Flowering Plants

When I think about flowering plants on the exposed outer coast’s intertidal ecosystems, I’m probably thinking about surfgrass, Phyllospadix, and eelgrass, Zostera. Dunegrass, Leymus, and beachgrass, Ammophila, shape the dunes, so I include them. 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 and the University and Jepson Herbaria for scientific names and distribution records. There’s always a chance I’ll make an identification error. Let me know if you see one.

Zostera marina, eelgrass

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. Eelgrass is featured in Eelgrass in the Wrack and Beach Hoppers Rejoice Over Drift Macrophytes.


Phyllospadix, surfgrass

I’ve always thought the common, abundant surfgrass shown below is P. scouleri, but there are alternatives. Surfgrass is at home on rocks, where it’s exposed by the lowest tides. 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.


Leymus, dunegrass

Dunegrass used to be the dominant grass on dunes. Now it’s hard to find in the near-monoculture of Ammophila. Wide 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. Leymus is featured in Dunegrass Finds Breathing Room on the Backshore.


Ammophila, beachgrass

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


Gaultheria shallon, salal


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

This page was updated on December 24, 2020

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s