What comes to mind when you think “species at risk” on Prince Edward Island: Piping Plovers? Bats? Swallows? If you said any of these, you’d be right, but we also have at-risk plants, including the lovely Gulf of St. Lawrence Beach Pinweed (Lechea maritima).
This globally significant variety of Beach Pinweed is found along the Gulf coasts of PEI and New Brunswick – and nowhere else on Earth! Here on the Island, it makes its home in sand dunes, though not the mobile, marram grass-dominated dunes you’re likely familiar with. It prefers older, more stable dunes that offer some protection from storms and salt spray. These are highly specialized habitats that support equally specialized (and often rare) plants. Beach Pinweed can be found growing alongside the provincially rare Bearberry (Arctostaphylos uva-ursi), Crowberry (Corema conradii), Woolly Hudsonia (Hudsonia tomentosa) and the amazing Earthstar fungus (Astraeus smithii, which I wrote about here: https://www.pei-untamed.com/post/earthstar-fungi ).
Unlike many of our other species at risk, Beach Pinweed’s biggest threat doesn’t come from human land use, development, or recreational activities. Instead, it’s the increasing frequency and severity of storms such as Dorian and Fiona. I’ve been visiting some of the Island’s most important Beach Pinweed sites this summer and have been happy to confirm that this globally rare plant made it through last fall’s hurricane. (In a future post, I’ll show you how PEI’s sand dunes are recovering from that storm and describe how the marram-grass dominated dunes can recover much more quickly than can those where Beach Pinweed is found).
You may not think of PEI has having wilderness areas or unique plants, but we do. Not many people know about the Island’s Beach Pinweed and fewer still have seen it. Now you can say you are among those who have seen this rare part of PEI untamed!