A rich variety of specialized Pacific Northwest plants are found in distinct habitats along the edge of the Pacific Ocean, occupying an area from the shoreline to the foothills of the Coast Range.
The Central Oregon Coast reflects a mosaic of these distinctive habitat types, including estuaries, tidal flats, sand dunes, and headlands. The features of the shoreline vegetation is immediately apparent, ranging from plants that colonize and stabilize sand dunes, to open south-facing headland slopes of grasses and wildflowers, and impenetrable masses of shrubs and dense forests of Pinus contorta subsp. contorta (Shore pine) and Picea sitchensis (Sitka spruce).
Strong, seashore wind patterns greatly influence vegetation composition and form. Windswept bluffs and exposed sandy beaches, sand dunes and grassy headlands, make way for dense forests. Winds desiccate and deform foliage, transport salt spray, and continually abrade plants with sand. Headlands and capes provide shelter to plant species not so readily adapted to such extremes. The climate is moderated by the nearly constant temperatures of the Pacific Ocean. Northwesterly winds bring cool air to the coast in the summer months and southwesterly winds bring warm air in the winter. The resulting cool summers and mild winters create an opportunity for plants to flower over an extended period of time. Conditions of soil and topography also vary along the coast and combine with changes in temperature to create different habitat types.
Beach and dune habitats host an array of deeply tap-rooted and stout-stemmed plants that are capable of dealing with constantly shifting sand. Vegetatively reproducing plants have an advantage over plants that rely on seeds for their reproduction because seeds can become easily buried too deep. Grasslands are supported by a thin layer of soil over basalt. Rocky forested headlands plummet into the sea, their southern slopes carpeted with grasses and wildflowers. Both saltwater and freshwater wetlands support important coastal habitats such as swales, lakes and tidal marshes.
Early spring blooming plants of the headlands, beaches and dunes that are frequently encountered and quickly recognized include sea thrift (Armeria maritima), seaside fleabane (Erigeron glaucus), beach strawberry (Fragaria chiloensis), and Tracy’s mistmaiden (Romanzoffia tracyi). The coastal forests shelter such spring treasures as Pacific trillium (Trilliam ovatum) and evergreen violets (Viola sempervirens). Western skunk cabbage (Lysichiton americanus) is a popular inhabitant of moist depressions along roadways and forest fringes, appearing from a distance like cobs of corn as their vibrant yellow bracts emerge from the ground and illuminate the area around them.
Not all flowers of the Central Oregon Coast are, however, native to this location. Some, such as the fabaceous gorse bush (Ulex europaeus) have become problematic as they threaten the health of natural habitats. The author, A. A. Milne, immortalized this spiny, pesky shrub in 1926 with the publication of Winnie-the-Pooh. One day, in the Hundred-Acre Wood, Winnie accidentally sat on Eeyore’s lunch, which happened to be a thistle, and then ran into an ambush. “‘What sort of bush?’, whispered Pooh to Piglet, ‘a gorse-bush?’ ‘My dear Pooh,’ said Owl in his superior way, ‘don’t you know what an ambush is?… an ambush is a sort of surprise.’ ‘So is a gorse-bush, sometimes’, said Pooh.’” The gorse bush has frequently been associated with trouble and so it continues today.