Spiky seed heads of spinifex grass, propelled forward by the autumn wind, tumble along the beach. This joyful game goes on until the ball finds a hindrance. After some time the fine, west coast, sand submerges the seed balls that release the seeds to restart the cycle of growth and dispersion all over again.
The seeds of 'spinifex sericeus' grow into perennial grass that is silvery, greyish green of colour with a hairy surface. Its appearance takes credit for other names: silvery sand grass and the Maori name kowhangatara.
Its rhizomes mature into multiple metres long runners with buds developing into new male and female plants that bloom during spring and early summer. This native sand binding grass takes an important role in giving stability to fore dunes on Auckland’s windswept west coast and prevents dunes from moving inland.
Shifting sand, spray water, and occasionally strong winds or storms are the movers of this fluid environment. Dunes naturally take the role of shore protectors in both directions. From incoming storm and surf from the seaside and filtering the water from wetlands close to the shore. Outlining itself, a fragile ecosystem placed between beach and shore. There shore birds like Caspian terns, the threatened dotterels, oystercatchers, gulls, insects like centipedes and reptiles such as skinks amongst others find their home and breeding ground.
There was a time when coastal residents identified dunes as lost land. Consequent efforts went into planting non-native restraining plants like marram grass and ice flowers to regain this puffer zone as stable area. By realising the adverse effects on native bird, insect and reptile life in this usually fluid environment, efforts went into restoring the dunes. Hence, the planting of native dune grasses like spinifex became part of the dune restoration program. Native dune grass accommodates better for the ecological cycle on the coast. The ‘Dunes Trust’ has a great illustration on that: www.dunestrust.org.nz