Much of San Francisco was once covered in sand dunes. Golden Gate Park is located on what once was part of the largest inland-reaching sand dune ecosystem in the western hemisphere. The dunes stretched for seven miles from Ocean Beach to what is now the Financial District. Most of these dunes are now gone, although about 2 square miles of underwater sand dunes remain just west of the Golden Gate.
Dune plants commonly have small, waxy or succulent leaves, allowing them to survive in dry, nutrient–poor sand while being battered by wind and salt spray. Common native plant species include dune strawberry, beach burr and yellow sand verbena.
The coastal strand is the dune community that takes the frontal blast and is most subject to salt spray. Some dune plants, such as the rare Lessingia germanorum, benefit from the movement of the sand. Behind the coastal strand are the foredunes, usually more stabilized and supporting some perennial vegetation.
The largest remaining sand dune field can be found at Fort Funston, where the dunes can reach the height of 200 feet. Fort Funston is also home to a colony of bank swallows, a state threatened bird species that nest in the cliffs above the ocean
In the late 1800s and early 1900s European beachgrass and iceplant were widely introduced to control erosion and stabilize sand dunes. Unfortunately, that stabilization prevents the natural movement of sand and facilitates the loss of the indigenous dune community.
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