Swept Clean: Resilience

Waiting for Flotsam ~ Laughing Gull
[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.

Caution: cordgrass at work

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.


Nature, filling in the spaces

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. 

Ipomoea imperati

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.

A Solitary Sandpiper watches from the boardwalk for further developments
(part two of three)

Comments always are welcome.

A Pair of Dune Delights

Wedgeleaf prairie clover (Dalea emarginata) with grasshopper

I would have expected to find a bee buzzing around this pretty clover; even a butterfly, beetle, or fly would have seemed reasonable.

But the grasshopper surprised me, particularly since his flowery, less than two-inch long perch emphasized the creature’s own small size. For all his wonderful complexity, the tiny creature was the smallest grasshopper I’d ever seen.

Even as I admired the grasshopper, I found myself intrigued by the plant on which I’d found him. The low-growing, long-stemmed clusters of flowers fanning out across the dunes of a Brazoria County beach reminded me of the plant known as frogfruit, despite some obvious differences.

Eventually, thanks to a website known as the Gulf Coast Vascular Plant Gallery, I found the flower. Exploring further, I learned this native thrives primarily along Gulf beaches and coastal dune grasslands in Texas. In Louisiana, where its presence has been limited to the area between Holly Beach and Johnson’s Bayou in Cameron Parish, it’s considered rare.

Even here in Texas it seems to be uncommon, or at least little-reported. In yet another first, I found no photos of the plant on the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center site. A few reports have been recorded at iNaturalist, but even there not a single wedgeleaf prairie clover appears with a grasshopper as a companion.


Comments always are welcome.