Every time I walk out to the beach (or drive past the row of barrier dunes) this time of year I notice the golden yellow sea oats (Uniola paniculata) swaying in the wind. The dunes are simply covered with them during the warm summer months. They are graceful and beautiful. Because of their deep root system sea oats help stabilize the dunes, and have been designated a protected species.
This wasn't always the case. Years ago, before the boom in coastal area tourism, there was little danger of denuding the natural dunes (the present-day continuous row of dunes parallel with the shoreline is artificial, established in the 1950s to prevent ocean over wash and protect the highway). Before ferry service to the island and paved roads it was just too difficult to get to the beach often. There was no need of legislation to protect the vegetation. When we did venture out to the beach my father showed me how to pull up the sea oats and chew on the tender ends. They were always succulent and sweet.
Actually, it wasn't necessary to walk all the way to the beach for sea oats. Many patches grew on the edge of the village, including in the vicinity of the Island Inn, just a clam shell's throw from our house.
Nowadays I just enjoy looking at the sea oats; I don't eat them.
Our latest Ocracoke Newsletter is the second half of my father's short journal. I call it Remembering Growing up on Ocracoke. You can read it here.