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Finding ways to anchor dunes, Naples Botanical Garden looks at how different plants grow and survive

Helping dunes stand as protective sentinels along the Southwest Florida coast is more than just plopping plants in the sand.

Each week, a team of conservationists led by Naples Botanical Garden visits Collier County beaches to collect seeds and cuttings from shoreline plants that, eventually, will yield hundreds of thousands of plants needed to restore the coast.

On a recent Tuesday, they were joined by the Collier Community Foundation, the project’s primary funder. Lindsey Touchette, the Foundation’s vice president of community engagement, knelt in a windswept strip of Keewaydin Island and dug into a patch of grass.

“It doesn’t want to come out,” she said. Giving her a hand, a conservationist from Naples Botanical Garden offered her a weeding knife, and she twisted it into the soil until a clump of grass let loose.

Chad Washburn, the Garden’s vice president of conservation, looked over her shoulder and remarked, “We may need 50,000 of this plant.”

That didn't mean Touchette — or anyone else on the joint Garden/Foundation venture — had to spend the day unearthing endless bundles of saltmeadow cordgrass (Sporobolus pumilus). The conservationists will take a few handfuls of grass, return to the botanical garden and multiply it.