Towering dunes covered with thick ridges of dense grass may make for a beautiful to photograph, but they’re not representative of how the Oregon Coast looked prior to the twentieth century. Starting in the 1920s, concern that natural erosion was destroying valuable coastal real estate prompted the Federal and Oregon state governments encouraged citizens to plant European Beach Grass which would stabilize the beaches and dunes. Fast-growing with a tangled network of roots, the grass was very effective at holding the sand in place – but it also dominated beaches where native plants once flourished. Today, European and American Beach Grass often coexist on many parts of the coast, although you’ll have to look more carefully to find the American variety.
The grass can be identified by its tall, slender blades which can grow up to three feet (.91 m) in length. During the summer, the grass will grow a seed-head which resembles wheat. It grows in thick clumps with a root system which spreads out through the sand below.
European Beach Grass can be found all along the west coast of the United States. It is a xerophyte, or an organism which has special adaptations to survive in hot, arid environments, making it an extremely hearty species. As a non-native, introduced species, it is classified as invasive. The grass grows naturally throughout Europe and in northern Africa. Efforts have been made in Oregon to remove this species, but only with limited success.