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Sea Lavender
sea lavender
Sea lavender, photographed at Bahia Honda State Park, Bahia Honda Key, Monroe County, in December 2013.
sea lavender

Sea lavender, Argusia gnaphalodes, is also known as sea rosemary. To our eyes, the leaves look more like sage. Lavender certainly. Rosemary definitely not, but no one consulted us.

in any case, sea lavender is a rare plant, native only to Florida among the 50 states, and only on the east coast, Brevard County south to the Keys. It is listed as endangered in Florida, though globally the picture of the species is a little brighter.

It's naturalized in California and Hawaii, native on Bermuda, parts of the Caribbean, including Puerto Rico, southern Mexico, Belize and Honduras. It's also made its way to a few warmer parts of the globe.

It is a shrub that stands between three and six feet high, and can form large mounds 10 to 20 feet across. It's a resident of coastal dunes, and salt spray can limit its height. Its leaves are long and narrow, covered with fine hairs that give sea lavender and white-silvery appearance.

The flowers appear year round, growing on one side of a curled spike (see the photo at left); they are white with a pink-red throat and turn lavender as they age. They produce a small, corky fruit that floats, allowing the tides to help distribute the plant.

The major cause of sea lavender's decline is loss of habitat caused by coastal development. The good news is that it is commercially available for use landscaping. Its foliage gives sea lavender interest even when not blooming.

sea lavender

It's also hurricane resistant, which is critical considering its range and habitat. Sea lavender, however, is susceptible to disease if it's planted inland.

Sea lavender plays a critical role in beach ecology, controling erosion and stabilizing dunes by grabbing sand. In turn, sand helps spread sea lavender — as it collects along the branches, the plant sends out roots and new shoots.

In the Bahamas, where sea lavender is known as bay lavender, it's used to make a tea to treat fevers, gonorrhea, syphilis, kidney stones, kidney problems, fish poisoning, rheumatism, and to induce abortions.

Sea lavender is a member of Boraginaceae, or the forget-me-not family. There are other plants commonly known as sea lavender that are part of the Limonium species but have a much wider geographic range than our guy and are more likely to live in salt marshes than coastal dunes.

Photographs by David Sedore
Links for Sea Lavender
Institute for Regional Conservation Natives for Your Neighborhood Atlas of Florida Vascular Plants USDA PLANTS Database Center for Aquatic and Invasive Plants
  Flora of North America     Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center
Unless otherwise stated, all photographs are property of the publishers and may not be used without their express permission.