The Wickaninnish beach dunes are a fascinating place to view wildflowers that are unique to dune ecosystems. Parks Canada staff and volunteers at Pacific Rim National Park Reserve have worked in the dunes to remove introduced grass species. As a result, sand movement has improved and native plants are thriving in this dynamic and harsh environment.
At this time of year, many of the wildflowers in the sand dunes have already gone to seed. However, there are still several species that are in flower. Two of my favourite pink, sand-loving flowers that grow in the Wickaninnish dunes are pink sand-verbena (Abronia umbellata) and beach morning-glory (Calystegia soldanella). I visited the dunes in early August after a rainfall to see if they were still in bloom.
On Vancouver Island, the Wickaninnish dunes are one of the few places to reliably view pink sand-verbena. This red-listed plant was introduced back in 2010 as part of a restoration project by Parks Canada. Sporadic records in isolated locations on the west coast suggest that it possibly once grew here naturally. Regardless, the introduction project was successful and pink sand-verbena flowers annually and produces seed. It hasn’t spread much beyond the original planting plot but appears to be healthy and thriving in that part of the Wickaninnish dunes.
Pink sand-verbena is easy to identify. The pink globe-like cluster of flowers is distinctive and resembles the flower head of the related (and more common) yellow sand-verbena (Abronia latifolia). The plant’s trailing stems sprawl over the sand and form low mats. The egg-shaped leaves are fleshy like a succulent and are usually covered with grains of sand.
The Wickannish dunes are also home to another beautiful pink wildflower. Beach morning-glory grows in large trailing mats over the sand near the front edges of the dunes, but behind the initial ocean-side wall of grass. The peak bloom is in July and I was only able to find around a dozen flowers in early August. Other common names for this plant include beach bindweed and seashore false bindweed.
Beach morning-glory is a native plant that has long creeping stems which grow from a deep rhizome. The pink flowers are funnel-shaped like the invasive, non-native bindweeds that can also be found in British Columbia. The leaves of beach bindweed are thick and fleshy and alternate on the stems. While the sand dunes at Wickaninnish beach are a good place to find beach morning-glory, it also occurs in other locations in Pacific Rim National Park Reserve.
Need To Know
The sand dunes at Wickaninnish Beach are an amazing ecosystem to explore. However, the plants that struggle to survive there are very sensitive despite their ability to live in a harsh environment. Consequently, care must be taken when visiting the dunes. Staying on bare sand will reduce the impact on native plants while still enabling enjoyment of the wildflower display. You can also help support the dunes by joining a Parks Canada interpretive walk to learn more about dune ecology or by participating in a volunteer invasive grass pull.