I don’t immediately think about flowering plants when I think about the intertidal, particularly not on the exposed outer coast. In the rocky intertidal we are pretty much talking about surfgrass, Phyllospadix. Eelgrass, Zostera, washes up on the beaches all the time, especially near estuaries. I’m going to add diversity to this page by featuring other worthy flowering plants- ones that pioneer down onto the backshore, like dunegrass, Leymus mollis. Where dunes are absent, the willows, Salix, and a few others, sometimes creep down far enough to get an occasional salty soaking.

Unless otherwise mentioned in the caption, all the plants on this page are from the exposed northern Oregon coast. The organization and common names are my choice. I refer to the USDA PLANTS Database and the University and Jepson Herbaria for scientific names and distribution records. If you know a handy reference focusing on the Pacific Northwest, please let me know. I try to propose ID’s that are correct, but there’s always a chance of a mistake. Let me know if you see an error.

Eelgrass, Zostera marina Eelgrass is at home in the bays and estuaries. It’s appearance on the surf-swept beaches is strictly in the drift line. Eelgrass was featured in Eelgrass in the Wrack and Beach Hoppers Rejoice Over Drift Macrophytes.


Surfgrass, Phyllospadix I think the one shown below is P. scouleri. It is at home on rocks, exposed by the lowest tides, and like eelgrass, it is sometimes prevalent in the drift line. Surfgrass was featured in Finding yourself in the Infralittoral Fringe and Comparative Photos Show Rocky Intertidal Changes Between 2013 and 2016.


Dunegrass, Leymus mollis Used to be the dominant grass on the dunes, but now it’s hard to find in the near-monoculture of Ammophila we find on the dunes. Wide grayish leaves set Elymus apart from Ammophila, which has narrow yellowish-green leaves. Leymus mollis is featured in Dunegrass Finds Breathing Room on the Backshore

Dunegrass, Leymus mollis, creeping down off the foredune onto the backshore


European beachgrass, Ammophila arenaria Look for near-monocultures of Ammophila on almost any dune trail. Ammophila arenaria appears in Beachgrass Lights Up the Foredune and Stability and Change on the Foredune.

Foredune stabilized by an Ammophila monoculture


Salal, Gaultheria shallon


Dock, Rumex Rumex are kind of a mystery to me. I’ve encountered some real beach pioneers, and this makes sense, most Rumex they have broad habitat tolerances. I’ve detected a couple on beach sand. They’re both shown below.

In flower on Beach sand
Willow Dock, Rumex salicifolius can tolerate some salt


Sea rocket, Cakile edentula By summer, look for flowering sea rocket wherever there is a well developed backshore.

Sea rocket, Cakile endentula; in the background, the foredune with beachgrass, Ammophila arenaria


Wild radish, Raphanus

On the sand, among cobbles and bigger rocks
By September, this radish, possibly Raphanus raphanistrum, was in full bloom


Honckenya peploides, sea purslane, seabeach sandwort


Potentilla anserina, Pacific potentilla, silverweed


Sea-watch, Angelica lucida Sea watch will get right down on the beach, especially where forested bluffs extend straight to the shore.


Seaside Plantain, Plantago maritima

Plantago maritima, pioneering onto a wrack line rubble of cobbles and sea shells


A pioneering dandelion

A pioneering dandelion


Coast mugwort, Artemisia suksdorfii


Willow, Salix – 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. Salix was featured in Sign of the Season.



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.

Web Resources


Wildflowers of the Pacific Northwest

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