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Sea Oats Research, Education, and Production-2002 Report

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This is a 2002 report from a NC Specialty Crops Program Project. It is posted for historical reference purposes.

Reviewed by Jeanine Davis, NC Alternative Crops & Organics Program, Department of Horticultural Science, NC State University on 10/19/2022.

TYPE OF PROJECT: Research/On-Farm/Educational
LOCATION: Brunswick, New Hanover, Pender, and Carteret Counties


Sea oats and other dune stabilization plants are needed to build and stabilize coastal dunes in North Carolina. The growing demand for dune renourishment and revegetation projects provides an opportunity for the development of a coastal plant industry in North Carolina. Production of sea oats and other dune species grown in North Carolina increased in 2002. An estimated 2 million dune plants were grown in North Carolina in 2002 and planted along the North Carolina coast to protect the dune system. The impacts of in-state production of dune plants reach far beyond the initial value of the plants. Tourism is the second largest industry in North Carolina, and the beach is the number one tourist destination. Considering the value of tax revenues generated by the tourism industry and property tax income for coastal real estate, the benefits of beach protection initiatives are quite significant to the economy of coastal counties. Through the educational, research, and marketing efforts of this project, major strides have been made to promote the production of coastal plants in North Carolina.


Sea oats and other dune stabilization plants are needed to build and stabilize coastal dunes in North Carolina. The dunes are a unique ecosystem and conservation and preservation of the dune system is critical for plant and animal habitat protection. The dunes also provide coastal communities with building and infrastructure protection during hurricanes. Developing a coastal plant industry in North Carolina is needed so that native species of dune plants are available for coastal communities. Traditionally, dune plants have been purchased from out-of-state suppliers. North Carolina farmers are being introduced to this opportunity to grow the plants required for dune renourishment and revegetation projects in North Carolina. Research, education, and on-farm trials are all needed to improve production and marketing of sea oats and other dune species.


Research projects were conducted in association with NC State University and Louisiana State University scientists to examine 58 accessions of sea oat germplasm collected throughout North Carolina and other states where the species occurs. Research was conducted in the greenhouse, and plots were established at beach locations and at an inland farm location. Initial data was collected, and the plots will be utilized for data collection through 2006 and beyond.

Educational outreach efforts were conducted to inform beach-front property owners, elected officials, and employees of coastal communities about the importance of native dune species. Marketing efforts to promote North Carolina-grown dune stabilization plant species focused on demonstrating the ability of local growers to meet the needs of coastal restoration projects. This involved providing information on plant availability and the potential for in-state growers to fill custom orders.


Listed below are programs conducted in 2002 that were in part made possible by funds provided by the Specialty Crops Grant:

  • Participation in monthly Brunswick Beaches Consortium (BBC) meetings as the representative for Brunswick County provided an opportunity for Extension to supply officials of the six coastal communities in Brunswick County with knowledge and information on coastal management. Two BBC meetings were hosted by N.C. Cooperative Extension at the Brunswick County Center.
  • A dune vegetation workshop, conducted in Kure Beach, was attended by 14 residents who learned to conserve, protect, and plant coastal dune species.
  • Fifteen Extension Master Gardener℠ volunteers from New Hanover County attended a dune management class and learned to identify coastal dune plants along with propagation, planting, and maintenance skills.
  • Thirty one individuals gained knowledge about coastal dune vegetation and management at the “Coastal Dunes and Vegetation Workshop” conducted for the Town of Topsail Beach.
  • Seventy eight students, teachers, and parents from South Brunswick Middle School participated in a coastal dunes field trip to learn dune ecology and conservation.
  • Partnering with the North Carolina Coastal Federation (NCCF), 12 youth learned to protect water quality and control erosion by planting wetland estuary species. Working with the NCCF, a program to teach middle school youth in New Hanover County about growing and planting estuary plant species to protect water quality was started.
  • Twelve board members of the Wrightsville Beach Association learned about Extension programs in Coastal Management. This contact resulted in a program on dune vegetation and management for their summer general meeting where 37 members learned to protect and conserve the coastal ecosystem.
  • Thirteen members of the Cape Fear Chapter of the Surfrider Foundation learned skills to conserve dune vegetation and protect the coastal environment.
  • Nine individuals at Holden Beach, 20 individuals at Emerald Isle, and 15 individuals at Carolina Beach participated in Master Dune Conservation programs conducted for each coastal community. Participants learned beach and dune dynamics, identification of coastal plants, propagation of dune vegetation, planting and maintenance of dune vegetation, and other skills necessary to protect barrier islands and the coastal environment. Upon completion of the Master Dune Conservation program, participants volunteered to help plant and protect coastal dunes.
  • The Carteret County Shore Protection Association requested an educational program on dune vegetation and maintenance, and 17 members gained knowledge to protect and preserve the dunes on Bogue Banks.
  • More than 60 individuals at the “Coastal Dunes & Vegetation Workshop – Preserving a Way of Life” program, hosted by the Town of Emerald Isle, learned skills to conserve and protect the Bogue Banks barrier island ecosystem. Participants included town and county employees, town officials and commissioners, and other stakeholders.
  • New Hanover County received help to manage the dune ecosystem created by the relocation of Mason’s Inlet at the north end of Wrightsville Beach. Establishing native vegetation on the renourished sand was part of the management plan, and this need was met by organizing more than 100 volunteers to plant and fertilize 18,000 sea oat seedlings. In addition, arrangements were made to have the sea oats donated by a local producer saving over $7,000 in plant costs alone.
  • Sixty two employees of the North Carolina Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services – Research Station Division gained knowledge of the importance of the dune ecosystem, dune species, plant production, planting, and maintenance.
  • A program was presented to the Cape Fear Council of the Boy Scouts of America where 20 adult leaders and youth learned to protect and preserve the coastal dune system.
  • Programs on dune ecosystem conservation at the New Hanover County Fair taught teachers and students from area schools about this important natural resource.
  • Research plots with NC State University and Louisiana State University plant scientists were established to evaluate 58 accessions of sea oats harvested throughout the native range for this species. Seedlings were grown at the Oak Island greenhouse and plots were established on Wrightsville Beach, Oak Island, and at an inland location in Brunswick County.
  • An aerial fertilization program for the communities of Bald Head Island, Oak Island, and Sunset Beach was coordinated and conducted to supply nutrients for vegetation growing on more than six miles of coastal dunes.
  • Two classes at the University of North Carolina – Wilmington were taught where undergraduate and graduate students learned to identify and grow frontal dune species for dune revegetation.
  • Employees and/or elected officials from the towns of Wrightsville Beach, Ocean Isle Beach, Bald Head Island, Oak Island, and Ocean Isle Beach were provided with information to plant dune vegetation and protect/preserve the dune system to protect buildings and infrastructure.
  • The US Fish and Wildlife Service received assistance to monitor a threatened plant species, Seabeach Amaranth, and 1800 Seabeach Amaranth plants were grown from seeds and provided to the USF&WS to re-introduce this species to the South Carolina coast.
  • More than 120 individuals attending the North Carolina Shore and Beach Preservation Annual Conference learned to protect and preserve the coastal dune ecosystem by establishing/preserving dune plants.
  • More than 200 individuals attending the National Conference on Beach Preservation Technology held in Biloxi, MS learned about Extension’s role to protect and preserve the North Carolina coastline through dune plant production and establishment.
  • Dune plant producers, including the Town of Oak Island, requested and received knowledge and skills required for the successful production of sea oats, bitter panicum, seashore elder, seabeach amaranth, and other coastal plant species in commercial demand for beach revegetation projects.
  • Educational efforts in coastal management provided coastal municipalities in Brunswick and New Hanover Counties with the skills and information needed to revegetate over 20 miles of coastline.
  • Working with volunteers, the Salt-spray Garden in the New Hanover County Arboretum is in the process of being completely redesigned to better meet the educational role of the arboretum.
  • Worked with North Carolina Sea Grant to write a dune management and vegetation program for Figure Eight Island.


Production of sea oats and other dune species grown in North Carolina increased in 2002. A new grower in Clinton, North Carolina is now utilizing a portion of his tobacco float system greenhouses to produce sea oats and bitter panicum. An estimated 2 million dune plants were grown in NC in 2002 and planted along the North Carolina coast to protect the dune system. The impacts of in-state plant production reach far beyond the initial value of the plants. Tourism is the second largest industry in North Carolina, and the beach is the number one tourist destination. Coastal counties stand to benefit tremendously from the protection their beaches through tax revenues generated by beach visitors, associated tourism industry employment, and the property tax income generated by billions of dollars of coastal real estate.