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THE OUTDOORS DIGEST | FIELD GUIDE

Sea rocket

November 25, 2003|David Lukas

[ CAKILE MARITIMA ]

On the outer beach, where life is about as stable as driftwood, a few plants fight it out between opposing forces. On one side lay densely vegetated dunes, with competitors fighting over scarce resources, and on the other the crushing might of winter waves. Pocketed in the space between, sea rocket has an astonishing survival strategy. Each rocket-shaped fruit is divided into two components. The larger outer part falls off in late November and carries its single seed to new destinations on storm swells. The smaller basal part stays put for a while, dropping off later to germinate in the "parent" soil. This way, the plant doubles its chance of establishing offspring along the harsh fringe at the ocean's edge.

NATURAL HISTORY

With such a successful seeding strategy, this plant from the Mediterranean Sea has spread from its 1935 introduction site near San Francisco to the coast stretching from British Columbia to Baja California.

KEY CHARACTERISTICS

A large, succulent plant with pretty purple flowers, sea rocket stands out among the driftwood on open sandy beaches.

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