At the edge of the sand

When you're enjoying the Fort De Soto beach don't overlook the world right at the edge of the ribbon of sand.

The scientific name of sea oats is uniola paniculata. The plant grows up to six feet tall, with leaves up to 2 feet long, and the seed heads are large, becoming a beautiful straw color in late summer.

Sea oats grow both dense surface roots as well as deep roots that seek fresh water. The dense creeping roots along the surface stabilize the sand dunes where it grows. In addition, when storms pick up sand, the sea oats will trap this wind-blown sand and the dunes will grow.

Songbirds, like the beautiful red-winged blackbird, and sparrows, eat the seeds of the sea oats.

It's interesting that sea oats grow mostly on the sand dunes and crests of dunes where salt spray can reach. It is not so common inland or in protected swales between dune peaks, where the salt spray can't reach. It might be that the salt spray is a source of micronutrients for the plant.

Other plants frequently found in the beach dune community with sea oats are:

  • beach morning glory (Ipomoea stolonifera)
  • beach sunflower (Helianthus debilis)
  • beach purslane, or sea pickle (Sesuvium portulacastrum)
  • beach berry (Scaevola plumieri)
  • bay cedar (Suriana maritima)
  • railroad vine (Ipomoea pes-capre)
  • beach dropseed (Sporobolus virginicus)
  • seashore elder (Iva imbricata)

You might think that a plant that is so hardy that it protects its own environment from high winds, and tides, and storm surges would be practically indestructible. Unfortunately, one of its biggest enemies is mankind, so please don't trample through the sea oats as you walk through the dune areas on the way to the beach; follow the established trails.

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