Don’t worry, no photos of white flesh today!
I have been having a sort out and finding lots of old things that could be future posts but today I thought I would share three plants that I have seen growing wild (or naturalised) beside the sea, in time for the summer holidays. I always like to see plants growing in the wild because, apart from anything else, it gives a much better idea of what conditions they like than any amount of reading.
So this plant is Ajania pacifica. Or so I think. It is funny how something that I have been so certain about for years suddenly becomes a conundrum once I want to post about it. The name may not be very familiar but you may find this for sale in autumn in small pots for popping into autumn containers and baskets. It is a low, rather succulent plant with spirally arranged, gently lobed leaves that are densely covered in silvery hairs underneath and these protude at the edges to give the effect of a silvery edge from above. Despite what you may read this plants IS NOT variegated in the generally accepted sense. It flowers very late in summer and, in the open garden in the UK may not manage to do so before the wet and cold of autumn arrives but the flowers (or heads of tiny flowers since this is a composite – Asteracae) are bright gold ‘bobbles’ held in flattened heads. They are pretty enough and I have seen plants for sale with ray florets so someone has obviously crossed it with a chrysanthemum (not surprising as this plant has also be known as Chrysanthemum pacifica). It has underground, creeping stems that allow it to form large clumps but it needs a well drained, even poor soil and full sun.
So I was delighted to see it growing in pure sands in the dunes at Long Beech, Washington State, the sands gently lapped by the Pacific. What could be more natural?
Well, as it turns out, a lot! Because it seems that Ajania pacifica is native to Honshu, Japan, and not the American Northwest at all! In Honshu it grows in sand dunes and although I am now questioning my sanity I am almost 100% sure I have identified the plant correctly. It has no flowers but that is because I have always gone to the NW in iris bloom time so I am at lest four months too early. Because Long Beach is a touristy area it is possible I suppose, that the plant has escaped into the wild.
And so on to another. This is the greater quaking grass (Briza maxima) and it was growing within spuming distance of the Pacific again, this time at Trinidad Bay, California.
Of course, this is not native to the area either but is European and this one has escpaped and is known to grow in the area! It is a good garden plant, an easily grown annual, and is one of the more recognisable ornamental grasses because of those big seed heads.
So, at last, a wild plant growing exactly where it should – the native sea holly (Eryngium maritimum) growing in sand dunes at Southport, Lancashire. Just so I don’t look biased –
Although we use the term ‘sea holly’ for all eryngiums, they are a very diverse lot and only the native one is a true maritime plant. It is a classic plant of dunes with waxy, silvery leaves that prevent water loss in the glaring sun (yes even in Southport), just like the ajania is protected from drought by hairs, and it has underground creeping stems that allow it to move with the shifting sands.
As a result it is no great surprise that eryngiums are readily propagated by root cuttings – snap a piece off and it will grow a new plant or, snap the plant off the end and new shoots will form at the broken end. You can see how this is an advantage if the sand erodes as above – I did not do the digging, that was natural erosion.