The Coastal Star

Along the Coast: What's blooming at the beach?

 Native plants keep the dunes healthy

Bay bean (Canavalia rosea), a vine that trails along beach dunes and coastal sand,

blooms most of the summer and sporadically the rest of the year.

Tim Stepien/The Coastal Star

By Deborah S. Hartz-Seeley

    Although some may consider coastal wildflowers to be weeds, those of us living along the ocean should think of them as some of our best friends. By putting their roots down in search of water, they also secure the sand.
    “And that helps prevent beach erosion,” says Jeff Nurge, co-owner of Native Choice Nursery in Boynton Beach. These native plants also act as a buffer between what lies inland and the wind and waves off the ocean during heavy weather.  
    Besides storm protection, the vines and shrubs offer sustenance for butterflies, birds, bees and other insects. And they provide shelter for wildlife such as small mammals, snakes and lizards as well as 30 species of what are considered rare animals, according to the Florida Department of Environmental Protection.  
    But even though they are valuable to man as well as nature, dunes are not immune to man’s impact. Many have been destroyed and replaced with buildings, parking lots and other construction.

Seeds of the bay bean are buoyant, which allows them to be distributed by ocean currents.

The purplish-pink flowered plant is part of the pea family.

Tim Stepien/The Coastal Star

    “Our beaches are never going to be natural again,” says Nurge. In fact, only 35 percent of native dune vegetation remains undisturbed along Florida’s 1,260 miles of coastline, according to the DEP. Many seaside residents and towns are doing their best to preserve and even grow the dunes by installing native plants, including flowering vines and shrubs, at appropriate places in the sand. So the next time you go to a beach where the dunes are preserved or being restored, take a moment to look around and notice what’s growing.  
    “Knowledge is power and if you are knowledgeable about the dune plants, you will have an interest in them and be more prone to protecting them and all they offer us,” says Nurge.
    To make your dune visit more informative, we asked Nurge to provide a list of some flowering plants you can find on the dunes in Palm Beach County. Take these pages the next time you visit the ocean.
    “If you can identify the plants around you, you’ll get more enjoyment out of your visit and it will be more of an interactive experience,” says Nurge.

Coastal flowering plants

Bay cedar (Suriana maritima), a low bush that can grow into a tree, sports tiny yellow flowers.

It hosts the rare mallow scrub-hairstreak and martial scrub-hairstreak butterflies.

Its seeds are dispersed by water so it tends to grow at the bottom of the dunes.

Photo by Jeff Nurge/Native Choice Nursery

Beach morning glory (Ipomoea imperati), a vine with white flowers displaying yellow centers,

grows on the downside of the dunes where moths and other insects nectar on it. You’ll find it bathing in full sun.

Photo by Jeff Nurge/Native Choice Nursery

Beach verbena (Verbena maritima) grows near the water. Therefore, it is rare to find it on our local dunes,

where much of its habitat has been replaced by condos and other homes. If you hope

to see this vine with its purple flowers, look in areas that are 100 to 200 yards back from the water line.

Photo from Wikimedia Commons

Blackbead (Pithecellobium keyense) is a large prickly shrub that can grow into a tree on the back of the dune

where a hammock is forming. Its flowers look like powder puffs that range from white to deep pink. After its flowers

fall off, the plant forms black seeds. It is a host plant for large orange sulfur and Cassius blue butterflies.

Photo by Jeff Nurge/Native Choice Nursery

The dune sunflower (Helianthus debilis) seeds readily, so you’ll find a lot of it growing on the dunes.

If you see this plant, bees and butterflies will not be far away as this flower provides plenty of nectar.

Photo by Larry Allain hosted by the USDA-NRCS PLANTS Database

Where to find coastal wildflowers

Here are some places in Palm Beach County where dune flowers grow:
    Delray Municipal Beach — It runs for 6,840 feet along South Ocean Boulevard (A1A) from Casuarina Avenue and the Seagate Beach Club north to the first beachfront home.  The most mature section of renovated beach can be seen north of Sea Spray Avenue, with street parking available. The section around East Atlantic Avenue is slated to be restored within the next year.
    Gumbo Limbo Nature Center — 1801 N. Ocean Blvd., Boca Raton; 544-8605; Part of Red Reef Park, this area will give you a view of what the dunes and beaches were like before man started building east of A1A.  
    MacArthur Beach State Park — 10900 Jack Nicklaus Drive, North Palm Beach; 624-6952; This park has four habitats, including pristine beach and dunes.
Protect our dunes. It’s the law. At the beach, stay on the designated pathways and walkovers to protect the vegetation. Also, state and local laws make it illegal to dig up the dune vegetation or take any part of the plants, including flowers, clippings and seeds. They must be left in their natural state, said Nora Fosman, senior environmental officer for the city of Boca Raton

The Jamaican caper (Capparis cynophallophora) is a flowering shrub that can grow into a tree at the back of the dunes. Its white flowers turn purple and look like bursting fireworks. After it blooms, the plant produces fuzzy, brown bean-like pods that split open to reveal a sticky orange-red flesh containing its seeds.

Photo by Jeff Nurge/Native Choice Nursery

The endangered necklace pod (Sophora tomentosa var. truncata) gets its name from the shape of its seedpod,

which looks like strung beads. The seeds are poisonous to humans. The plant’s yellow flowers attract hummingbirds

because of their shape. They also attract a variety of butterflies, including the cassius blue and mangrove skipper.

Photo by Stephen Brown/horticulture agent, UF/IFAS Lee County Extension

Railroad vine (Ipomoea pes-caprae) is related to the beach morning glory and has many of the same characteristics,

except that its flowers are purple. A fast grower, it can cover the dunes quickly. Although you might think the shape

of its flower would attract hummingbirds, the plant grows too low to the ground for them to hover and sip nectar.

Photo from Wikimedia Commons

Sea oxeye daisy (Borrichia frutescens) is a vine ground cover that grows on the back side of the dunes in lower areas.

Here it forms a thicket that helps secure the dunes by gathering and holding sand. Its quarter-size flowers look like daisies.

They attract insects such as butterflies, beetles and wasps. The plants may have either silvery gray green

or bright green foliage; the dunes have two varieties.

Photo by Larry Allain hosted by the USDA-NRCS PLANTS Database

White sage (Lantana involucrata) has white flowers with yellow centers and petals that fade to pale pink.

This delicate flower attracts many different birds plus butterflies and bees. Its purple fruit is toxic to humans.

Although it needs light, you’ll find this plant in hammock areas, where it is prized because it is wind-tolerant.

Photo by Jeff Nurge/Native Choice Nursery

Beach planting and cleanup event

    The Institute for Regional Conservation will hold a volunteer day at Atlantic Dunes Park in Delray Beach from 9 a.m. to noon April 8. Volunteers of all ages are needed to help remove invasive plant species, plant native species, and pick up trash and recyclables.
    The institute will provide the tools, plants and light refreshments. Volunteers should bring sunscreen and gloves, and wear long sleeves, long pants and a hat. Atlantic Dunes Park is at 1605 S. Ocean Blvd. Meter parking is available just west of State Road A1A.

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