Walk along the beach. All kinds of things wash ashore, including kelp.

Bullwhip Kelp washed ashore

There is a good chance you can find a fresh piece of dark olive-brown Bullwhip Kelp. Storms and strong waves will occasionally tear pieces of the plant and throw them onshore. Sometimes the rough water can destroy a whole kelp forest.  

The idea of a kelp forest might be new to you. They are very similar to land, or terrestrial, forests…just wetter. A kelp forest has a canopy which supports sun-loving organisms and leaves. It also has a partially-shady middle section (with a very strong stalk) and darkly-shaded seafloor which acts as a nursery for new plants.

Where Found

Bullwhip kelp grows on rocks found in low to subtidal zones at depths up to 100 feet. It prefers semi-exposed habits and high-current areas. Offshore beds in deeper water may persist for several years.

Bullwhip kelp is found along the North American Pacific Coast from Alaska south to northwest Baja California, Mexico.

Plant Parts

Like land plants, kelp has leaves or ‘blades’ that can reach up to 13 feet long and nearly six inches wide. These leaves form the canopy cover and are often produced annually. Blades hang on for up to 18 months (depending on the weather and other conditions).

Numerous blades (30-64) sprout from a floating bladder. This bladder contains carbon monoxide which helps keep the blades in the sunny canopy.

Bladders connect to a long hollow flexible stalk, or stipe, which resembles an enlarged whip (i.e., the name sake). The stalk is very strong and has a fist-sized holdfast (think root-like structure) that grips onto the rocks.

Ecosystem support

Kelp forests offer protection and food for a variety of species besides human. This includes urchins, fish, invertebrates such as shrimp, snails (like Black turban snails), and brittle stars and worms. Marine mammals include whales, otters, seals, and sea lions, and shore bird such as great blue herons, snowy egrets, and cormorants also depend on kelp.   

Gives a whole new meaning to ‘kelp bed’ eh?

Reproduction

Kelp can form large forests or small beds. Different species of kelp often grow together favoring different depths and exposure.  

Bullwhip kelp drops mature spore patches to the seafloor near the parent’s holdfast which creates dense forests. It is the only kelp to do that.

Uses

Bullwhip kelp is edible and can be enjoyed dried, raw and/or picked. For a pickle recipe see Monterey Bay Seaweed (http://www.montereybayseaweeds.com/the-seaweed-source/tag/bullwhip+kelp).

Pacific Northwest Coastal Tribes used the kelp for creating a number of different products such as fishing lines and nets, ropes, and lightweight storage containers. It was also used for steaming and shaping various woods to create halibut fishing hooks and Yew bows.

Fresh kelp could also be eaten or included in recipes for cakes, curry, and chutney. It has also been used for pharmaceutical supplies, poultry feed, dairy products, and finishing agents.

But wait there’s more…

There are theories that kelp forests may have helped colonize the Americas. I can hear the disbelief in your laughing from here…  

Suppose that huge kelp forests stretched from northeast Asia to the northern American Pacific coasts.

These forests could have provided food and game, and buffered rough water and potentially acted as a highway for ancient colonists (and not just humans).  

Next time you see this lowly plant washed ashore and shredded from a storm, consider… “Did this plant make it possible for you to wiggle your toes in the sand today?”

Perhaps without it, explorers may not have survived the treacherous trip here. Certainly, food for thought!

REFERENCES:
–Wikipedia, Nereocytis (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nereocystis) and Kelp forests (…kelp_forests)
–Island Herbs (http://ryandrum.com/articlekelp.html)
–Bull Whip Kelp (https://bit.ly/2CINwuf)

And I’d like to give my love to everybody, and
let them know that the grass may look greener on the other side,
but believe me, it’s just as hard to cut.

Little Richard
Beachgrass in the sunset, royalty free, Unsplash

As environmental mis-steps go, planting European Beachgrass at Golden Gate Park, San Francisco, in the late 1800s probably seemed like a great idea. This grass successfully stabilized dunes in Europe and North Africa and many agencies planted thousands of acres, much of it in Oregon.

It seemed like such a good idea

European Beachgrass forms stiff, hardy clumps of grass that can reach nearly four feet tall. A strong rhizome mat holds clumps erect and facilitate fast colonization across an area. One small clump can produce 100 new shoots annually.

This plant provided a faster way to stabilize sand dunes, had few pests and predators, and grows very densely. The grass changes the shape of a dune and overall native ecology by displacing plants and animals by creating higher, steeper curve on the ocean side of a dune. This decreases sand flow to interior dunes impacting the long-term development of the whole coastal ecosystem.

Beachgrass on dune, royalty free Unsplash

One tough grass

Not only does European Beachgrass grow fast and dense, but it will tolerate a number of adverse conditions. For instance, the plant will survive for extended periods of time when buried by sea water and/or sand. In such a disturbance, rhizome pieces will break off. These pieces begin growing in new sites.

It will also grow in a variety of conditions both in pH, mineral or chemical issues, temperatures, and as a perennial live many years. A fungus that grows on the grass, may also make dunes less fertile and thus less likely to support other plants.

The impact?

Beachgrass is one of the most pervasive exotic plant species threatening the West Coast. It is everywhere and not only creating problems for plants but animals such as the endangered western snowy plover by increasing predator cover.

This noxious weed grows from California north along the Pacific coast into British Columbia. This grass was also planted in New Zealand and Western Australia and is considered noxious.

Is it controllable?

Maybe. Interest in controlling began about 1980. Finding a method that is effective, inexpensive, minimally invasive to other native species, flexible enough to use on steep slopes, and acceptable to a wide variety of land owner/managers is a tough challenge.   

Several research projects have been underway for years looking at various removal techniques such as manual, mechanical, chemical, and fire alternatives. Other methods are still being sought.

REFERENCES:
–US Dept. of Agriculture (https://plants.usda.gov/core/profile?symbol=AMAR4)
–California Invasive Plant Council (https://www.cal-ipc.org/plants/paf/ammophila-arenaria-plant-assessment-form/, https://www.cal-ipc.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/01/Cal_IPC_Symposium_2018_Monique_Silva-Crossman_Effects-_of_Ammophila_arenaria_removal.pdf, and https://www.cal-ipc.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/12/1997_symposium_proceedings1934.pdf)
–Wikipedia, Ammophila Arenaria (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ammophila_arenaria)
–AZ Quotes (https://www.azquotes.com/quotes/topics/greener-on-the-other-side.html)

Myrtlewood tree (Umbellularia californica)

The Myrtlewood Tree is a very special broadleaf hardwood which is also an evergreen species.  This is not to be confused with the Pacific Myrtle shrub which also grows along the coast.

The Myrtlewood tree grows to heights of 60 to 120 feet, growing at a slow pace of 1- to 12-inches during each of its first few years of life.   At this pace, the Myrtlewood tree may take from 80 to 120 years to reach its full size.

Range

The range of Myrtlewood tree, also known as the California-laurel, extends from Reedsport, Oregon to San Diego, California within 160 miles of the Pacific Ocean. 

Myrtlewood comes in a wide variety of colors and is well-known for being one of the world’s most beautiful woods. The colors that appear are often a result of the minerals in the soil where it grows.

Products

Making furniture, home decor and other gifts out of the Myrtlewood tree became popular in the early 1900s and has continued ever since. Woodworkers in Oregon love working with the wood because of the beauty and many types of finishes it provides.

In addition to being appreciated by humans, Myrtlewood provides food and cover for various animals. Its seeds are an important food source for squirrels, woodrats, mice, and birds. Deer browse young shoots during the summer.

Good as gold

There is a very interesting story about Myrtlewood back in 1933. “The Oregon town where money grows on trees and wood is as good as cash” describes how the wood was used as money on the Oregon coast. See https://www.opb.org/artsandlife/series/history/myrtlewood-money-north-bend-oregon-great-depression/ for more details.

When visiting the southern coast of Oregon be sure to stop in one of the “Myrtlewood Factories” that sell Myrtlewood products. Some even give tours of wood working operations.

Take the opportunity to experience walking through Myrtlewood trees yourself at forest trails and roadside parks near the southern Oregon coast.