Home News About Us Plant Lists Hummingbird Gardens Gardening for Birds Butterfly Gardens Fundraisers Websites Judy Bluehorse Guestbook Mailing List

cloud surfing

Cloud Surfing Pacific City

Plants for the Oregon coast
beach daisy ©Lory Duralia

Extending from the seashore to the foothills of the coast range, the Oregon coast encompasses a wide variety of plant communities. Windswept bluffs and exposed sandy beaches, sand dunes and grasslands, make way for dense forests. The moderate year round climate is influenced by the nearly constant temperatures of the Pacific Ocean, while northwesterly winds bring cool air to the coast in the summer months and southwestery winds bring warm air in the winter. The resulting cool summers and mild winters make for a long flowering season.

The coastal climate varies from north to south, as temperate conditions gradually shift to a more Mediterranean climate. In the north dense forests and undergrowth predominate, giving way to more California plant species as one reaches the southern Oregon coast. Where mild summer temperatures and fog retain moisture further north, summer on the southern coast is warmer and drier. Here, riparian areas provide the only habitats for plants requiring more moisure.

Conditions of soil and topography also vary along the coast and combine with changes in temperature to create different habitats. Plants found on the beach and among dunes will differ from those found in coastal forests, while grasslands will support a different community of plants from those found in wetlands. A generally useful distinction includes beaches and dunes, grasslands, wetlands, and forests.

Beaches and dunes host plants with deep taproots and stout stems, which can withstand constantly shifting sand. Sturdy evening primrose, farewell-to-spring (Clarkia amoena), and coast buckwheat may be found here or along the edges of dunes and beaches. Vegetative reproduction gives coastal strawberry and Pacific silverweed an advantage over plants that rely on seeds for reproduction, as seeds are easily buried too deep or exposed to salt air and wind.

Grasslands are supported by a thin layer of soil over basalt. Rocky forested headlands fall into the sea, their southern slopes carpeted with grasses and wildflowers. Spring and early summer moisture bring stonecrop, columbine, and larkspur. Later in the summer selfheal, pearly everlasting and goldenrod appear. As one travels south in Oregon, forested shorelines give way to open grassy slopes.

Both saltwater and freshwater wetlands support important coastal habitats. Swales, lakes and marshes dot the entire coastline. Where exposure carves sand away to below the water table, deflation plains support unique plant communities and migrating waterfowl. Normally on the lee side or at the base of dunes, they are frequently covered with water in the winter and damp in summer.

Forestsalong the Oregon coast support stands of shore pine (Pinus contorta), tolerant of wind, salt spray, and mineral soils, and often growing just above high tide. Sitka spruce (Picea sitchensis) is found only near the coast, forming dense forests and becoming "shaped and gnarled by the salt spray and wind"¹ on coastal bluffs. Western hemlock and Douglas fir form the dominant species in lowland forests of the coast range.

Brushfields are formed where forest and grassland meet. Openings like meadows and pastures are slowly overtaken with young trees and shrubs. Here, the azalea, rhododendron,and currant provide a riot of color along the coast come spring.

Many of our natives can be found in a variety of habitats. For example, Tiger Lily (Lilium columbianum) grows on hillsides with shrubs and blackberry, on exposed headlands and in partial shade. Salal forms thick hedges along coastal bluffs and thrives in the understory of a coastal forest.

Every coastal gardener will have to assess the conditions of climate and soil at his or her own location. Remember that conditions can vary even within one garden. We hope that the following list will prove useful in choosing plants which will thrive in your garden.

¹Horn, Elizabeth. Coastal Wildflowers of the Pacific Northwest. Missoula, Montana: Mountain Press Publishing Co., 1993.

Dunes and beaches Grasslands Forests Wetlands Brushfields



Ground Covers and Flowers


Grasses, Sedges and Rushes