Delray Workers Plant Endangered Native Vine to Prevent Dune Erosion

They're just little white flowers, but they have a lot of power when it comes to restoring dunes.

DELRAY BEACH — They're just little white flowers, but they have a lot of power when it comes to restoring dunes.

On Wednesday, city workers planted 135 beach cluster vines along the north end of the city beach.

The native vines, considered endangered within coastal dune areas, help keep sand in place, dune experts say. In the aftermath of last year's hurricanes, which washed away much of the sand, the dunes on the north beach needed help.

It made sense to bring the flowers to Delray Beach, where the cluster vines will help restore the dunes and, in turn, the vines will have a better chance of thriving, said Samuel Wright, field biologist with Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden in Miami.

"We're trying to reintroduce it back to areas where it can grow and reproduce," he said. "When we do a planting, it acts as an experiment. We test different ways to grow it."

The wrath of hurricanes Frances and Jeanne ruined some of the existing plants and created wind stress for other vegetation, said Rob Barron, a dune management consultant for Delray Beach.

With the new vines "it's icing on the cake" for the city's dune restoration project, he said.

"Our objective is to recreate as complete a natural system as possible," Barron said. "The natural system isn't all sea grapes and sea oats. The areas where [the vines] are still remaining in the wild are under enormous stresses from development."

Scott Pape, a city senior planner, said he was satisfied with the outcome.

"We've installed a very rare native species of landscaping into the dune," he said. "It's a native species that's not seen anymore."

Not all the newly planted vines are expected to survive, Barron said.

"If we had 100 percent survival of this, I would be astonished. If we get 50 or 60 percent of them to survive, that would be fine," he said.

Fairchild, a nonprofit organization that works to preserve rare plants and on habitat recovery, used a nearly $100,000 grant from the Florida Department of Agriculture to plant the endangered vines in Delray Beach.

Wright said he conducted surveys along public coastal parks from Miami Beach to northern Palm Beach looking for suitable habitat for the plants. He concluded that Delray Beach was in the top five, out of about 35 sites, of ideal places for the flowers to grow.

Development in South Florida along the State Road A1A beach strip has significantly harmed the plant's habitat, Wright said.

"Because of the building of the roads and construction, the natural areas are cut off," he said. "A1A is built through where the habitat would be, so the habitat for this plant was made smaller and smaller."

Barron said the vines were planted in an ideal location.

"As long as there's a city of Delray Beach, there will be a restored dune," he said.

To see more of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel -- including its homes, jobs, cars and other classified listings -- or to subscribe to the newspaper, go to (c) 2005, South Florida Sun-Sentinel. Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News.