Labeling Plants in Dunes

Jennifer Possley, Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden

Since coastal dunes have constantly shifting sands, tracking individual plants over many years can be challenging. Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden began working with a federally endangered plant called Beach Clustervine in the late 1990s.  This long-lived species grows only in the coastal strand area of coastal dune communities in four of Florida’s southeastern counties. The Beach Clustervine has lost much of its habitat to development. In 2000, we began tracking reproduction, growth, and survival on individual plants.  The first step to tracking individuals was to give each plant a unique identifier.  In the early days, we used a numbered metal tag on a wire “necklace,” and attached to the rootstock at the center of each plant.  We staked the tag on the surface with a u hook. This is a method that worked well for us in other ecosystems and, of course, in our botanic garden. One year after we reintroduced plants to the beach, we learned that this tag-and-necklace method was not working so well for the Beach Clustervine.  The species is a dune-builder, with strong roots that actually contract as the plant grows. These contractile roots can cause the plants—and the tags—to bury themselves. When we returned to monitor, our tags were sometimes several inches beneath the sand! We came up with a simple solution to the subterranean tag troubles. For Beach clustervine and other dune plants, instead of the tag-and-necklace we used wire to attach the numbered metal tag through the hole drilled in 18 inch PVC, and then sank the pole next to the Beach Clustervine’s rootstsock, about 9” deep.  The poles are easy for researchers to find, but aren’t too unsightly on the beach. Over time, the poles may become more deeply   buried as sand accretes, but they rarely disappear between visits, and we have the opportunity to raise the poles higher if needed.