Sea oats are really cool plants. When their gold seed heads are out in late summer and their long blades are swaying in the wind, you can’t help admire them. People appreciate sea oats not only for their good looks, but for their ability to hold onto sand. Beneath these pretty beach plants is a massive root system. They have very deep roots that hold them in one spot on a moving beach, plus tangled mats of surface roots and creeping, underground rhizomes which new shoots pop up from. When blowing sand hits the tall sea oat blades, it falls to the ground. Surface roots grow over the sand and keep it there. Sand piles up and dunes, those all-important reservoirs of sand, are created.
Sea oats take a beating in storms. If you walked on the beach after Hurricane Matthew, you may have noticed how ragged the sea oats looked. Blades were shredded and bent, but their roots, now exposed, still held tenaciously to the sand dunes. They will grow back, regain their former beauty and build up dunes again. If your beach had no sea oats before Hurricane Matthew came through, there is probably only a skinny sliver of it left. Talk to your community about planting sea oats now so they can help build up healthy dunes in time for the next big storm.
Sea oats can survive hurricanes, salt, drought, occasional fires, flooding and intense heat. Have you ever crossed the beach barefoot in the middle of a summer day? The top layer of sand can reach 125 degrees. Each step is excruciating. This is sea oat habitat, and they can take it. Back yard plants would quickly wither and die here, but sea oats thrive.
One thing sea oats can’t tolerate is being trampled. Most beach access areas have crossovers to prevent beach-goers from trampling dune vegetation on their way to the water. Another nice thing about dune crossovers? It’s the place to find BlueTubes. If you love your beach, stay on the crossover, grab a clean, used bag from the BlueTube, pick up trash on the beach and throw it away. Remember to donate your bags to the BlueTube so others can help keep the beach beautiful too.