A Seaside Mystery

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This innocuous little plant drove my sister and me nuts on our beach vacation two weeks ago. Both of us remembered it from our childhood when we grew up on Long Beach Island, New Jersey (one of those islands that didn’t fare too well in storm Sandy 5 years ago. There have been books written about how badly the Island was damaged–and just last weekend the New York Times had an article about how some of the New Jersey shore towns were recovering and Long Beach Island was one of the places featured.)

But I digress. Clearly this plant was faring well because it was all over the beach where we were staying. So we starting “googling” around, trying to find out what it might be, since neither of our brains could come up with a name.

After 3 days of googling, we went to the library. We pulled out every book they had about New Jersey beach flora, including one written by the local garden club and one dating back to 1918 that was a local survey of the area. Nothing.

You might think that we are a bit obsessive–or this is how to ruin a beach vacation. I can assure you we had a lot of fun despite our quest. Every year when we go down there, we “quest” about something. Last year it was a particular type of skate’s egg case that washed up on the shore. I had to come back to Connecticut and pull out my childhood books about the beach to get our answer on that one.

In any event, I won’t leave you all guessing. This plant is called sea rocket (cakile edentulata) and we finally found our answer on the Clemson University Extension service blog. It is a native plant, native to the east coast of the United State, and as far west as Louisiana to our south and Illinois to our north. You can find out more from the USDA database here.

So this summer, as you go off on vacation, where ever it may take you, look around, and take some time to learn something about a plant that might be new–or familiar but you just can’t quite place it. You’ll have some fun doing it, and you might just save yourself a bad sunburn in the process!

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