Pacific Pup: The California Coast According to Annette


Beach Blossoms

Life on the dunes never used to be of much interest to me. After all, what is there to explore, just sand, right?  Little did I know, a mosaic of beautiful flowering plants grows in the sand. Against all odds, they root themselves in areas where other plants would never survive. These flowering plants are charming and add bright splashes of color to the otherwise muted palette of the dunes. The strength of these sometimes inconspicuous blossoms should not be underestimated, however; Over time, their roots can grow to stabilize the mountains of sand around them, preventing the movement of dunes caused by wind.
My favorite bright yellow and endearing flower to come across at the beach is that of the Beach Evening Primrose. I’ve spotted this small gem from the heavily trafficked coastline of San Francisco all the way to the quiet Guadalupe Dunes. Its natural habitat actually extends much further, from Oregon all the way to Baja California, Mexico. Beach primrose has an interesting growth pattern in which many flowering branches radiate out from a central mass of leaves called a “rosette.”
Possibly the most charming dune flowers of all, the blooms of Sand Verbenas grow out of tiny stalks, arranged like miniature bouquets offered in thanks to the sun. These are  not as easy to find but are such a treat to see. The flower color ranges from nearly fluorescent magenta to a pleasant light yellow. The Sand Verbena’s small, thick leaves are “glabrous,” or sticky, becoming coated with sand that in turn protects them from wind.
Long before I knew the “dirt” on ice plants, I loved them for their beautifully colored flowers and interesting succulent leaves. They surely are one of the more attractive plants of the dunes, but don’t be fooled! Non-native ice plants have become terribly invasive weeds, forcing out many native dune plants. I do still appreciate their beauty, and sometimes their ability to form large mats in such a short amount of time is impressive. However, it is important to keep in mind that introducing non-native plants to any area comes with risks, and it would be very disheartening to see our local flora be out-competed.
Maybe because of their shy and inconspicuous nature, dune plants inspire less artwork than other types of plants, but check out these beautifully rendered botanical paintings by Sarah McNaboe, Christie Newman, Danza Chisholm-Sims, and Logan Parsons. I hope the next time you are at the beach you will become smitten with our local sandy flora the same way I have!
See you at the beach!
Annette Filice
(Scientific Illustrator Intern)

Sketch Notes:
Sand Verbena (Abronia spp.): Sand Verbenas are small dune wildflowers that range in color from a beautiful bright magenta to a pleasant light yellow. They grow in a sprawling pattern so look out for them under your feet!
Beach Evening Primrose (Camissonia cheiranthifolia): Beach Evening Primrose is my favorite wildflower to come across on the beach! They have beautiful bright yellow flowers that turn red at the edges as they age, and grow out from a central rosette of leaves.
Ice Plant (Carpobrotus spp.): While ice plants have beautiful bright yellow or purple flowers and interesting succulent leaves, they have become quite the invasive weed on our coast.


  1. Love this one Annette! The flowers are so vibrant!

  2. These flowers are gorgeous!