Guide to Sable Island’s habitats and plants

Look deep into nature, and then you will understand everything better – Albert Einstein

Sable Island, 250km from Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada, is an island made entirely of sand. For approximately two thirds of the island runs a series of high dunes, flanked by two long sandy beaches, and are considered one of the largest dune systems in Eastern Canada. With the island experiencing a maritime temperate climate, the island sustains a range of habitat types, which include grassland, heath, sandwort, freshwater ponds, brackish ponds, and non-vegetated terrain.

Due to strong winds and a lack of soil, the island is treeless (apart from one) and is dominated by low-growing plant species. When on the island myself, one thing i loved, other than the vast variety of plant species, was the strong smell of lush green vegetation that would bombard my sense of smell everytime i was out and about walking.

Plant Species

In 2016, 183 vascular plant species were recorded on Sable Island, in which 34% were considered alien species.

Here’s a selection of different, more notable species that can be found on Sable Island:

Common species

Marram grasslandAmerican marram grass (Ammophila breviligulata)= Most common species

Beach peaBeach pea (Lathyrus japonicas var. maritimus)

Common yarrowCommon yarrow (Achillea millefolium var. occidentalis)

SandwortSea sandwort (Honckenya peploides sp. robusta)

Common wild roseCommon wild rose (Rosa virginiana)
Edible fruit and fragrant flowers

Lowbush blueberryLowbush blueberry (Vaccinium angustifolium)
Edible fruit

Large cranberryLarge cranberry (Vaccinium macrocarpon)
Edible fruit

New york asterNew York aster (Symphyotrichum novi-belgii)

Swamp smartweed

Stretch of swamp smartweedSwamp smartweed (Polygonum hydropiperoides)

Wild strawberryWild strawberry (Fragaria virginiana sp. glauca)
Edible fruit

Small flowered evening primroseSmall flowered evening primrose (Oenothera parviflora)

Blue flag irisBlue flag iris (Iris versicolor)

Hooded Ladies' tressesHooded ladies’ tresses (Spiranthes romanzoffiana)

Blue eyed grassBlue-eyed grass (Sisyrinchium angustifolium)

Hedge bindweedHedge bindweed (Calystegia sepium)

Seaside goldenrodSeaside goldenrod (Solidago sempervirens)

Pearly everlasting (Anaphalis margaritacea)
Creeping juniper (Juniperus horizontalis)
Common juniper (Juniperus communis var. megistocarpa)
Star-flowered false solomon’s seal (Maianthemum stellatum)
Black crowberry (Empetrum nigrum)= Edible fruit
Bayberry (Morella pensylvanica)= Edible fruit and aromatic leaves
Wand dewberry (Rubus arcuans)= Edible fruit
Threepetal bedstraw (Galium trifidum)



Rushes and sedges

Baltic rush (Juncus balticus var. littoralis)
Canada rush (Juncus canadensis)
Slender rush (Juncus tenuis)
Jointleaf rush (Juncus articulatus)

Star sedge (Carex echinata)
Soft-stemmed bulrush (Schoenoplectus tabernaemontani)



Other grass species (Poa and fescue)

Red fescue (Festuca rubra)
Annual meadow grass (Poa annua)
Kentucky bluegrass (Poa pratensis)
Bentgrass (Agrostis scabra)

Introduced species

Curled dockCurled dock (Rumex crispus)

Black knapweedBlack knapweed (Centaurea nigra)

White clover (Trifolium repens)
Common heather (Calluna vulgaris)
Red clover (Trifolium pratense)
Common plantain (Plantago major)
English plantain (Plantago lanceolata)

Sable Island’s Only Tree

On Sable Island, due to the extreme conditions, there is only one living tree. This tree is a Scot’s pine, standing at a few feet tall. It was planted 50 years ago and can be found at the ‘Pine Tree Pond’ near Main Station on the island.

Here’s a couple of photos of the tree with the Sable Island Horse Project’s crew for the second half of this year’s summer field season:


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