Often the reason a destination is popular has little to do with the superb natural features of an area. Such is the case with Goose Spit Park in Comox, on Vancouver Island, British Columbia. Usually portrayed as “the” place to enjoy the sunset and an evening beach fire, Goose Spit has much more to offer the curious naturalist.
The parking lot at the far end of Hawkins Road just before it enters HMCS Quadra is an excellent starting place for a dune botanical exploration. Walking west along the beach a number of plants in the pea family (Fabaceae) can be found above the high tide line and among the driftwood logs.
At this time of year, Beach Pea (Lathyrus japonicus) is in bloom as are two species of lupin – Seashore Lupin (Lupinus littoralis) and Tree Lupin (L. arboreus). The former is a native species, the latter has been introduced from California, possibly in an attempt to stabilize the shoreline. A third pea that is readily visible is the invasive Scotch Broom (Cystisus scoparius).
When the buildings of the base end, the dunes start to open up. A training obstacle course runs through the center of dune habitat and climbing walls and other apparatus are readily visible. This sandy area is spectacular for early and late spring blooms and many of early the plants are still in bloom at this time of year (although many are also going to seed as well).
Be mindful that this is extremely sensitive habitat and very significant since it is only one of four locations in BC where the endangered Sand-verbena moth is known to exist. Fortunately, much of the dunes are within DND lands and access is prohibited. It is still possible to find and enjoy most of the plants in the narrow strip between the high tide line and the DND boundary.
Watch for the leaves of Yellow Sand-verbena (Abronia latifolia). Some of these plants were transplanted as part of the recovery plan for the Sand-verbena Moth.
Other typical dune plants include Gold Star (Crocidium multicaule), a beautiful yellow aster that is just finishing blooming at this time of year – both flowers and seed heads can be found.
Pink Microsteris (Microsteris gracilis) is another delicate dune plant common at Goose Spit. Its small pink flowers have five petals and while the plant has a weedy look it is actually a native species.
Black Knotweed (Polygonum paronychia) grows in the dunes as well. It has a prostrate, shrubby look with thick leaves that are rolled under. The flowers of this plant are white to pink and clustered in the upper leaf axils.
These are just a few of the flowers that can be seen at Goose Spit in the spring and early summer. With a little care, this rare and sensitive ecosystem can be explored and the natural beauty of the flora of the dunes, so often missed by the casual beach walker, experienced and appreciated.