(Florida Rosemary - Sand Heath)
Empetraceae (Crowberry) Family
Sandhill Rosemary is also known as Sand Heath, Crowberry, and Florida Rosemary.
The plant is an evergreen, perennial shrub. Its preferred habitat is dry sandhills and dunes of beaches along the coastal region. It inhabits the driest, openly vegetated, scrub oak sandhills and river dunes containing deep white sands. Woody goldenrod (Chrysoma pauciflosculosa) and extensive mats of lichens are common associates. Distribution is rare in Escambia County, Alabama but widespread along the coast, often forming pure stands and thickets. It's general range is Mississippi east to South Carolina and south to Florida in scattered locations.
The leaves are alternate on the stem. Each leaf is entire (no teeth and no lobes) and the form is needle like. The needle-like leaves conserve water by reducing evaporation. The rounded dome-like shape, typical of many scrub plants, protects it from wind and blowing sand damage. The leaf margins are revolute and arranged in whorls of 4 to 6. This arrangement exhibits a square like or hexagonal shape when viewed from above.
Sandhill rosemary releases a chemical into the soil that prevents the germination of their own seeds. Thus, the seeds remain in the soil and germinate only after the parent plant dies. This insures a sunny spot for the new plant. Like many scrub plants, Sandhill Rosemary is aromatic, the result of volatile oils in the foliage that probably serve to protect the plant from being eaten by beach wildlife.
Some Florida scrubs are so droughty with deep, loose sands that Florida rosemary is the only shrub that can survive. These "Rosemary balds" are among the most beautiful, and harshest, natural landscapes on the Florida beach areas.
Sandhill rosemary is an aromatic shrub with a fragrance resembling rosemary. The species grows to approximately 5 feet in height with dense, multi-branched, grayish, twigs that are covered with short, gray, woolly hairs. The plants are sexually mature at 10 to 15 years of age, with peak seed production between 20 and 30 years or age.
All plants of the species will die if burned, but patchy fires that are typical in many habitats usually leave patches of surviving plants. Salt-spray and storms may induce mortality in coastal habitats. These plants have exhibited a slow recovery after fire with slightly increasing local abundance for the first decade. Thinning of the populations due to resource competition occurs between 10 to 20 years of age. Some plants may lose productivity and begin partial dieback after about 20 years, but most can survive in excess of 50 years if the habitat is undisturbed.