Selected Plants from Jekyll Island

I encountered some interesting plants during my recent visit of Jekyll Island. Seaside oxeye (Borrichia frutescens) was a first for me, and I needed online help identifying it. This species grows in abundance on dry areas surrounding salt marshes, and it was in bloom on the island during mid-May, a little earlier than at other parts of the Atlantic coast. It belongs to the Aster family and can live for 5 years, spreading vegetatively and via seeds. The flowers attract butterflies. Leafhoppers and aphids feed upon the plant. Gall midges and gall wasps also attack the plant as part of their lifecycles. Birds eat the seeds. Seaside oxeye is reportedly an edible plant for humans and can be eaten cooked or raw, but it doesn’t have good flavor.

Seaside oxeye. This plant was blooming in abundance in the dry areas adjacent to salt marshes in mid-May on Jekyll Island.

Saltwater cordgrass (Spartina patens) is the dominant grass found in salt marshes along the North America south Atlantic coast. It is a keystone plant crucial to the health of this vital ecosystem. This plant helps maintain water quality and shelters many species of animals including diamondback terrapins, clapper rails, raccoons, otters, and fiddler crabs. Periwinkles graze on the grass to help keep it in check.

The dominant grass species growing in salt marshes along the southeastern Atlantic coast is Spartina patens. Note the dead trees. This spot is located just behind Driftwood Beach where saltwater intrusion is killing a maritime forest.

Saw palmetto (Serenoa repens) is the source of much quackery. Snake oil salesmen falsely claim extracts made from palmetto berries cure prostate problems. There is no scientific evidence for their phony claims. The palmetto berries are an edible fruit eaten by raccoons, bears, and Indians. Early European explorers were not impressed with the taste, however, and it was considered a desperation source of food. I’ve seen raccoon scat filled with palmetto berries. Saw palmetto is a scrub palm tree, and Indians used the palm fronds for fiber and roof thatching.

Saw palmetto next to a tree killed by salt water intrusion.
Live oaks here are being killed by saltwater intrusion here.

Common lantana (Lantana camara) was another first sighting for me. This species is native to Central and South America but has invaded warmer regions of North America, especially along the Atlantic coast. It is a member of the Verbena family, and its foliage is toxic to livestock. Lantana fruit, in particular the unripe berries, are highly toxic for humans, but birds relish them and spread the seeds in their droppings. This species is fire tolerant but shade intolerant and requires open landscapes to survive. The flowers come in 5 color varieties and attract butterflies and nectar feeding jumping spiders from the Salticidae family.

Lantana camara. This is a non-native species found on Jekyll Island.

One Response to “Selected Plants from Jekyll Island”

  1. William Boyd Says:

    Interesting your mentioning Lantana on Jekyll. During my nearly 3 years in northern Palm Beach County, FL, where our neighborhood bordered what is now Juno Dunes on the west side of U.S. 1, I’d hike that fine remnant of the old Florida. Marveling at the flora and fauna, I’d seen lantana as well as the occasional indigo snake. BB

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