Much of the estuary vegetation near Foxton Beach township consists of exotic, salt tolerant vegetation of a grassy or scrubby nature, with the occasional stand of exotic trees. But a few native plants are still common and easily spotted. They tend to occur in the wetter areas, or closest to the coast. Some of the plant species you might see when you are at the estuary are described below.
Plants at the estuary
Sea primrose (Samolus repens)
This tiny herb is common on the junction between the vegetation and the estuarine mudflats, forming soft carpets which are rather easily damaged by trampling. It is common around the mudflats by the sandspit, and you are sure to see it on the edge of the walking track under the pines. It is very salt tolerant, and has pretty little white flowers.
Half-star, Remuremu (Selliera radicans)
Similar to sea primrose, remuremu is very salt tolerant and is often found intermingled with sea primrose. It has spatula-like fleshy leaves up to 3 cm long and its white flower is lopsided, hence its common name of half-star.
Sand coprosma (Coprosma acerosa)
This shrub, often only 50cm high, looks like a tangled mass of stems, with only close inspection revealing the tiny brown leaves like long grains of rice. It is a classic rear dune plant and is found growing high on dunes usually no closer than 50 m to the sea. It is tempting to try sitting on these plants, but they are uncommon now, and are better just admired.
Searush (Juncus maritimus)
The common native saltmarsh rush, which is relatively soft to the touch. (The larger spiky one is Juncus acutus, sharp rush, an American.) Searush is found where there are quiet estuarine backwaters, and it tolerates frequent tidal submergence.
Glasswort (Sarcocornia quinqueflora)
A short plant, less than 20 cm tall, with thick and fleshy stems (there are hardly any leaves), which can be a dull green or a bright pinkish orange. It is very salt-tolerant and hence occurs in places where it is often covered at high tides by quiet waters, so it is common near the Roost at the end of the sandspit. It used to be used as a source of silicon for glass-making, hence its common name.
Spinifex (Spinifex sericeus) is the most common of the native sand-binders (pictured). Tolerant of wave action, it is common in patches along the foredunes facing the sea where sand dunes are building up. There are also a few patches along the river-side of the Sandspit, where it is easily distinguished from the very common exotic marram grass (Ammophila arenaria) by its blue-grey silvery leaves, covered in fine hairs, and its habit of growing downhill. The dunes of the estuary have the occasional patch of the rare native sandbinder, pingao (Desmoschoenus spiralis), a genus found only in New Zealand. It has broader, rougher leaves, often quite orange in colour, and grows very slowly.