Because storms and winds can cause sand dunes to shift and constantly change their shape, beach plants are helpful in providing stability to a beach environment. Not any type of plant is suited for beach areas. It takes a tough plant to survive near a beach, because salt winds steal moisture from plants. Some of the most popular beach plants are succulents such as yuccas, cacti, junipers, oleanders and century plants, which can undergo rugged and dry conditions.
Plants growing on beaches and dunes are called dune vegetation. Beach plants also grow alongside or near a beach or seashore. A beach is a geographical landform next to a body of water such as an ocean, lake or sea. Typically, beaches consist of rock, sand, pebbles, gravel, cobblestones or other loose particles. Particles making up a beach can originate from coralline algae or shell fragments.
Besides enduring salt spray or being immersed by saltwater at high tide, beach plants are durable enough for drenching heavy rains. Beach plants are able to endure strong winds, extreme heat or freezing winter temperatures. They can also grow in sand, gravel or in bare rock crevices.
Zones of dune vegetation are arranged somewhat parallel to a coastline and show changes in nutrient status and dune soils. They vary in the degree of strong wind exposure, as well as sandblast and salt spray. According to OzCoasts.org, these three main regions are known as herbaceous, woodland and coastal heath zones. The herbaceous plant zone is nearest the sea. The woodland zone includes frontal sand dunes, and the coastal heath is composed of low shrubs and stunted trees.
Besides succulents, various flowers, ground covers and shrubs can grow in a beach environment. Beach sunflowers and periwinkles make ideal ground covers that are tolerant of salt. Morning glories, which are colorful flowers, also grow close to sand. Other ground covers or hedges that can grow in sand include wandering Jew, hawthorns and Pittosporum. Oyster plants, silver buttonwoods and Scaevola (fan flower) are exceptional beach plants. Beach trees include sea-grapes, palmettos, sabals and scrub palmettos.
A winter beach can look bleak and hostile, showing how harsh a sandy area can be for plants that are forced to withstand winter elements. It's during winter that plants grown near water seem injured beyond repair, but usually only during a few days or weeks of bad weather conditions do they appear ugly. As weather improves, beach plants that look destroyed in winter appear healthy again.