Botanical Excursion to the South-West of France 2012

 

Part 2: Vegetation of the coast of Aquitaine, in particular the sand dunes

 

see Part 1 for description of the forests, part 3 for gardens and public plantings.

 

(all photos available in a larger scale by clicking on them)

  

     
   
We explored the coast from Arcachon to the Spanish border.    The entire coastline up to Bayonne is sandy, with endless beaches and pine forest in the back. From Bayonne south, where the Pyrenees drop down to the Ocean, it changes dramatically and consists of ledge and cliffs.
 
European Sea-Mustard or Searocket (Cakile maritima) can be found on beaches close to the water line. It tolerates high concentrations of salt. The foliage is somewhat succulent.   Prickly Sea Wort (Salsola kali, or Kali turgida) grows right at the water line
 
Sea Holly (Eryngium maritimum) has striking silvery-blue foliage and thistle-like flowers   Slightly up the beach, where the waves reach less frequently, a wider range of plants can be found.
 
Sea spurge (Euphorbia parallias) is widespread on the upper beach   Seeds developing on Sea spurge
 
European Marram Grass, also called European Beach Grass (Ammophila arenaria) is salt tolerant and well adopted to the sand dune habitat of the coast.   Marram Grass spreads by stolons that anchor it in the sand, even in shifting sand of moving dunes. It can form large numbers of new shoots in a short time, which each will form a new plant.
 
The inflorescence of Marram Grass   At every node of the rhizom a new plant can form and send roots into the ground.
 
Juncus arenarius also spreads by rhizoms   Elymus farctus is another common grass adopted to the coastal sand dunes. The leaf blades have a strong bluish cast.
 
The Hare's Tail Grass (Lagurus ovatus) is an annual species typical for the sand dunes and edges of pine forests.  

Grey Hair grass (Corynephorus canescens) is a small grass specialized to grow in locations with poor sandy soils. It tolerates extreme drought and is competitive on sites with very low content of organic matter and nutrients. Typically it is found on sand dunes and in birch or pine forests growing on sandy soil.

 

Sea Bindweed (Calystegia soldanella) is a specialized plant that colonizes sand dunes. Like Marram Grass and other dune grasses, it forms horizontal rhizomes that root into the sand.

The foliage is very thick and waxy - enabling the plant to store water and minimize moisture loss over the surface.

 
  The Everlasting Helichrysum stoechas has linear leaves that minimize water loss. It blooms with yellow flowers during the summer.
 
This low growing Campion species (Silene thorei) might be a perfect rock garden species. The foliage has a beautiful blue cast, it is low growing and blooms for a long time.   A subspecies of Bird's Foot Trefoil (Lotus corniculatus crassifolius) is adopted to the sand dunes environement
 
Among the woody plants at the foot of the sand dunes are the Common Broom (Cytisus scoparius) ...   and a willow species (Salix, not further identified)
 
Common Gorse (Ulex europaeus) is a very thorny plant with the appearance of Broom, and in the same family (Fabacea). It was bruised with a big stone to break the thorns and feed it to horses, goats and sheep.   Snails hang out during a dry period of the summer, only to become active after a heavy rain.
 
Coastal cliffs south of Biarritz, close to the Spanish border.   Samphire (Crithmum maritimum) is an edible plant and was once sold in markets in Great Britain, where it is now a protected plant. It was used pickled or fresh in salads. It is very common on the cliffs of the Basque region. This plant belongs to the parsley family (Umbelliferae) and has succulent leaves.
 
The border between France and Spain is marked by a river and beautiful tidal wetlands.   Beautiful sunsets can be seen along the coast of Aquitaine with its view towards the west.

 

 

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