Pink Sand-verbena at Pacific Rim National Park Reserve

In August of 2010 Barry Campbell made the exciting discovery of two naturally growing Pink Sand-verbena (Abronia umbellata breviflora) at Florencia Bay in Pacific Rim National Park Reserve. Having already visited the Pink Sand-verbena introduction project at the Wickaninnish Beach dunes I was interested in seeing this plant naturally occurring in the wild.

It became a bit of a quest. I made two trips out to the location on Florencia Bay and came back without finding the plants despite a careful search of the area. I did find wolf tracks, shared a lunch with a Western Tiger Beetle, discovered an odd introduced Garden Radish, and found Sea-watch in bloom but no Pink Sand-verbena.

Pink Sand-verbena (Abronia umbellata breviflora)
Pink Sand-verbena (Abronia umbellata breviflora) in typical upper beach habitat. This is one of the plants found by Barry Campbell at Florencia Bay in Pacific Rim National Park Reserve.

The third time I was lucky. With more detailed instructions on the location and a better description of where the plants were in relation to the driftwood (at the top of the high tide line in front of the drift logs – I was looking too high up on the beach) it still took some careful searching but I eventually found one of the two plants. I’m really not sure how I missed the second plant and I know I must have walked within two metres of both plants without seeing them on previous visits. It’s a low sprawling plant with small globes of pink flowers so perhaps its low profile made it easy to miss.

Pink Sand-verbena (Abronia umbellata breviflora)
Pink Sand-verbena (Abronia umbellata breviflora) is found in only a few isolated locations along the west coast of Vancouver Island, British Columbia.

The question that comes to mind is “How did it get here?” Plants have historically been found growing at Clo-oose Bay on the West Coast Trail, and even there very sporadically. Additional plants have been reported at Pachena Bay near Bamfield and at Ahousat near Tofino but none have been seen there since the 1920s.

Although Pink Sand-verbena is a perennial its habitat means that it usually has to grow from seed every year in order to be successful since winter storms can wipe out existing root stock. Reseeding is a challenge in the location it prefers: shifting sand can bury seeds, driftwood can cover the upper beach where it grows, and exotic beach grasses can displace native species like the Pink Sand-verbena.

However, seeds are known to persist for a very long time in the seed bank until conditions are more favourable for germination. Seeds can also arrive at an suitable site by long distance dispersal of seed from southern populations of the plant in Washington, Oregon, and northern California.

Pink Sand-verbena (Abronia umbellata breviflora)
The beautiful pink flowers of Pink Sand-verbena (Abronia umbellata breviflora) are striking in contrast with the texture of the sand and fleshy leaves.

Perhaps these two rare plants are the result of a long sea journey from Clo-oose or farther afield. Perhaps there’s always been a small population of Pink Sand-verbena at Florencia Bay that sporadically appears when conditions are right. Regardless of the answer, it illustrates the importance of being observant and curious about the natural world around us. You never know when you might discover a rare and beautiful plant.