By Leslie N. Munroe with Yvonne Florian
Land erosion is an issue all over the state of Florida because of our sandy soils and abundant rain. The Indian River County Extension office receives numerous inquiries from our coastal residents searching for salt-tolerant native plants to help reduce that erosion on their saltwater-front properties.
Five Favorite Salt-Tolerant Natives
Described below are five of my favorite native plants for salt-sprayed coastal areas. These can be viewed locally in Indian River County at the island side of Jaycee Park. This is by no means an exhaustive list. However, I have found these few to be easily established, low maintenance, introductory plants for the coast. And your friends on the mainland may be jealous since at least two of these will only grow on the beach dune.
1. Railroad vine
This Gorgeous relative of the morning glory sends its runners out along the surface of the dune. It sinks its tough roots down into the sand, holding the soil in place. Its large, leathery leaves shield the ground from eroding rain and wind. Railroad vine is ever blooming with large, purple, trumpet-shaped flowers.
2. Beach Sunflower
These share happy yellow flowers all year long. Butterflies and other pollinators love them. This perennial starts off small but will eventually re-seed to create a dense, slowly spreading low mound. A great plant for native pollinators, even off the coast.
3. Sea oats
The seeds really look like oats. This dune grass grows in attractive small clumps that are supported by robust root systems. They are often found in large colonies at the very top of the sand dune or interspersed with other salt and drought tolerant plants only a few feet further inland. Please note: it is illegal to pick sea oats as they are an endangered plant which is necessary to dune stability.
4. Spider lily
A true lily that produces very large green, strap-like leaves. The flowers are startlingly bright white, and may reflect the shades of the sky as the sun sets. If the area is moist, these lilies can be planted as border plants or can be left alone to spread as naturalizing ground cover.
5. Sea Grape
A robust shrub to a medium sized tree with large, round leaves. The leaves of sea grape turn numerous shades of copper and red in the fall and winter. It makes a bushy addition to any coastal landscape and an impenetrable hedge inland. These slow growers are best pruned by hand every few years. You will have to plant at least one male and one female if you want fruit, which is edible for wildlife and humans. The leaves occasionally attract the beautiful female Cecropia moth as a host for her eggs and larvae. These large green caterpillars are covered in colorful though painfully stinging spines.
As with all plants, these five lovely native plants will require frequent watering only during the establishment period. After that, they will be relatively self-sufficient and low maintenance. As a bonus, these natives should not require any added fertilizer inputs.
Do you want to learn more about salt tolerant plants and soil salinity issues in Florida? To help you get started, here are a few research-based publications from the University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (UF/IFAS) Electronic Data Information Source (EDIS).
- “Soils and Fertilizers for Master Gardeners: Tackling Soil Salinity Problems in the Home Landscape” SL262
- “Salt Tolerant Plants” EDIS topic page
- “Soil Salinity” EDIS topic page for mitigating salt damage after a storm, from salt-intrusion in irrigation wells, or over-use of “reclaimed water” for irrigation.