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Sea Oats,Delta Journal, Times Picayune, 2-17-08 C-17

Delta Journal
by Bob Thomas

Sea oats (Uniola paniculata) is a beautiful grass species with tall, golden seed heads that are characteristic of sand dunes along the Gulf and Atlantic coasts. They are among our most important coastal plants in that they grow along sandy beaches where they stop blowing sand grains, thus contributing to the building of sand dunes.

As one might expect, sea oats are very tolerant of salt spray and rather high salt content in the soil. Research suggests that salt spray is the principal source of nutrients in an otherwise relatively nutrient deficient world of beach sand.

Sea oats spread asexually via rhizomes, basically underground stems that occasionally produce a new plant before continuing on. They may reproduce sexually, being fertilized by wind blown pollen. The seeds are produced from spring to fall and are mostly wind distributed, but may also float in surface waters.

They are one of the few plants that can grow upward as their bases are covered with soil. This allows sea oats to lay down dense root mats that help build the dunes, and keep growing up to maintain themselves and continue capturing blowing sand grains.

Seed eating critters such as a variety of birds, mice, rabbits, and their friends feed on sea oat seeds.

Research has shown that they are clearly the most effective sand dune builders in the area. For this reason, they have government protection due to their value in stabilizing beaches. One should never dig or cut sea oat plants, nor take their attractive seed heads to use as ornaments. Doing so threatens the viability of the sand dune community, and subjects you to fines and possible imprisonment.