I went to the Jersey shore last weekend with the hopes of getting some surfing in before the water got really cold. Alas, a quick look at the ocean confirmed my fears that the stormy weather had rendered the waves unsurfable.
So instead, I took a long walk and got some photos of plants that are typical to a beach location in the mid-Atlantic. I'll post a few more shots next week as I wait for the Manhattan fall color to really queue up. Today, we'll look at a few conifers.
Above you can see a small Juniperus virginiana, or eastern redcedar, in the foreground and a larger one further back. Redcedars aren't expressly dune plants but instead are considered colonial or pioneer plants. Their seeds are often deposited by birds in disturbed or nutrient-poor landscapes like sand dunes and the edges of highways. The saplings survive the tough conditions and provide habitat for more birds and small mammals, which in turn brings more plant diversity. (That's a very abridged version of an aspect of forest succession.)
Like other junipers, this plant has the distinctively aromatic berries which will immediately remind some of you of gin. Many mistakenly believe gin is made from these berries, but instead gin is a grain alcohol that is flavored with the berries.
Junipers can be tough to ID if no berries are present; one could confuse a juniper with a Thuja, Chamaecyparis or Cupressus, to name a few. But, a close look at the branchlet (in this case a leaf is one individual scale, what's in my hand above is called a branchlet), shows that junipers have two different leaf types. The juvenile leaf, found at the terminal tip of the branchlet, is spikier and has a sharp tip that points away from the stem. Mature leaves are flattened down against the stem -- these are the leaves nearer to my fingers. The presence of these juvenile and mature leaves are a great way to confirm that the plant you see is Juniperus.
Another plant you often find on the beach is Pinus thunbergii, or Japanese black pine. A non-native, this plant is often encountered on beaches due to its high tolerance to salt spray and its evident low requirement for nutrients.
Pinus thunbergii's needles are stiff and smooth, found in fascicles of two. While the specimen above is fairly symmetrical, as this tree ages it can achieve a gnarled sculptural appearance due to the pruning affect of the wind.