FLOWERS & VINES
After sea oats, the most eye-catching primary dune plants are likely the morning glories. Ground-running vines that may extend beyond 30 feet long, these plants help stabilize the shifting sands of dunes and allow other plants to take root. Two species of morning glory are found on Pensacola Beach.
Railroad Vine, also known as goat’s foot vine, as the leaf shape has an uncanny resemblance to a goat’s footprint. This morning glory has pink/purple flowers that bloom year-round. Beach Morning Glory has white flowers with yellow centers, blooming from spring to fall.
Dune/Beach Sunflower is an attractive yellow flower found within the primary dune system. The sunflower serves as food for insects, small mammals, and birds.
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Beach Morning Glories © UF/IFAS – Carrie Stevenson
Sundews are small carnivorous plants that thrive in moist, mucky soil and full sun. They are carnivorous because their wet, acidic habitats possess few soil nutrients, so they feed on insects instead. Sundews use a different method for trapping insects—their flat, radiating structure has wider lobes on the ends, which are covered with hairlike tentacles. These hairs secrete droplets of sticky sap visible at the tip of each hair. Small insects are attracted to the dewlike sap and get stuck. The hairs curl around the insect like a slow Venus flytrap and use natural enzymes to break down the bug, providing nutrients for the plant.
These tiny plants hide in plain sight–so small (no bigger around than a quarter) and flush to the ground (most species) that you likely won’t see them unless you’re specifically looking for them.
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Sundews ©UF/IFAS – Carrie Stevenson
Nothing provides so stark a reminder that the beach is a type of desert than seeing Prickly Pear Cactus underfoot. The prickly pear has thick, succulent pads studded with pointy spines. It is important to note that besides the obvious spines, the cacti have less visible but painful little hairlike bristles, called glochids, which can get stuck on your hands if touched. Prickly pear pads and their pink fruit are both edible once spines are removed. The cactus also produces beautiful orange and fire-toned flowers.
Indian blanketflower or firewheel is a beautiful native species found on the dunes. Ranging in color in radiating circles of red, pink, orange, and yellow, these flowers bloom throughout the summer. They can reseed easily, spreading widely around the dunes. This species adapts well to home landscapes in full sun, as well.
Prickly Pear Cactus
Coastal Plain Honeycombhead has bright yellow flowers, but often gets more notice because of its unusual appearance when not in bloom. The basal leaves are bright green and similar in shape and arrangement to a bottlebrush (albeit a tiny one), sticking straight up in the sand. The plant also plays a special role in beach ecology, as the sole host plant for the Balduina bee, a solitary insect that forages in the barrier islands of Florida, Alabama and Mississippi.
Sea purslane is highly adaptable and can grow nearly anywhere. Sandy and dry, wet edges of marshes and creeks, salty and sunny, this plant will thrive. Like cactus, it has thick, succulent leaves that hold water and protect the plant in stressful environments. It spreads via above and below ground running stems, forming thick mats. Its star-shaped pink flowers add to its year-round appeal.