Plants of BHI



Click below to learn more about the different species of plants found on Bald Head Island

American Holly

American Holly, Ilex opaca


Identification: This evergreen shrub is easy to identify because of its glossy, dark green, spiky leaves and pale gray bark. Female plants will have bright red berries through the fall and winter, but the male will not. 
 
Habitat and Habits: American holly is fairly salt-tolerant, allowing it to thrive in coastal areas and maritime forests where many other species will not survive. It can be found throughout the mid-atlantic and southeastern parts of U.S. 
 
Conservation: Least Concern.
 
Native plants are the foundation of natural ecosystems, providing food and shelter for native wildlife. The berries of American holly are an important winter food source for many bird species and small mammals. The tree’s flowers are important sources of nectar for bees. 
 
Cool Facts:

  • American holly is the definitive Christmas holly.
  • It is dioecious, meaning the male and female flowers are found on different trees. 
  • American holly wood is pale white and fine-textured, making it suitable for woodwork.  

 
On BHI:  You can find American holly in the maritime forest, on the Kent Mitchell Trail and at the BHI Conservancy campus. 

Black Needlerush

Black Needlerush, Juncus roemerianus


Identification: Black needlerush is a tall, clump-forming, grass-like perennial rush. Each needle-like stem is actually a tightly rolled leaf ending in a sharp point. This plant is typically pale brown with a black tip on the stems. 
 
Habitat and Habits: Black needlerush is salt-tolerant and commonly found in salt marshes, although it usually grows at higher elevations than other types of marsh grasses.  It is found along the southeastern U.S. coast from New Jersey to Florida, with isolated populations in the Caribbean.
 
Conservation:  Least Concern.
 
Native plants are the foundation of natural ecosystems, providing food and shelter for native wildlife. Many salt marsh animal species use black needlerush to survive. Seaside sparrows and clapper rails nest in the thick grassy clumps, and several species of fungus grow on the plant.  It also provides food for periwinkle snails. 
 
Cool Facts:

  • Its used in restoration projects after oil spills because they are hyperaccumulators.
  • Its clump-forming root systems helps stabilize eroding marsh shorelines. 
  • It grows new shoots year-round.  


On BHI: 
You can find this plant in the salt marshes of Bald Head Island. Check in the upper part of the marsh farther from the water, or learn more about this species on on BHI Conservancy’s Kayaking the Creeks or Island Nature Tour
 

Bitter Seabeach Grass

Bitter Seabeach Grass, Panicum amarum

 
Identification: This coastal grass grows between six and eight feet tall and has thick, long, bluish-green leaves. Certain cultivars may have roots up to six feet deep in the sand and can grow either erect or bent over.
 
Habitat and Habits: Coastal panicgrass grows along the Atlantic and Gulf coasts of the U.S.  It is usually found on sand dunes along ocean beaches and barrier islands. It grows well in well-drained soil or sand and blooms in the late summer to fall.  It sometimes reproduces through seeds, but more often reproduces vegetatively through its rhizome. 
 
Conservation: Least Concern.
 
Native plants are the foundation of natural ecosystems, providing food and shelter for native wildlife. Coastal panicgrass has seed-heads that are an attractive food source to seed-eating birds.
 
Cool Facts:

  • It is also known as Bitter panicgrass.
  • It is often found on the secondary, or back, dune system. 
  • Coastal panicgrass is often used for dune stabilization and erosion control.

 
On BHI: The secondary dunes along the beaches on Bald Head Island are a good place to look for this plant.  Learn more about coastal dunes plants on BHI Conservancy’s Island Nature Tour.

Dune Blue Curl

Dune Blue Curl, Trichostema new species 1


Identification: This rare barrier island wildflower is an undescribed species found in sand dunes. The leaves are light green, small, and round. The flower is pale lavender with a curling top petal around pale yellow anthers and darker purple speckles on the petal below. 
 
Habitat and Habits: This small sand dune flower is endemic to the Carolinas and Georgia on barrier islands, particularly those vegetated with sea oats (Uniola paniculata).  It is rare in North Carolina, and found most often growing in the dunes and in sandy openings in the maritime scrub. 
 
Conservation: Not Evaluated.
 
Native plants are the foundation of natural ecosystems, providing food and shelter for native wildlife. This wildflower is rare in North Carolina and only found on barrier islands in the southeastern U.S., so it is highly susceptible to habitat loss and coastal development.
 
Cool Facts:

  • Native dune plants hold in the sand and protect against battering storm waves.
  • It is only found on sand dunes on barrier islands in the Carolinas and Georgia. 
  • Its northernmost range is Cape Hatteras, North Carolina.  

On BHI: Check out the sand dunes along BHI’s many beaches, especially where sea oats are found! Learn more about coastal dunes plants on BHI Conservancy’s Island Nature Tour.

Dwarf Palmetto

Dwarf Palmetto, Sabal minor


Identification:  Although its fan-shaped leaves look nearly identical to those of Sabal palmettos, this shrub is much smaller, reaching heights of only five to ten feet. It is typically stemless or has only a short, thick trunk. The fruits of dwarf palmettos are small and glossy black, ripening in the fall. 
 
Habitat and Habits: Dwarf palmettos can live in a variety of habitats, including maritime forests, swamps, and floodplains. Their range typically extends through the southeast of the U.S., from North Carolina south to Florida and west to Texas. One of about a dozen palms native to North America, the dwarf palmetto is one of the most frost-tolerant and cold-hardy. 
 
Conservation: Least Concern.
 
Native plants are the foundation of natural ecosystems, providing food and shelter for native wildlife. Dwarf palmetto is important for wildlife - both birds and mammals eat the fruits, and frogs and lizards use the bark for cover.
 
Cool Facts:

  • The fruit of dwarf palmetto is one of the main food sources for raccoons.
  • Native Americans used juice made from the roots as an eye irritant relief. 
  • Dwarf palmetto is the second most cold-hardy palm in the world after needle palm.  


On BHI:
You can find dwarf palmettos across the island, particularly in the maritime forest.  Check out BHI Conservancy’s Island Nature Tour to learn more about the different palmettos on BHI.  

Coastal Red Cedar/Southern Red Cedar

Coastal Red Cedar/Southern Red Cedar, Juniperus virginiana


Identification: This shrubby tree is evergreen with scaly, gray-green needles and shredding, reddish bark. Only the female plants have berries, which are pale blue or gray, very small, and covered in a fine powder. They are edible but are bitter tasting. They are aromatic and produce a strong scent when crushed.
 
Habitat and Habits: Eastern juniper is an early successional stage plant that frequently colonizes old farm fields and vacant lots/open areas. It is salt tolerant, allowing it to grow easily on the hammocks around salt marshes. It can even tolerate getting its roots wet by occasional extreme high tides. Its range is from Nova Scotia throughout the east coast down to Florida and Texas. 
 
Conservation: Least Concern. 
 
Native plants are the foundation of natural ecosystems, providing food and shelter for native wildlife. Juniper is an important plant for local wildlife because many birds love to eat the berries.  Some bird species will build their nests in the canopy, including red-winged blackbirds. 
 
Cool Facts:

  • Early American settlers used juniper berries to make gin.
  • Eastern juniper is extremely salt-tolerant and can grow very close to the salt marsh.
  • Despite its other common name, red cedar, this plant is not related to cedars at all.

 
On BHI:  Juniper is easily found in the maritime forest, especially close to the salt marsh.  The Kent Mitchell trail is a great place to see some of these trees. Join BHI Conservancy for an Island Nature Tour to get a closer look.  

Hercules Club

Hercules Club, Zanthoxylum clava-herculis


Identification:
Hercules club has large leaves with several leaflets arranged along the center stem, ending in a terminal leaflet at the tip. The branches have long, sharp thorns that can also be found along the leaf stem. The tree’s trunk has larger, triangular thorns that resemble warts on the bark.
 
Habitat and Habits: This tree can be found in the southeast United States, from Virginia to Texas. It grows in open areas just above the dunes, as well as in meadows and fields.
 
Conservation: Least Concern. 
 
Native plants are the foundation of natural ecosystems, providing food and shelter for native wildlife. Hercules club is an important host plant for numerous species of butterflies and insects. 
 
Cool Facts:

  • Eating the leaves or bark of this plant will numb your mouth.
  • It is known as the toothache tree because eating the bark is a remedy for this ailment.
  • Sharp thorns along the stem and trunk have led it to be called ‘Devil’s walking stick.’

 
On BHI:  You can find Hercules club in the maritime forest near the beach, especially above the dunes at Beach Access 1. You can see some on the way down to the beach for BHI Conservancy’s Surf Fishing.

Indian Blanket

Indian Blanket, Gaillardia pulchella


Identification: Indian blanket is a small, flowering plant in the aster family that produces a bright, red and yellow, daisy-like flower. It blooms throughout the spring and summer, from May until August. 
 
Habitat and Habits:  Indian blanket flowers are native to the southwest United States, and have since become naturalized to the east coast. They are drought-tolerant and are common in warm coastal areas, where they can be found along sandy roadsides and in disturbed open areas. 
 
Conservation: Least Concern.
 
Native plants are the foundation of natural ecosystems, providing food and shelter for native wildlife. This species attracts butterflies and is especially important to native bees. 
 
Cool Facts:

  • The roots have medicinal properties and have been used to heal skin disorders.
  • The Kiowa tribe of Native Americans consider this plant to be a sign of good luck.
  • Indian blanketflower is also called Firewheel.  

On BHI: Indian blanket can be found all across the island, particularly on roadsides along South Bald Head Wynd. Take a look up close on BHI Conservancy’s Island Nature Tour.

Carolina Laurel Cherry

Carolina Laurel Cherry, Prunus caroliniana


Identification: Laurel cherry is a large, evergreen shrub with smooth, dark green, elliptical leaves. It has showy white flower clusters among the leaves from February to April, followed by summer-ripening black fruits. 
 
Habitat and Habits: It is found in fields, forests, and thickets from southeastern North Carolina to Florida and west to eastern Texas. 
 
Conservation: Least Concern. 
 
Native plants are the foundation of natural ecosystems, providing food and shelter for native wildlife. Birds eat the small, dry berries. The flowers are attractive to bees and other kinds of insects. 
 
Cool Facts: 

  • This plant can be toxic to humans and grazing animals.
  • The poisonous leaves make this plant highly deer-resistant.
  • When crushed, the leaves and twigs give off the scent of almond extract.  

 
On BHI: You can find laurel cherry in the maritime forest or in the gardens in front of the BHI Conservancy.  Learn more about the maritime forest on BHI Conservancy’s Island Nature Tour.

Laurel Oak

Laurel Oak, Quercus laurifolia


Identification: The laurel oak is similar to the live oak but is smaller, typically reaching heights between forty and sixty feet. The bark is dark gray and not as furrowed as that of the live oak. Laurel oaks have dark green leaves with undulating edges and pale green undersides. Their canopy is broad, dense, and round.
 
Habitat and Habits:  Laurel oak is found in maritime forest areas from southern Virginia south to Florida and west to Texas. It typically lives near water, on old floodplains where heavy flooding is not common. 
 
Conservation: Least Concern. 
 
Native plants are the foundation of natural ecosystems, providing food and shelter for native wildlife. Laurel oaks produce acorns that are a common food source for many animals including gray squirrels, raccoons, white-tailed deer, ducks, and other small birds and mammals. 
 
Cool Facts:

  • It is often found in or near swamps, and is sometimes called swamp laurel oak.
  • The leaves are semi-evergreen, only droping in northern locations during the fall. 
  • These trees are grown commercially because their pulp can be used to make paper.   

 
On BHI: You can see laurel oaks in the maritime forest and along the boardwalks in front of BHI Conservancy. Learn more about the maritime forest on BHI Conservancy’s Island Nature Tour.

Live Oak

Live Oak, Quercus virginiana

 
Identification: Live oaks have wide canopies and heavy branches with dark gray to brown furrowed bark. Sprouting from the branches are leathery, green leaves that can range from small and elliptical to larger and slightly lobed in shape. They resemble the common oak leaf pattern, and are usually between one and three inches long. The leaves also have silvery gray pubescence on their underside, unlike similar species like the laurel oak.  
 
Habitat and Habits: Live oaks are a common tree throughout the southeastern U.S. They tend to grow within twenty miles of the shore from Virginia south to Florida and west to Texas.  Their extensive root system makes them successful inhabitants of the maritime forest and salt marsh hammocks. 
 
Conservation: Least Concern.
 
Native plants are the foundation of natural ecosystems, providing food and shelter for native wildlife. Live oaks are an important species on Bald Head Island because they have long, complex root systems that prevent the loose sandy soil from falling apart. 
 
Cool Facts:

  • Live oak roots can reach up to ninety feet deep in the soil.
  • As they get older, live oaks hollow themselves out to conserve energy.
  • The Timmons Oak on Bald Head Island is between estimated to be 300 - 400 years old.

 
On BHI: You can find live oaks anywhere in the maritime forest on Bald Head, but be sure to check out the Timmons Oak off of Federal Road.  Join BHI Conservancy for Island Nature Tour to learn more about this tree.

Muscadine Grape

Muscadine Grape, Vitis rotundifolia


Identification: The leaves of this common vine are large, bright green, and shiny, with large blunt teeth along the leaf edge. The vine can grow up to ninety feet long, and produces edible fruits in the late summer and fall that are usually deep purple or black in color. Unlike some other grape vines, the bark of the muscadine grape is not exfoliating.
 
Habitat and Habits: Muscadine grape is native to the southeastern and south-central U.S. from Delaware to Florida and west to Texas. It is an upright vine, growing in trees in the maritime forest or along fences in sunny open areas, although it can be found growing prostrate as well. 
 
Conservation: Least Concern.
 
Native plants are the foundation of natural ecosystems, providing food and shelter for native wildlife. Muscadine grape is an important food source for many different kinds of wildlife, but especially for some mammals. Raccoons eat the grapes and deer browse the young vines for food. 
 
Cool Facts:

  • Muscadine grapes are used to make jelly and wine.
  • The scientific name for muscadine grape means ‘vine with rounded leaves.’
  • It does well in the South since it tolerates heat and humidity better than other grapes.

On BHI: You can find this vine across the island, especially in open, sunny areas near the road and the maritime forest. Learn more about the maritime forest on BHI Conservancy’s Island Nature Tour.

Eastern Posion Ivy

Eastern Poison Ivy, Toxicodendron radicans


Identification: Poison ivy leaves are typically shiny and green, are clustered in groups of three. Leaves can turn red in the fall, and are lost in winter. However poison ivy is still identifiable at this time and can be distinguished by its hairy vine often growing up the sides of trees.
 
Habitat and Habits: Poison ivy is frequently found twining up trees in the forest or growing as a ground cover or shrub in more open, sandy areas. 
 
Conservation: Least Concern. 
 
Native plants are the foundation of natural ecosystems, providing food and shelter for native wildlife. Poison ivy berries are an important food source for native wildlife, especially because animals are not allergic to the oil in the leaves and berries. 
 
Cool Facts:

  • Poison ivy’s allergen is called urushiol oil, and can remain potent after five years.
  • To avoid touching poison ivy remember: “Leaves of three, let it be”.
  • Both poison ivy and mango plants contain urushiol oil. 


On BHI:
Poison ivy is common in the maritime forest.  Learn more about the maritime forest on BHI Conservancy’s Island Nature Tour.

Prickly Pear

Prickly Pear, Opuntia pusilla


Identification: Cockspur prickly pear is a low-growing, spreading cactus. In mid-spring, it has bright yellow flowers, followed by fleshy red fruits. It has fairly long spines which can be painful for people walking through the dunes with bare feet. 
 
Habitat and Habits: This relatively common cactus is native to the southeastern U.S. from North Carolina to Florida, and west to Texas. It is found in coastal regions, usually around sand dunes and other open sandy areas. 
 
Conservation: Least Concern.
 
Native plants are the foundation of natural ecosystems, providing food and shelter for native wildlife. The yellow spring flowers are attractive to bees and other insects, and other wildlife will eat the summer fruits. 
 
Cool Facts:

  • This plant can be used to treat burns.
  • Plants part of the Opuntia family are invasive species in Australia. 
  • The fruits are edible and are used to make jelly, jam, mixers, and wine.

 
On BHI: Look carefully around the dunes or in the hammocks near the Kent Mitchell Trail to find some of these unique cacti. Try to spot one on BHI Conservancy’s Island Nature Tour.

Redbay

Redbay, Persea borbonia


Identification:
Redbay is a large shrub or small tree with long, elliptical, glossy leaves and small, dark blue to black berries that are seen in late summer to fall. It is evergreen, with small panicles of yellow flowers in May and June. 
 
Habitat and Habits: Redbay is a common maritime forest species, found along the coastal plain from southern Delaware to Florida and west to southeastern Texas. 
 
Conservation: Least Concern. 
 
Native plants are the foundation of natural ecosystems, providing food and shelter for native wildlife. Redbay is an important native species that provides food for many local bird species including painted buntings, northern cardinals, and carolina wrens in the form of its small berries. A potential concern for this plant on BHI is the non-native, invasive ambrosia beetle, which causes a fungal infection in the leaves known as laurel wilt. 
 
Cool Facts:

  • The fruit is bitter, but edible.
  • Redbay has spicy aromatic leaves, often used to flavor soups and meat.
  • Redbay wood is used for lumber and fine cabinetry; it looks beautiful when polished.  

 
On BHI:  You can find redbay throughout the island’s maritime forests. Take a closer look on BHI Conservancy’s Island Nature Tour.

Resurrection Fern

Resurrection Fern, Pleopeltis polypodiodes


Identification: Resurrection ferns have small, evergreen, fern-like leaves and are usually found growing high up on the wide branches of trees. They have a coarse texture and can appear dessicated and brown during times of drought. 
 
Habitat and Habits: This small plant is an epiphyte, obtaining nutrients from air, rainwater, and dirt gathered in the bark of the trees on which it grows. They are typically found creeping up the trunks and branches of live oak and cypress trees and can be found throughout the southeastern United States. 
 
Conservation: Least Concern.
 
Native plants are the foundation of natural ecosystems, providing food and shelter for native wildlife. Resurrection ferns are not currently facing any major threats to their habitat. As long as live oaks continue to grow in southeastern maritime forests, they will continue to thrive. 
 
Cool Facts:

  • Its named for its ability to appear ‘dead’ on dry days before ‘resurrecting’ after it rains. 
  • The plant was part of a space shuttle mission to watched it resurrect in zero gravity.
  • A resurrection fern can lose up to 97% of its free water and still survive. 

On BHI: You can see resurrection ferns throughout the maritime forest on Bald Head Island or anywhere live oak trees are found. A great place to spot them is at the Timmons Oak during BHI Conservancy’s Island Nature Tour.

Sabal Palmetto (also known as Cabbage Palmetto)

Sabal Palmetto, Sabal palmetto

 
Identification: These common trees are easily recognized by their large, fan-shaped leaves and tall trunks covered with criss-crossed pieces of bark that fall off as the tree grows. Sabal palmettos can reach sixty-five feet tall, and are commonly found near the salt marsh because of their salt tolerance.
 
Habitat and Habits: Sabal palmettos are found across the southern United States, from North Carolina to Florida and west to Texas. They also grow well in Cuba and the Bahamas. Although similar in appearance to palm trees, they are different in that they produce small nut-like fruits instead of coconuts.
 
Conservation: Least Concern.
 
Native plants are the foundation of natural ecosystems, providing food and shelter for native wildlife. Sabal palmettos are an important native plant species on the island. They provide habitat for small lizards like anoles and skinks, as well as small tree frogs that live in the pools of water that gather in their bark. 
 
Cool Facts:

  • Southern North Carolina is the northernmost range of this tree.
  • The inside of the palm leaves can be harvested and is sometimes used in salads. 
  • Sabal palmettos are extremely hurricane resistant due to their long, flexible trunks.

 
On BHI: TYou can find this native palmetto anywhere on Bald Head!  It is particularly common along any of the roads and paths through the maritime forest. Take a closer look on BHI Conservancy’s Island Nature Tour.

Seabeach Amaranth

Seabeach Amaranth, Amaranthus pumilus


Identification: This small, sand-dwelling, sprawling plant has very small leaves that resemble spinach. The stems bearing the leaves are large, fleshy, and pinkish red. Seabeach amaranth is an annual plant, growing from seed and dying within one year.  It usually grows to about four inches across, but reach nearly three feet in diameter by the end of its growing season. 
 
Habitat and Habits: Seabeach amaranth grows in sand dunes on barrier islands from New York south to South Carolina. It is a pioneer plant, meaning that it’s one of the first plants to colonize an area of rapidly changing barrier island.
 
Conservation: Threatened. 
 
Native plants are the foundation of natural ecosystems, providing food and shelter for native wildlife. This species is sensitive to competition from other species, and because of its pioneer species status, it favors areas of the barrier islands that change quickly due to storms and sand movement. This means that habitat loss is a major threat to this species. 
 
Cool Facts:

  • The species has been on the federally endangered list since 1993.
  • Despite growing on ocean beaches, it cannot survive saltwater flooding.
  • Seabeach amaranth is a pioneer species, growing in new spots with little competition.

On BHI: Look for Seabeach Amaranth in sandy dunes by beach edges on Bald Head Island. Try to spot one on BHI Conservancy’s Island Nature Tour.

Sea Oats

Sea Oats, Uniola paniculata


Identification: This common dune plant is tall, reaching about seven feet, with large panicles of flattened seed heads in the summer. It is typically grayish green, turning golden in the late summer and fall with leaves up to two feet in length. 
 
Habitat and Habits: Sea oats are found along the eastern and southern coastlines of the U.S.  They grow on beaches and dunes, particularly on barrier islands from Virginia to Florida and west to Texas, as well as parts of Mexico and the Caribbean. Their extreme salt and drought tolerance allows them to survive easily on dunes.
 
Conservation: Least Concern.
 
Native plants are the foundation of natural ecosystems, providing food and shelter for native wildlife. Sea oats are important plants for protection against beach erosion due to their large, complex root systems that hold dunes together. They are frequently used in beach/dune restoration projects and are highly valued because of this. 
 
Cool Facts: 

  • The leaves tend to curl up in the heat of summer to conserve moisture. 
  • Sea oats are also known as “Arroz de Costa” which means “rice of the coast.”
  • Their roots that stabilize dunes, making them the first line of defense against hurricanes.  


On BHI:
Check the dunes along any of Bald Head’s beaches or take BHI Conservancy’s Island Nature Tour to learn more about sea oats. 

Sea Oxeye 

Sea Oxeye, Borrichia frutescens


Identification: Also referred to as the bushy seaside tansy, the sea oxeye is a member of the Aster family. It can reach heights of three to five feet, and produces bright yellow, daisy-like blooms during the summer. Its leaves are green, oval-shaped, fleshy, and pubescent (they have small hairs on both sides). 
 
Habitat and Habits: Sea oxeye is found in coastal habitats from Maryland to Texas. It is a salt-tolerant perennial that grows in large colonies. Often found in marshes and lagoons, its nectar is used by bees and butterflies, while birds eat its seeds and insects eat its foliage.
 
Conservation: Least Concern.
 
Native plants are the foundation of natural ecosystems, providing food and shelter for native wildlife. Sea Oxeye is a common source of nectar for bees and butterflies, as well as a food source for granivorous birds such as Northern cardinals. 
 
Cool Facts: 

  • Also known as bushy seaside tansy.
  • Sea oxeye can live for more than five years. 
  • They are a kind of daisy, found in the Asteraceae family.  

  On BHI:  You can find this plant near any of the salt marshes on Bald Head, especially at the Kent Mitchell Trail. The BHI Conservancy’s Island Nature Tour is an easy way to get up close and take a look. 

Silverleaf Croton

Silverleaf Croton, Croton punctatus


Identification:
While this plant looks similar to the highly invasive beach vitex, it has fuzzy leaves and stems which distinguish the two. The leaves are silver and round to elliptical in shape. In May and June, the plant will produce white flowers. 
 
Habitat and Habits:  Silverleaf croton is found in coastal dune environments from North Carolina, south to Florida, and west to Texas. It has also been observed in Pennsylvania. It grows as an herb or small shrub in the dunes, typically forming small clumps about a foot high and a few feet across.   
 
Conservation: Not Evaluated.
 
Native plants are the foundation of natural ecosystems, providing food and shelter for native wildlife. It provides cover for many small animals that live in the dunes, including snakes and lizards. 
 
Cool Facts:

  • It is a member of the spurge family, Euphorbiaceae.
  • Silverleaf croton is also known as Gulf croton or beach-tea.
  • The leaves are silvery, and are the reason for the plant’s name.

On BHI:  Look in the secondary sand dunes to find this small herb. Learn more about coastal dunes plants on BHI Conservancy’s Island Nature Tour.

Smilax

Smilax, Smilax spp.


Identification: There are several different species of smilax that grow on Bald Head Island.  Most species are woody vines with bright green, waxy leaves and straight, sharp thorns growing off of green stems. Smilax vines typically have berries of any color, from blue to black to red. 
 
Habitat and Habits:  These vines tend to form low-growing, dense thickets when they grow on their own. Despite the fact that many of them are native across the world in tropical and subtropical regions, they may be thought of as invasive species because of how quickly and densely they grow, sometimes shading out other plants.
 
Conservation: Least Concern.
 
Native plants are the foundation of natural ecosystems, providing food and shelter for native wildlife. Smilax berries are eaten by wildlife including raccoons and birds, while the young branches may be grazed by deer.
 
Cool Facts:

  • Catbrier, greenbrier, and saw greenbrier are all species of smilax found on BHI. 
  • Its named after a Greek myth about a man and a nymph who are turned the plant.
  • The sarsaparilla drink and some other root beers come from a type of smilax.

On BHI: You can find a few different species of smilax growing along the side of South Bald Head Wynd near the sand dunes.  Try to spot them on BHI Conservancy’s  Island Nature Tour.

Small Saltmeadow Cordgrass/Salt Hay

Small Saltmeadow Cordgrass/Salt Hay, Spartina alterniflora


Identification: Smooth cordgrass is a tall grass that can reach heights of five feet. It is easy to recognize as it is one of the only grasses that can tolerate the brackish water present in salt marshes. Its leaves are green and tapered, making them seem tube-like in appearance.
 
Habitat and Habits: Smooth cordgrass is extremely salt tolerant and has a unique mechanism that expels salt from the water that the plant uses. It grows very well in salt marsh mud along tidal creeks. It is native to the Atlantic coast of the Americas from Canada all the way to northern Argentina.
 
Conservation: Least Concern.
 
Native plants are the foundation of natural ecosystems, providing food and shelter for native wildlife. Smooth cordgrass is important to the island because its roots help hold the marsh mud together, providing erosion control along the creek banks.
 
Cool Facts: 

  • It is found in the intertidal zone of the salt marsh.
  • It have special glands that excrete salt, allowing it to live in saline environments. 
  • Smooth cordgrass has a large, complex root system that minimizes marsh erosion.

On BHI: You can find smooth cordgrass along any of the tidal creeks in the salt marsh. For a chance to take a closer look, join BHI Conservancy for Kayaking the Creeks.

Spanish Bayonet

Spanish Bayonet, Yucca aloifolia

 
Identification: Spanish bayonet is a type of yucca with long, sharp spines at the ends of its leaves. The plant can reach heights of eight to ten feet and is evergreen. From late winter through the spring and summer it can have large spikes of creamy white flowers, occasionally with purple streaks. 
 
Habitat and Habits: Spanish bayonet is found in the southeastern U.S. from North Carolina south to Florida and west to Texas. It is native to coastal areas, where it can be found in open, grassy meadows near salt marshes or sand dunes. 
 
Conservation: Least Concern. 
 
Native plants are the foundation of natural ecosystems, providing food and shelter for native wildlife. Spanish bayonet is an important flowering plant species for native bees. Unfortunately it is also prone to pests such as weevils and mealworms. 
 
Cool Facts: 

  • Spanish bayonet is a member of the Agave family.
  • It is also known as Spanish dagger or dagger plant.
  • Its leaves are so sharp and pointed that it is fittingly named after a blade.

 
On BHI: Spanish bayonet can be found growing in open, sandy or grassy areas near the dunes or salt marsh. Try to spot them on BHI Conservancy’s Island Nature Tour.

Spanish Moss

Spanish Moss, Tillandsia usnedoides


Identification: Spanish moss is an epiphyte: a plant that can grow without roots and lives on other plants. It has silvery green, curling, scaly leaves and grows similarly to lichen or moss, hanging off of tree branches. 
 
Habitat and Habits: Spanish moss is native throughout the southern U.S., as well as the Caribbean, Central and South America, and French Polynesia. In the southern U.S., it is typically found on live oaks and bald cypress, though it may grow on other plants as well.
 
Conservation: Least Concern.
 
Native plants are the foundation of natural ecosystems, providing food and shelter for native wildlife. Spanish moss is a common nesting material for numerous bird species, including painted buntings and occasionally osprey. 
 
Cool Facts:

  • The species was introduced to Australia, where it is called “Grandpa’s Beard”.
  • Depsiete its name, it is not moss or lichen, but from the same family as pineapples.
  • It has been used for many different purposes, including mattress padding and mulch.

On BHI: You can find Spanish moss across BHI, especially in the maritime forest. Try taking an Island Nature Tour with BHI Conservancy to get a closer look.  

Virginia Creeper

Virginia Creeper, Parthenocissus quinquefolia


Identification: This common vine is easily recognized by its palmately compound leaves with five finely serrated leaflets. It is bright green throughout the spring and summer, but the leaves turn red-purple in autumn and fall off in the winter. In late summer to fall, small dark blue berries can be found on the vine. 
 
Habitat and Habits: This deciduous vine is native throughout eastern and central North America and is found in both coastal and inland habitats. It grows quickly, covering walls and buildings and frequently shading out the trees that it climbs. 
 
Conservation: Least Concern.
 
Native plants are the foundation of natural ecosystems, providing food and shelter for native wildlife. Virginia creeper is a host plant for the larvae of several species of sphinx moths, and many species of birds eat the berries during the fall and winter months. 
 
Cool Facts:

  • Unlike poison ivy, the rest of the plant is not poisonous.
  • The berries of Virginia creeper are highly toxic and may be fatal if eaten. 
  • It adheres to trees using small adhesive discs instead of tiny roots that dig into the tree

On BHI: YVirginia creeper can be found all across the island, particularly in open sunny areas near roads or in the maritime forest. Try to spot them on BHI Conservancy’s Island Nature Tour.

Wax Myrtle

Wax Myrtle, Morella cerifera


Identification: Wax myrtle (also known as southern bayberry) is a medium sized evergreen shrub with light green, waxy leaves that emit a pleasant, spicy aroma when crushed. The bark is light gray or nearly white, depending on the individual plant. Female plants have light blue berries in the winter. 
 
Habitat and Habits: Native from New Jersey south to Florida and west to Oklahoma, this shrub is common in salt marsh and coastal habitats along the Atlantic coastline. It can adapt to many different habitats, from wetlands to dry pine forests, fields, and sand dunes. 
 
Conservation: Least Concern. 
 
Native plants are the foundation of natural ecosystems, providing food and shelter for native wildlife. The waxy berries are sometimes eaten by various species of birds and some other animals. The plant is attractive to both birds and butterflies. 
 
Cool Facts:

  • Once established, Wax myrtle is flood and drought-tolerant.  
  • The highly aromatic leaves have been used as a natural insect repellent.
  • American colonists used the thick waxy coating on the leaves to make fragrant candles. 

 
On BHI:  Wax myrtle can be found growing in the hammocks near the Kent Mitchell trail. Learn more about them on BHI Conservancy’s Island Nature Tour.

Yaupon Holly

Yaupon Holly, Ilex vomitoria


Identification:
The mottled appearance of its bark makes Yaupon holly quickly recognizable. The bark is pale gray with white patches, and the leaves are small and evergreen with a slightly serrated edge. Female plants will have bright red fall and winter berries. 
 
Habitat and Habits: Yaupon holly is found on the U.S. east coast from Maryland to Texas. It is frequently found in coastal areas around salt marshes and in maritime forests because it can tolerate high levels of salt. These holly trees grow as large shrubs or small trees in the understory of maritime forests.
 
Conservation: Least Concern.
 
Native plants are the foundation of natural ecosystems, providing food and shelter for native wildlife. Yaupon holly has winter berries that provide food for numerous kinds of wildlife, including red and gray fox and forest birds. Deer browse the stems and leaves, and it is a larval host of some species of butterflies.
 
Cool Facts:

  • Native American used the leaves in tea as part of purification ceremonies.
  • Yaupon holly is the only plant native to North America that contains caffeine. 
  • Though it has no emetic properties, excessively drinking it in tea causes one to vomit. 

 
On BHI:  Yaupon holly can be found in forested areas across the island, notably at the Creek Access and Kent Mitchell Trail. Join BHI Conservancy on an Island Nature Tour to check out this plant more closely.