562 Uniola paniculataCommon Names: sea oats, Chasmanthium paniculatum (synonym) Family: Poaceae (grass Family)
Sea oats usually is the most conspicuous plant growing on the sand dunes behind wave-washed beaches along the Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico coasts. It grows from underground stems (called rhizomes) in elongate colonies where the winds shift and swirl the sand. The leaves are up to 2 ft (0.6 m) long and 1 in (2.5 cm) wide. In summertime the 6 ft (1.8 m) above-ground stems (called culms) terminate in gracefully drooping 18 in (45.7 cm) clusters (called panicles) of flat, yellowish, 1.5 in (3.8 cm) long seedheads called spikelets (those botanists have to have a technical name for everything!)
Sea oats, Uniola paniculata, occurs on sand dunes along the Atlantic coast from Virginia to Florida and around the Gulf to eastern Mexico, and in the northern West Indies.
CultureCut to the ground in winter. Fertilize lightly. Light: Sea oats does well in full or partial sunlight. Moisture: Sea oats prefers a moist, fertile, sandy soil. Hardiness: USDA Zones 6 - 10. Tolerates frost. Propagation: Usually by seed, but the rhizomes can be divided.
Sea oats is a handsome ornamental grass, at its best in cultivated beds placed where its nodding seedheads can draw attention. Sea oats is tolerant of salt spray and saline soils. However it tends to be invasive, spreading by rhizomes, but is easy to cut back and well worth the effort. To keep any rhizotomous plant from spreading, dig a trench around the plant, out a foot or so from the roots, and install a plastic barrier that the rhizomes can't grow through, then fill the trench back in.
Extremely salt tolerant, sea oats is often used in dune stabilization programs because its extensive system of underground stems and roots helps reduce erosion. The dried and cooked seeds are said to make a flavorful cereal. The mature seedheads are very decorative and commonly used in dried floral arrangements.
Wild sea oats is protected in Florida and Georgia (and probably other states as well), not because it is endangered or threatened, but because it performs a valuable ecological service by stabilizing sand dunes. It is unlawful to pick wild sea oats (even the seeds), but you can buy the plants or the seeds from native plant nurseries who have permits to propagate protected species.
Steve Christman 09/07/99; updated 12/6/99, 07/20/02, 1/14/04