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Aug 5, 2008 9:09 AMPublication: The East Hampton Press & The Southampton Press

South Fork Outdoors Annual survive on beach

Aug 5, 2008 9:09 AM

Between the seaward edge of the dune and the ocean surf is a narrow band of largely barren sand we call the beach. There is good reason for the lack of plants here: Storm tides periodically inundate the beach with salt water, scour away much of the sand substrate and, often during the summer growing season, deposit several feet of new sand over the area.

Despite these harsh conditions, a group of extremely hardy annuals often successfully colonizes the beach, if only for a few months, and many of these plants can be seen at our ocean beaches right now. Among the group are sea rocket, seaside spurge, saltwort, seabeach knotweed and seabeach amaranth, the latter two species being quite rare.

In the constant tug-of-war between dune and ocean, a few of the equally salt- and sand-resistant perennials from the dune community may gain a temporary foothold here—American beach grass, beach pea, seaside goldenrod, and dusty miller—but most of these individuals will not see another growing season.

Among these beachfront plants, sea rocket dominates. All have adaptations enabling survival on the dry, windy beach. Chief among these are thick, fleshy leaves and a tough outer covering, as found in the sea rocket and saltwort, or an extremely low growth form that hugs the surface of the sand, as found in the other three.

Despite these adaptations, they are no match for the challenges that winter surf presents, and these plants rely completely on their seeds, which can handle long periods of immersion in the ocean, for survival in the long run.

These tough plants are also no match for vehicles and constant foot traffic, and have benefited from the protective fencing around shorebird nesting areas.

Mike Bottini is a naturalist and author of “The Southampton Press Trail Guide to the South Fork” and “Exploring East End Waters: A Natural History and Paddling Guide.” Check www.peconic.org for Mike’s field naturalist classes.

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