Catalina Island News

Catalina Dunes Home to Rarest of Southern California Plants

Catalina Island Conservancy

The "southern beach" and "dune" community is found in the unstable sand of beaches and active dunes, in a zone above the high tide line often called the "coastal strand." The plants of this community are mostly low-to-the-ground herbs that send down roots as the plant spreads and reproduce "vegetatively," or "creep," so they don't have to wait for new seedlings. This allows them to tolerate repeated burial by shifting sands. Extensive root systems and long taproots allow them to exploit deep water resources. Together, the buried roots and stems reduce wind erosion by stabilizing the sand.

This community has been severely impacted in California through development, sand mining, recreational use, changing of shoreline profiles, and planting of exotic species. Very little of this habitat remains in Southern California. Limited dune areas are found on Catalina Island at Little and Shark Harbors and Ben Weston Beach. Characteristic species include Red Sand Verbena (Abronia maritima), Rose Sand Verbena (A. umbellata), Silver Beach Bur (Ambrosia chamissonis), Beach Saltbush, Salt Grass (Distichlis spicata), Coast Goldenbush (Isocoma menziesii), and Wild Heliotrope (Heliotropium curassivicum).

By Denise Knapp
Senior Plant Ecologist
Catalina Island Conservancy