A trip to the beach in southwest Florida often takes us past stands of 4-8 foot grass – stems which in late summer and fall are topped by waving heavy clusters of seeds that are a favored food of beach mice, Red-winged Blackbirds, and other wildlife. But the value of sea oats is much greater than its availability as a wildlife food or even as a habitat in which beach mice, Wilson’s Plovers, and Burrowing Owls find nesting sites and shelter. Indeed, the very dunes on which we find sea oats are present because of sea oats.
The tall, strong, stems of sea oats and the tall slender leaves that surround them stop wind blown sand that builds up over time and helps create the dunes. As the sand builds up around the plant, fibrous roots grow out from it – further anchoring the plant – and the plant grows even taller. New stems grow up from radiating roots and create a network of new roots all of which facilitate growth and maintenance of dunes that nourish and protect coastal wildlife, the stability of our shoreline, the human property inland, and the coastal beauty we have come to love.