy soils;
salt depositing on plant leaves.
Scientific Name: Panicum amarum
A warm season grass that grows from New England to Mexico, this grass is recognized by its wide green to blue- green leaves. This plant is a true workhorse on the frontal dune because of its ability to trap sand and establish vegetative clumps. The aboveground plant parts act as a windbreak, preventing the sand from being blown away, and the large root system stabilizes the sand in place. The roots grow six feet deep and by spreading underground rhizomes, sometimes called runners, this plant colonizes well and should be included on every frontal dune.
Scientific Name: Gaillardia pulchella
Gaillardia, aka, Fire-Wheel or Indian Blanket, is a self-seeding annual, that can grow 6" - 24" tall. It grows naturally in sand along roadsides and behind dunes. This beautiful orange and yellow flower blooms April to October. Gaillardia can be found throughout the barrier islands in the soft sands. They thrive in full sun with very well-drained soil, two conditions easily met on the coast. Once established these plants are quite drought tolerant and require very little maintance.
Scientific Name: Spartina patens
Since this plant can thrive in saline conditions that other dune plants cannot you might see this plant more often in areas that are subject to overwash. Saltmeadow Cordgrass is a slender and wiry plant that grows in thick mats 30-60 cm high, green in spring and summer, and turns light brown in late fall and winter. The stems are wispy and hollow, and the leaves roll inward and appear round. Because its stems are weak and the seed heads are delicate, this species is the least tolerant of wind blown sand compared to the other coastal vegetation options offered by Coastal Transplants. The saltmeadow cordgrass produces flowers that are a deep purple that bloom from June to October and turn brown in the winter months. With its wispy appearance this is a great back dune plant that could be placed next to ground level decks or walkways.
Scientific Name: Uniola paniculata
Sea Oats are a long lived, slow growing, warm season, perennial grass. They can take up to two or three years to reach maturity. They are well suited for the harsh saline environment of the coast. Their long root structure firmly holds the loose sand of a dune, adding the much needed stability to keep the dunes in place especially when winds begin to increase. At maturity a sea oat is approximately 6 feet high and its leaves can grow up to 25 inches in length and is less than 1 inch in width. The ends of the leaves are often brown and curled in appearance. They produce a large seed head, known as a panicle, in the summer. The panicles are made up of many flat spikelets containing seeds. The panicle turns from green to straw colored in the late summer as the plant matures. The stem has bulges near the soil surface, which will root down to anchor the soil surface as wind born sediments accumulate around the base of the plant helping to add to already existing dunes.
Sea oats are considered a protected grass in North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida.
Scientific Name: Iva imbricate
Seashore elder is a warm season perennial that is the only non-grass sand trapper that Coastal Transplants offers at this time. The sparse woody stems grow upright 1 - 4 feet tall creating a shrub like appearance. The plant has succulent leaves that are fleshy and narrow. As the plant becomes buried in sand sediment, it grows a new stem and shoots out rhizomes. Sand continues to accumlate around the plant and produces low, gentle rounded dunes that are desireable in coastline landscaping. The seeds naturally germinate in the wrack line (vegetative debris) left by the extreme high tides and therefore are the first dune builders seen on the slope of the beach. The seashore elder is a must have plant for the true eco-system builder. Seashort Elder is typically placed at the front of the dune.