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Point Reyes bird's-beak (Cordylanthus maritimus ssp. palustris)

Cordylanthus maritimus ssp. palustris flowers

Cordylanthus maritimus ssp. palustris plants

Cordylanthus maritimus ssp. palustris habitat
Flowers (left), habit (center), and habitat (right) of Point Reyes bird’s-beak. Photos by Melissa Carr. If downloading images from this website, please credit the photographer.


Taxonomic notes
Synonym: Chloropyron maritimum ssp. palustre*
*Revised classification by Tank et al. (2009) based on recent molecular research of subtribe Castillejinae (Orobanchaceae).
This taxon was formerly included within the Scrophulariaceae.

Plant description
Point Reyes bird’s-beak is a halophytic annual 10-20 (-30) cm tall, simple or sparingly branched with ascending lateral branches equal to or shorter than the central spike. The herbage is grayish green to glaucous, often purplish tinged, and villous to glabrescent. Leaves are oblong to oblong-lanceolate, 1-2.5 cm long and 0.3-0.7 cm wide, with a blunt to pointed apex. Flowers are arranged in dense spikes with oblong floral bracts bearing a pair of short teeth near the apex. The corolla is 1.8-2.5 cm long, the lower lip and pouch suffused with pinkish to purplish red, the galea pale cream to white. Capsules produce 10-20 seeds that are 0.2-0.3 cm long.

Distinguishing characteristics
Point Reyes bird’s-beak shares the same coastal salt marsh habitat as Cordylanthus maritimus ssp. maritimus (Chloropyron maritimum ssp. maritimum), but the two taxa are geographically separated by over 100 air miles (160 km), with the latter species restricted to southern California. Point Reyes bird’s beak is distinguished from C. m. ssp. maritimus by its simple or few-branched stem with branches equal to or shorter than the central spike, by its larger, broader leaves, denser and somewhat broader spikes, and larger bracts and flowers. Another subspecies, ssp. canescens, is a widespread species of the Great Basin associated with alkaline lakes and hot springs.

When to survey
Surveys for Point Reyes bird’s-beak should be conducted when the species is flowering, from June to October.

Point Reye’s bird’s-beak inhabits the upper end of maritime salt marshes at approximately 2.3-2.6 m (7.5-8.5 ft) above Mean Lower Low Water (MLLW, the mean height of water at the lowest of the daily low tides), in sandy substrates with soil salinity 34-55 ppt, and less than 30% bare soil in summer.
Point Reyes bird’s-beak is a hemiparasite, forming root connections with host plants from which it derives some of its resources. Point Reyes bird’s-beak is not host-specific, but standard hosts for the species probably include Salicornia virginica, Jaumea carnosa, Distichlis spicata, Limonium californicum, and Deschampsia cespitosa. Other associated species are Cuscuta salina, Plantago maritima, Hordeum jubatum, Juncus gerardii, Castilleja ambigua var. ambigua, Spergularia macrotheca, S. canadensis, Atriplex patula, Carex lyngbyei, and Glaux maritima.

Point Reyes bird’s-beak occurs along the Pacific Coast from Tillamook County in Oregon, south to Santa Clara County, California. In Oregon, the species is restricted to Netarts Bay, Yaquina Bay, and Coos Bay, with the majority of known occurrences located in Coos Bay.

Oregon counties
Coos, Lincoln, Tillamook

Federal status
Species of Concern

The primary threat to Point Reyes bird’s-beak is habitat loss due to development. The species is also threatened by off-road vehicle use, water pollution, and habitat alteration due to invasion by non-native Spartina densiflora.

Did you know?
Research indicates that Point Reyes bird’s-beak and other hemiparasites help reduce the abundance of competitive dominant plants, promote plant species diversity, and reduce root zone salinity stress in salt marsh communities.

Chuang, T. I. and L. R. Heckard. 1973. Taxonomy of Cordylanthus subgenus Hemistegia (Scrophulariaceae). Brittonia 25:135-158.
Clifford, P. M. 2002. Dense-flowered cordgrass (Spartina densiflora) in Humboldt Bay, summary and literature review. California State Coastal Conservancy, Oakland, California.
Grewell, B. J. 2008. Hemiparasites generate environmental heterogeneity and enhance species coexistence in salt marshes. Ecological Applications 18:1297-1306.
Kaye, T. 1992. Population monitoring for salt marsh bird’s beak, Cordylanthus maritimus ssp. palustris, Second year summary. Unpublished report for the Bureau of Land Management, Coos Bay District, Coos Bay, Oregon. Oregon Department of Agriculture, Salem, Oregon. 33 pp.
Meinke, R.J. 1982. Threatened and endangered vascular plants of Oregon: An illustrated guide. Unpublished report for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Region 1, Portland, Oregon. Oregon Department of Agriculture, Salem, Oregon.
ORNHIC (Oregon Natural Heritage Information Center). 2007. Rare, threatened and endangered species of Oregon. Oregon Natural Heritage Information Center, Oregon State University, Portland, Oregon.
ORNHIC (Oregon Natural Heritage Information Center). 2010. ORNHIC element occurrence database. Portland, Oregon.
Rittenhouse, B. 1999. Status of salt marsh bird’s-beak (Cordylanthus maritimus ssp. palustris) in the Coos Bay Estuary. Bureau of Land Management, Coos Bay District, Coos Bay, Oregon. 10+ pp.
Tank, D.C., J. M. Egger, and R. G. Olmstead. 2009. Phylogenetic classification of subtribe Castillejinae (Orobanchaceae). Systematic Botany 34:182-197.