[Continued from Part I]
Once the beaches had been cleared of Hurricane Laura’s detritus, little remained but broken shells, pebbles, piled-up stacks of salt cedar, and a variety of tasty treats for shorebirds patrolling the surf.
But if the sea had taken away, it was equally willing to give back. Before long, the beach was adorned with new treasures, such as this necklace-like seed draped across the sand.
Eventually, a flotilla of mysterious and just slightly amusing bits of green life arrived on the beach, carried in on the surf. As they eased open, it was easy to imagine them conversing with one another, trying to decide if this was an acceptable place to put down roots.
In time, it became obvious that the answer was “Yes.” Smooth, succulent stems began to develop, followed by waxy leaves.
The plant was an enthusiastic grower, and eager to bloom. When its pink, star-shaped flowers finally appeared, it was easy to identify Sesuvium portulacastrum: sea purslane, or shoreline purslane. Although published by Linnaeus in 1753 under the name Portulaca portulacastrum, Linnaeus himself transferred it into the genus Sesuvium six years later, and the name has been retained.
A member of the Aizoaceae, or iceplant family, sea purslane flowers have sepals rather than petals; its flowers open and close within a single day.
In Wildflowers and Other Plants of Texas Beaches and Islands, Alfred Richardson notes the plant is one of the few species that thrive on the front side of the dunes. Because of its tendency to catch and hold sand around its leaves and stems, sea purslane serves as a critical dune stabilizer.
Another plant useful for beach and shoreline stabilization is cordgrass. Along the Texas coast, one of the most common is Spartina spartinae; the species develops large, dense clumps that allow it to catch and hold sediment and sand. Healthy stands of Gulf cordgrass also provide nesting habitat for birds and cover for other wildlife.
As months passed and the cordgrass multiplied, drifting sand collected around it, forming small dunes that soon would be populated with ever more diverse plants.
Yet another dune stabilizer, the beach morning glory (Ipomoea imperati) soon made its appearance. A trailing evergreen vine with pretty white flowers, it occurs naturally in coastal areas. After Laura, old vines like those shown in the lower right corner of this photo served as a starting point for new growth.
In some cases, bulldozed piles of salt cedar and other woody debris were left on the beach. It’s hard to say how many creatures called the piles home, but there were more than a few crabs scuttling around in the shade of the branches. The contrast between the deadwood and the increasingly rich plant life on the dunes made for an interesting — and pleasing — contrast.
But, as this island resident might have said, the best was yet to come.