Monday, September 29, 2014

Nature Study at the Beach :: Dune Flowers

Our local coastline vacillates between rocky terrain and long stretches of sandy beach backed by towering dunes.  We have had opportunities to explore both these past few months--sometimes in the same location.  But I'm going to focus on the latter today: the dunes.

Two of the beaches we frequented had dune trails to explore, and although we weren't up for a long hike along the dunes with all the littles in tow, the older few and I were able to spend some time observing and identifying the common dune flowers.

ocean bluff milkvetch
beach primrose
coastal sagewort
sand verbena
tufted poppy
california deerweed/broom
ice plants
One morning when we were there, a group of scientists and students from the nearby university were among the dunes taking measurements.  The local ecologists have been trying to reintroduce native species to the area in an effort to support the local wildlife that feed on and live in those native plants and to protect the dune habitat from wind erosion.  Year by year, they measure the dunes and the growth of native and invasive plants, charting whether their efforts are having an effect.  That's just the kind of "citizen science" project I'd like to involve the kids in if we were closer.

I have a soft spot for flowers that can grow even upon rocks and in sandy soil and protect our local beaches.  The plants' striking greens and bright blooms against the hazy beiges and blues of the beach landscape is such a lovely one.


  1. I've been wondering the names of a couple of those plants, so I cannot thank you enough. Do you have some sort of guide you use to learn their names? This is a big weakness for me...

    1. Google is my friend. ;) Seriously, I sit down and search things like "balloon pods dune pea family" and hope that an image search yields the result I'm looking for. (That turned up the milkvetch.) Once I find what I think is a match, I search the common or latin name on Calflora or another comprehensive site to be sure it's right. Also, for plant that are very common, I use the state beach website--they usually list the most common wildlife you'll see there in their visitor guides. For example, the brochure available on the state parks site for Sunset Beach, where some of these were taken, lists coastal sagewort and beach primrose as populous. I then searched those names online to find photos and matched them with my own photos to make IDs. I do have some field guides for CA, but none of them had all of these flowers in it--just a couple each. I would love to find something more comprehensive in print to hand over to my kids. Maybe I need to ask Naomi... :)

    2. Google is my friend also. Your coastal flowers aren't unlike some of ours over here.