When I think about flowering plants on the exposed outer coast’s intertidal ecosystems, I’m thinking about surfgrass, Phyllospadix, and eelgrass, Zostera. But, of course, dunegrass, Leymus, and beachgrass, Ammophila, shape the dunes, so I include them. And I can’t help but feature other worthy flowering plants that pioneer down onto the backshore, like sea rocket, Cakile, and where dunes are absent, the willows, Salix. I’m fascinated by any plant that will creep down far enough to get an occasional salty soaking.
Unless mentioned in the caption, all the plants on this page are from the exposed northern Oregon coast. The organization and common names are my choices. I refer to the USDA PLANTS Database, the University and Jepson Herbaria, and OregonFlora for scientific names and distribution records. Of course, there’s always a chance I’ll make an identification error, so please let me know if you see one.
Eelgrass is at home in the bays and estuaries. Its appearance on surf-swept beaches is as wrack. Click here for a short video illustrating the strong connection between beach hoppers and drift eelgrass. I feature eelgrass in Eelgrass in the Wrack and Beach Hoppers Rejoice Over Drift Macrophytes. The images below feature Zostera marina. There is another eelgrass in our estuaries, Zostera japonica, but I haven’t noticed it in sea wrack.
I’ve always thought the common, abundant surfgrass shown below is P. scouleri, but there are alternatives. Surfgrass is at home on rocks, where the lowest tides expose it. Like eelgrass, it is sometimes prevalent in the drift line. I featured surfgrass in Finding yourself in the Infralittoral Fringe, and Comparative Photos Show Rocky Intertidal Changes Between 2013 and 2016.
Dunegrass used to be the dominant grass on dunes. Now it’s hard to find in the near-monoculture of Ammophila. Broad grayish-green leaves set Leymus apart from Ammophila, which has narrow yellowish-green leaves. Click here to view a short video comparing Leymus and Ammophila on a northern Oregon foredune. I featured Leymus in Dunegrass Finds Breathing Room on the Backshore.
Picea sitchensis, Sitka spruce
When you’re on the shore, there’s a good chance you’ll be able to spot Sitka spruce forest.
Pinus contorta, shore pine
The photos below are from just landward of the crest of the foredune on the exposed outer coast.
Gaultheria shallon, salal
I think this one is Hooker’s willow, S. hookeriana, also known as coastal or dune willow. Wherever the forest drops right down to the beach, especially where there are seeps, Salix can push down toward the intertidal as far as any forest plant – so low that they expose themselves to damage by winter’s high surf. I featured Salix in Sign of the Season.
Rumex is kind of a mystery to me. I’ve encountered some real beach pioneers among them. And this makes sense; most Rumex have broad habitat tolerance.
Honckenya peploides, sea purslane, seabeach sandwort
Raphanus, wild radish
Cakile edentula, sea rocket
By summer, look for flowering sea rocket wherever there is a well-developed backshore.
Fragaria chiloensis, beach strawberry
Potentilla anserina, Pacific potentilla, silverweed
Angelica lucida, seawatch
Sea watch will get right down on the beach where forested bluffs extend to the shore.
Sonchus asper, spiny sow thistle
I think so.
Artemisia suksdorfii, coast mugwort
Plantago maritima, seaside plantain
Kozloff, E. N. 1993. Seashore Life of the Northern Pacific Coast. 3rd ed. University of Washington Press.
Lamb, A. and B. P. Hanby. 2005. Marine Life of the Pacific Northwest. Harbour Publishing.
Pojar , J. and A. MacKinnon. 194. Plants of the Pacific Northwest Coast. Lone Pine Publishing.
This page was updated on February 27, 2022