Dunegrass Finds Breathing Room on the Backshore

Dunegrass, caught between the inhospitable sea on one side and a sea of beachgrass on the other, finds breathing room on the backshore.

That’s the way it feels. A perennial grass, living in the space between, Leymus (Elymus) mollis, is the native dunegrass of coastal Pacific Northwest foredunes. Supplanted by beachgrass, Ammophila arenaria, L. mollis no longer fits. It’s hard to pick out in the press of beachgrass on the foredune, but go seaward, down on the backshore, you’ll find pioneering clumps of Leymus mollis. The solution isn’t foolproof because the backshore is a chaotic place; it gets knocked around and sometimes washed clean by winter’s high tides and surf. Any encounter with Leymus mollis on the backshore is evidence of its resilience.

Note: The foredune in the background is a near monoculture of beachgrass, Ammophila arenaria. I’m not a botanist, but I’m pretty sure the dunegrass featured in foreground is L. mollis and my story is fundamentally correct. But the history of dunegrasses is complicated, so there may be other interpretations. If you have one I hope you’ll let me know.