Salt Tolerant Plants for the South Carolina Coast

Prepared by Barbara H. Smith, HGIC Horticulture Extension Agent, Clemson University, 03/17.

HGIC 1730

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Salt exposure is just one of the many environmental factors that makes coastal landscaping challenging. Selecting plants that are tolerant to salt exposure will increase the rate of success. Salt tolerant plants can range from highly to moderately tolerant.

High salt tolerance means the plants will grow where they are subject to direct salt spray received along sand dunes and adjacent to the oceanfront. These plants are highly resistant to salt drift and can be used in exposed environments. Plants with a moderate salt tolerance will grow adjacent to the beachfront, but are sheltered by higher salt tolerant plants, structures, or sand dunes. They will tolerate some salt spray, but will grow best where they are protected from direct contact.


The Palmetto palm (Sabal palmetto) is the South Carolina state tree and has a high salt tolerance.
The Palmetto palm (Sabal palmetto) is the South Carolina state tree and has a high salt tolerance.
Barbara H. Smith, ©2016 HGIC, Clemson Extension

Salt Tolerant Plants For The South Carolina Coast
Common NameBotanical NameDescriptionsGrowing ConditionsLandscape Uses
*Denotes native to the Southeast
Trees
American Holly*
Ilex opaca
  • Evergreen
  • Alternate, simple leaf
  • 15-30 ft. tall x 10-20 ft. wide
  • Insignificant blooms in May, red berries in Oct.
  • Dioecious (separate female and male plants)
  • Berries attract birds
  • Many cultivars available
  • Moderate salt tolerance
  • Zones: 5-9
  • Full sun to part shade
  • Water: medium
  • Maintenance: low
  • Use as a specimen or hedge, berries provide winter interest
Southern Red Cedar*
Juniperus virginiana var. silicicola
  • Evergreen conifer
  • Scale-like leaves
  • 30-65 ft. tall x 8-20 ft. wide
  • Water: dry to medium
  • Maintenance: low
  • High salt tolerance
  • Zones: 3- 9
  • Full sun
  • Use as a specimen or screen.
Live Oak*
Quercus virginiana

Loquat
Eriobotrya japonica

  • Evergreen
  • Alternate, simple leaves coarsely toothed and wrinkled
  • 15-25 ft. tall and wide
  • Off-white fragrant blooms Nov.-Jan.
  • Yellow to orange edible pear shaped fruit April-June
  • Native to China and Japan
  • Moderate salt tolerance
  • Zones: 8-10
  • Full sun to part shade
  • Water: medium
  • Maintenance: low
  • Use as a specimen, espalier, or street tree
Yaupon Holly*
Ilex vomitoria
  • Evergreen
  • Alternate, simple leaf
  • 15-20 ft. tall x 8-12 ft. wide
  • White fragrant blooms in April, translucent scarlet berries in fall
  • Dioecious
  • Weeping cultivars are available
  • High salt tolerance
  • Zones: 7-10
  • Full sun to part shade
  • Water: medium to wet
  • Maintenance: medium
  • Use as a specimen, topiary, espalier, hedge, screen, or windbreak
Palms
Dwarf Palmetto*
Sabal minor
  • Evergreen
  • Large, fan-shaped leaves up to 3 ft. across
  • 6-10 ft. tall
  • Cream flowers in May-June
  • Brown to black fruits in the fall
  • Most cold tolerant Sabal palm
  • High salt tolerance
  • Zones: 7-10
  • Full sun to part shade
  • Water: medium
  • Maintenance: medium
  • Use as a specimen or in groups
Palmetto or Cabbage Palm*
Sabal palmetto
  • Evergreen
  • Deeply cut, curved leaves that radiate from a midrib
  • 40-50 ft. tall
  • Creamy white, showy flower stalks in summer
  • Green to black fruit in the fall
  • High salt tolerance
  • Zones: 8-11, can be grown in 7 with protection
  • Full sun
  • High drought tolerance after it is established
  • Maintenance: medium
  • Tolerant of hurricane damage
  • Use as a specimen, in groupings, along streets
Saw Palmetto*
Serenoa repens
  • Evergreen
  • Palmate leaf divided into 25-30 segments, sharp petioles
  • 5-10 ft. tall
  • Small, white flowers in May-June
  • Black malodorous fruit in fall
  • High salt tolerance
  • Zones: 8-11
  • Full sun to part shade
  • High drought tolerance after it is established
  • Low to medium maintenance
  • Use as a specimen, or as an under- planting for larger plants or trees
Shrubs
American Beautyberry*
Callicarpa americana
  • Deciduous
  • Opposite, simple leaf with saw-toothed margin
  • 3-8 ft. tall x 3-8 ft. wide
  • Insignificant pinkish-lavender flowers in June-Aug.
  • Showy purple fruit in the fall that attract birds
  • Moderate salt tolerance
  • Zones: 6-10
  • Full sun to part shade
  • Water: medium
  • Maintenance: medium
  • Use as a specimen, shrub border, or naturalizing
Coastal Sweet-Pepperbush*
Clethera alnifolia
  • Deciduous
  • Alternate, simple leaves
  • 4-8ft. tall x 4-6ft. wide
  • White, fragrant panicle flowers in late June-early Aug.
  • Attracts butterflies
  • Moderate salt tolerance
  • Zones: 4-9
  • Full sun to part shade
  • Water: medium to wet
  • Maintenance: low
Use in a shrub border or naturalized areas
Devilwood or Wild Olive*
Osmanthus americanus
  • Evergreen
  • Opposite, simple, dark green, leathery leaves
  • 15-25 ft. tall x 10-15 ft. wide
  • Creamy white cluster, fragrant flowers in early spring
  • Blue-purple fruit in the fall that attract birds
  • Dioecious
  • Deer resistant
  • High salt tolerance
  • Zones: 6-9
  • Full sun to part shade
  • Water: medium
  • Maintenance: low
  • Use as a hedge, screen, or small ornamental tree
Dwarf Yaupon Holly*
Ilex vomitoria nana
  • Evergreen
  • Alternate, simple leaf
  • 3-5 ft. tall x 3-6 ft. wide
  • White fragrant blooms in April, translucent scarlet berries in fall
  • Dioecious-female and male plants
  • Many dwarf cultivars
  • High salt tolerance
  • Zones: 7-10
  • Full sun to part shade
  • Water: medium to wet
  • Maintenance: medium
  • Use as a foundation plant, low hedge or border
Fatsia
Fatsia japonica
  • Evergreen
  • Alternate, glossy green palmate leaves
  • 6-10 ft. tall x 6-10 ft. wide
  • White panicle blooms in Oct.-Nov.
  • Blue fleshy fruit ripens in winter to early spring
  • Native to Japan
  • Moderate salt tolerance
  • Zones: 8-10
  • Part to full shade
  • Water: medium
  • Maintenance: low
  • Use as a bold texture accent specimen
Groundsel*
Baccharis halimifolia
  • Semi-evergreen to deciduous
  • Alternate, simple gray-green to green leaves
  • 5-12 ft. tall and wide
  • Dioecious, female has white flowers and male has yellow in early summer
  • Cottony white fruit in the late summer and fall
  • Attracts birds and butterflies
  • High salt tolerance
  • Zones: 8-10
  • Full sun to part shade
  • Water: dry to medium
  • Maintenance: low
  • Use as a naturalized hedge or in dry, low maintenance areas
Inkberry Holly*
Ilex glabra
  • Evergreen
  • Alternate, simple leaves
  • 6-8 ft. tall x 8-10 ft. wide
  • Insignificant flowers in May
  • Berry-like, black drupe Sept.-May
  • Moderate salt tolerance
  • Zones: 4-9
  • Full sun to part shade
  • Water: medium to wet
  • Maintenance: low
  • Use in foundations, hedges, masses, or as an accent plant
Oleander
Neurium oleander
  • Evergreen
  • Opposite or whorled, simple leaves
  • 6-12 ft. tall and wide
  • Flowers in a wide range of colors, summer-fall
  • Many cultivars
  • All parts of the plant are toxic
  • Native to Europe and Asia
  • High salt tolerance
  • Zones: 8-11
  • Full sun to part shade
  • Water: medium
  • Maintenance: low
  • Use as in foundation plantings, hedges, screens, and borders
Pineapple Guava
Acca sellowiana
  • Evergreen
  • Opposite, simple leaves
  • 10-15 ft. tall and wide
  • White flowers with red centers, edible, May-June
  • Yellow, edible, egg-shaped fruit in late summer to fall
  • Native to South America
  • Attracts birds
  • Moderate salt tolerance
  • Zones: 8-10
  • Full sun to part shade
  • Water: medium
  • Maintenance: medium
  • Use as a specimen, espalier, topiary hedge, screen, or windbreak
Pittosporum
Pittosporum tobira
  • Evergreen
  • Alternate, simple leaves
  • 3-12 ft. tall x 3-18 ft. wide, depending on cultivar
  • Creamy white, fragrant orange blossom scented flowers in April-May
  • Many cultivars
  • Native to China and Japan
  • High salt tolerance
  • Zones: 8b-10
  • Full sun to part shade
  • Water: medium
  • Maintenance: low
  • Use as foundation plantings, hedges, screens, or containers
Podocarpus
Podocarpus marcophyllus
  • Evergreen
  • Spirally arranged, needle-like leaves
  • 3-30 ft. tall x 6-20 ft. wide, depending on cultivar
  • Insignificant flowers
  • Edible, red-purple fruit
  • Dioecious
  • Many cultivars
  • Native to China and Japan
  • High salt tolerance
  • Zones: 8-10
  • Full sun to part shade
  • Water: medium
  • Maintenance: medium
  • Use in foundation plantings, specimen, hedge, or screen
Red Buckeye*
Aesculus pavia
  • Deciduous
  • Opposite, palmately compound leaves
  • 25-30 ft. tall and wide
  • Red tubular flowers in in April-May
  • Attract hummingbirds and butterflies
  • Seed capsule with 1-3 buckeye seeds in the fall
  • Deer resistant
  • Moderate salt tolerance
  • Zones: 4-8
  • Full sun to part shade
  • Water: medium
  • Maintenance: medium
  • Use as a hedge or specimen tree
Southern Waxmyrtle*
Morella cerifera
  • Evergreen
  • Alternate, simple leaves
  • 15-20 ft. tall and wide
  • Insignificant flowers on female plants in May
  • Grayish-white waxy fruit in late summer
  • Dioecious
  • Smaller cultivars are available
  • Attract birds
  • High salt tolerance
  • Zones: 8-11
  • Full sun to part shade
  • Water: dry to medium
  • Maintenance: low to medium
  • Use as a specimen, topiary, hedge or screen
Yucca or Adam’s Needle*
Yucca filamentosa
  • Evergreen
  • Stiff, spine-tipped leaves
  • 4-8 ft. tall x 2-3ft. wide
  • Large, creamy-white bell-shaped flowers on tall stalks in June-July
  • Attracts butterflies
  • Drought tolerant
  • Moderate salt tolerance
  • Zones: 5-10
  • Full Sun
  • Water: dry to medium
  • Maintenance: low
  • Use in borders, dry garden areas, and for architectural interest
Grasses
American Beach Grass*
Ammophila breviligulata
  • Cool season perennial
  • Long, narrow leaves, deeply furrowed upper surface, smooth underside
  • 2-3 ft. tall x 6-10 ft. wide
  • Blooms in early summer with seed head in late July-Aug.
  • Spreading, clumping grass
  • High salt tolerance
  • Zones: 4-9
  • Full sun
  • Water: dry
  • Maintenance: low, but does not tolerate heavy foot traffic
  • Use on sand dunes for erosion stabilization
Bitter Panicum*
Panicum amarum
  • Warm season perennial
  • Bluish-green, thin leaves
  • 3-4 ft. tall x 2-3ft. wide
  • Narrow white bloom late summer through fall
  • Spreads slowly by rhizomes
  • High salt tolerance
  • Zones: 2-9
  • Full sun
  • Water: dry to medium
  • Maintenance: low
  • Use on dunes for erosion stabilization, accent, masses, and in borders
Muhly Grass**
Muhlenbergia capillaris
  • Warm season perennial
  • Glossy, wiry, thread-like dark green leaves
  • 2-3 ft. tall x 2-3 ft. wide
  • 12” tall purple-pink airy flower spikes in the fall
  • Grows in clumps
  • Moderate salt tolerance
  • Zones: 5-9
  • Full sun
  • Water: moist to dry
  • Maintenance: low
  • Use in perennial borders, accent, masses, and naturalized areas
Sea Oats*
Uniola paniculata
  • Warm season perennial
  • Long narrow, 1 in. wide leaves that taper toward the ends
  • 3-8 ft. tall and spreading
  • 6-8 ft. tall panicle flower that produces flat spikelets containing seeds in summer to fall
  • Spreads by creeping rhizomes
  • Protected by state law that prohibits picking or destroying the grass
  • High salt tolerance
  • Zones: 8b-12
  • Full sun
  • Water: dry
  • Maintenance: low
  • Use on dunes for erosion stabilization, accent, masses, and naturalized areas
Coastal Little Bluestem*
Schizachyrium littorale
  • Warm season perennial
  • Coarse blue-green stems with purplish basal leaves
  • 1-2 ft. tall and wide
  • 3 in. long seed head clusters in the late summer and early fall
  • Grows in clumps
  • High salt tolerance
  • Zones: 4-9
  • Full Sun
  • Water: dry to medium with poor flood tolerance
  • Maintenance: low
  • Does not tolerate large amounts of sand accumulation
  • Use on secondary dunes as erosion stabilization
Saltmeadow Cordgrass*
Spartina patens
  • Warm season perennial
  • ½-1 ft. long, narrow, cylindrical leaves
  • 1-2 ft. tall and spreading
  • Purple flowers with wheat-like seeds on one side of the stalk June-Oct.
  • High salt tolerance
  • Zones: 8b-12
  • Full sun
  • Water: wet to moist
  • Maintenance: low
  • Use for shoreline protection, tidal marsh restoration, dune erosion stabilization
Perennials
Beach Evening Primrose*
Oenothera drummondii
  • Perennial
  • Grey- to blue-green leaves
  • ½ in.-1 ft. tall x 1-2 ft. wide, spreading
  • 3 in. yellow flowers that open for one day April-frost
  • Attracts butterflies and bees
  • High salt tolerance
  • Zones: 8b-11
  • Full sun
  • Water: dry to moist
  • Maintenance: low
  • Use for erosion stabilization, ground covers
Bee balm*
Monarda didyma
  • Perennial
  • Opposite, simple medium to dark green leaves
  • 2-4 ft. tall and 2-3 ft. wide
  • 3-4 in. rounded, tubular, two-lipped scarlet-red flowers July-Aug
  • Attracts hummingbirds and butterflies
  • Moderate salt tolerance
  • Zones: 4-9
  • Full sun to part shade
  • Water: medium
  • Maintenance: medium
  • Use in borders, cottage gardens, native plant gardens, or naturalized planting
Dune Sunflower*
Helianthus debilis
  • Semi-evergreen perennial
  • Long, narrow green leaves
  • 2-4 ft. tall and wide
  • 3 in. composite yellow flowers with brown centers
  • Attracts butterflies
  • High salt tolerance
  • Zones: 8b-10
  • Full sun
  • Water: dry
  • Maintenance: low
  • Use for ground covers, masses, borders
Euryops
Euryops pectinatus ‘Virdis’
  • Evergreen perennial
  • Deeply cut dark green leaves
  • 4-6 ft. tall and wide
  • 1-2 in. daisy-like bright yellow flowers
  • Native of South Africa
  • Attracts butterflies
  • Moderate salt tolerance
  • Zones: 8-11
  • Water: dry to medium
  • Maintenance: medium
  • Keep the old flowers dead-headed to encourage blooming
  • Use in borders, rock gardens, or masses
Lantana ‘Miss Huff’, ‘Mozelle’, ‘Chapel Hill’, Chapel Hill Gold’
Lantana camara
  • Perennial- only the specific named varieties ‘Miss Huff’, ‘Mozelle’, ‘Chapel Hill’, or ‘Chapel Hill Gold’
  • Long oval dark green wrinkled leaves
  • 3-6 ft. tall and wide
  • 2 in. tiny 5-lobed clustered white, yellow, orange, pink mixed flowers
  • Native to Central and South America
  • Attracts butterflies
  • Moderate salt tolerance
  • Zones: 7-11
  • Water: dry to medium
  • Maintenance: low
  • Do not prune the plant after frost. Prune the dead branches in the early spring when the new foliage begins to emerge from the base of the plant
  • Use in borders, rock gardens, or masses
Lavender Cotton
Santolina chamaecyparissus
  • Evergreen perennial
  • Silver-gray aromatic leaves
  • 1-2 ft. tall x 2-3 ft. wide
  • ¾ in. button-like bright yellow flowers in summer
  • Native of the Mediterranean
  • Moderate salt tolerance
  • Zones: 6-9
  • Full sun
  • Water: dry to medium
  • Maintenance: medium
Use in herb or rock gardens, borders, or masses
Lily-of-the-Nile
Agapanthus africanus
  • Tender perennial
  • Long, grass-like leaves
  • 1½-2 ft. tall and wide
  • 18-24 in. clusters of blue or white bell-shaped flowers June-July
  • Native of South Africa
  • Moderate salt tolerance
  • Zones: 8-10
  • Full sun to part shade
  • Water: medium
  • Maintenance: medium
  • Use in containers or pots, borders
Mexican Bush Sage
Salvia leucantha
  • Tender perennial
  • Long lance-shaped grey-green leaves
  • 2-3 ft. tall and wide
  • 10 in. long dense, arching purple and white to solid purple flower spikes Aug-frost
  • Native to Mexico and Central America
  • Attracts butterflies
  • Moderate salt tolerance
  • Zones: 8-10
  • Full sun
  • Water: medium
  • Maintenance: low
  • Use in borders, masses, or in containers
Rosemary
Rosmarinus officinalis
  • Perennial
  • Grey-green linear aromatic leaves
  • 2-6 ft. tall x 2-4 ft. wide
  • Small, two-lipped pale blue to white flowers Jan-April
  • Native to Africa, Europe, western Asia
  • Attracts butterflies and bees
  • Moderate salt tolerance
  • Zones: 8-10
  • Full sun
  • Water: dry to medium
  • Maintenance: medium
Use in herb gardens, borders, foundations, or containers

Seaside Goldenrod*
Solidago sempervirens

  • Perennial
  • Long, thick, leathery, dark green leaves
  • 3-6 ft. tall x 1 ft. wide
  • 6 ft. large, yellow flower spikes Aug-Nov
  • Attracts birds, bees, and butterflies.
  • Important food source for migrating Monarch butterflies
  • High salt tolerance
  • Zones: 3-11
  • Full sun
  • Water: dry to moist
  • Maintenance: low
  • Use in borders, wildflower gardens, masses
Annuals
Blanket Flower or Firewheel*
Gaillardia pulchella
  • Annual or short-lived perennial
  • Oblong greyish-green leaves
  • 1-1 ½ ft. tall x ½-1 ft. wide
  • Daisy-like red, yellow, and brown flowers June-frost
  • Attracts birds and butterflies
  • High salt tolerance
  • Full Sun
  • Water: dry to well drained
  • Maintenance: low
  • For dune establishment, plant seeds and water well until germination
  • Use in borders, masses, naturalizing on dunes
Madagascar Vinca or Periwinkle
Catharanthus roseus
  • Annual
  • Oblong shiny green leaves
  • ½-1 ft. tall and wide
  • 1-2 in. white, pink, purple, lavender, or red flowers late spring to frost
  • Native to Madagascar
  • Moderate salt tolerance
  • Full sun to part shade
  • Water: medium, will rot if kept too wet
  • Maintenance: Low
  • Use as summer color in borders, masses, edging, or containers
Mexican Sunflower
Tithonia rotundifolia
  • Annual
  • Long, simple or lobed dark green leaves
  • 4-6 ft. tall x 2-3 ft. wide
  • 3 in. orange to orange-red sunflowers summer to frost
  • Native to Mexico and Central America
  • Attracts hummingbirds and butterflies
  • Moderate salt tolerance
  • Full Sun
  • Water: dry to medium
  • Maintenance: low
  • Use in border backgrounds or masses
Narrow-leaf Zinnia*
Zinnia angustifolia
  • Annual
  • Narrow medium green leaves
  • ¾-1½ ft. tall x ¾-1 ft. wide
  • 1 in. daisy-like red, orange, yellow, white, or bicolor flowers summer to frost
  • Attracts butterflies
  • Moderate salt tolerance
  • Full sun
  • Water: dry to medium
  • Maintenance: low
  • Use as summer color in beds, edging, masses, or containers
Moss Rose
Portulaca grandiflora
  • Annual
  • Cylindrical, fleshy leaves
  • ¼- ¾ ft. tall x ½-1½ ft. wide
  • 2 in. orange, yellow, red, pink, white, or bicolor flowers summer to frost
  • Flowers will not open on cloudy or rainy days
  • Native to India
  • Moderate salt tolerance
  • Full Sun
  • Water: dry to well-drained
  • Maintenance: low
  • Use for summer color in dry soils, rock gardens, containers, or hanging baskets
Salvia
Salvia splendens
  • Annual
  • Oval dark green leaves
  • 1-2 ft. tall x ¾-1½ ft. wide
  • 2 in. red, lavender, orange, white, or bicolor tubular flowers on spikes late spring to frost
  • Native to Brazil
  • Attracts birds, hummingbirds, and butterflies
  • Moderate salt tolerance
  • Full sun to part shade
  • Water: medium
  • Maintenance: low
  • Use as summer color in beds, borders, and containers
Tropical Lantana
Lantana camara
  • Annual
  • Long oval dark green wrinkled leaves
  • 3-6 ft. tall and wide
  • 2 in. tiny 5-lobed clustered white, yellow, orange, red, lavender, pink or mixed color flowers
  • Native to Central and South America
  • Attracts butterflies
  • Moderate salt tolerance
  • Zones: 10-11
  • Full sun
  • Water: dry to medium
  • Maintenance: low
  • Use as summer color in beds, borders, containers, or hanging baskets

The following websites have more information about regulations regarding landscaping along the coast:

Life Along the Salt Marsh: Protecting Tidal Creeks with Vegetative Buffers
http://www.clemson.edu/extension/hgic/water/resources_stormwater/life_along_the_salt_marsh_protecting_tidal_creeks_with_vegetative_buffers.htmlamp;#160;

Ocean and Coastal Resource Management DHEC Critical Area/Wetlands Permitting Forms
http://www.scdhec.gov/Environment/PermitCentral/ApplicationForms/#Ocrm

SCDNR Sea Oats
http://www.dnr.sc.gov/marine/mrri/acechar/speciesgallery/Plants/SeaOats/index.html

How to build a dune
https://www.scdhec.gov/environment/docs/duneshowto.pdf

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