For many people conservation is a simple act of keeping everything in its natural state. Leaving plants and animals as we find them, without resorting to collecting or moving them to different areas is an effective way of preserving them. In the case of plants, this allows them the opportunity of releasing and spreading seeds while remaining established in a specific habitat. Some plant species have a symbiotic relationship with soil fungi and cannot survive if moved. Others decline because they are moved to areas where their natural pollinators don't exist. Around mid-summer clusters of small, purple flowers can be seen in a salt marsh. Upon closer inspection, you will see one of the most popular marsh plants known as sea lavender (Limonium nashii). Found in the upper marsh amidst the salt marsh hay (Spartina patens), this attractive plant can grow between one and two feet tall. When not in flower, it can be identified by a set of flattened leaves on the ground. Unfortunately, this plant is frequently collected for dry flower arrangements that reduce the population by eliminating a source of seeds. Because its natural habitat is a coastal, salty, and muddy substrate that is occasionally covered with water, it is unlikely that its seeds will germinate elsewhere. Collectors can easily eliminate a local population of sea lavender. I remember many years ago I noticed over a dozen people picking sea lavender at the Great Barnstable Marsh. In a little over an hour, the population in a large section of that marsh was completely decimated. I tried to explain to a couple of them the impact they were having, but to no avail. The good news is that more people are aware today that these plants should be left alone in the marsh. They can be enjoyed by everyone by walking to the edge of the marsh in late summer to early fall, and admiring them at a short distance. Bands of purple color can be seen from the clusters of small flowers throughout the marsh. In the last couple of years I have seen several healthy populations of sea lavender in many Cape marshes. Here is a valuable resource that can be easily protected with education and simple conservation practices. It doesn't cost anything, and the public benefits from the increased plant diversity in the marsh. Not all environmental problems can be so readily resolved. Yet for those who share an appreciation for the Cape's natural environment, the presence of sea lavender in a salt marsh is a sign of progress.
Copyright Gil Newton 2009 Thanks to Chris Dumas for logo image.