If you drive down route 1 between Bethany and the bridge, you might see a shrub starting to bloom now, with white to light pink flowers. This is one of our prettiest natives, the Beach Plum, Prunus maritima.
Its native habitat is the dunes, where it grows to around 8’ in dense thickets. It is salt tolerant, and needs sandy, well drained soil and full sun. It will grow inland, where it can get to 15, but will not tolerate poorly draining clay. The flowers bloom white in small clusters, and when they are pollinated, usually by native wild bees, they get a pink tinge. It has an interesting adaptation to living on the dunes: as sand covers its trunk, it grows more roots along the trunk, eventually producing a wide spreading root system that is excellent in helping stabilize the dunes. As a member of the cherry family, it has cherry like fruit, which range from sour to fairly sweet which appear in August and September. Birds love the fruit, and it makes great jam, if you get to them in time.
It makes a great garden shrub, or very small tree, depending on what shape you’re looking for. It needs full, meaning all day, sun, and well drained soil. The bark is pretty as well. Imagine it now, growing with some daffodils, and spreading phlox under it. With its thick, spreading root system, it is great at dune stabilization, although it does prefer the older dune community, not the newer, ocean front dunes.
If you see beach plums growing, you’ll know you’re looking at an established, mature, and healthy dune system, which is great!
By Liz Nalle for the Coastal Point