Jockey's Ridge State Park
Nags Head, North Carolina Photos by Ray Matthews
Park Info
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The 3 Ecosystems of Jockey's Ridge

Jockey's Ridge is the tallest active sand dune system in the Eastern United States, and the most striking of the remaining dunes on the Outer Banks. Shifting winds are constantly reshaping the dunes. Because the Ridge is always changing, it is often referred to as "The Living Dune."

Jockey's Ridge encompasses three distinct ecological environments: Dunes, Maritime Thicket, and the Roanoke Sound Estuary.

The Dunes

The dunes consist of three peaks and are an example of a Medaño, shifting sand that lacks vegetation. No plants or animals make their home on the dune due to the harsh conditions here.

The area around the base of the dunes hosts a variety of grasses and small plants. One such plant is the American Beach Grass which anchors itself in the sand with help from its 40-foot long root system. The grasses create habitats for small animals and insects. Heavy rains sometimes create temporary pools (below) around the base of the dunes, providing wildlife with fresh water.

Sand Facts
The amount of sand making up the 420 acres of Jockey's Ridge is equal to about 6,000,000 dump truck loads!
The Sand is mostly quartz rock which came from the mountains millions of years ago.

The dunes never blow away because Northeast and Southwest winds blow the sand back and forth.

Maritime ThicketThe Maritime Thicket

The maritime thicket of live oaks, persimmons, red cedar, wax myrtle, bayberry, sweet gum, red oaks, and pines grows best in areas protected by the large dune. The height of the dune provides protection from both wind and salt blown off the ocean. The effects of the wind and salt stunts the growth of trees, causing them to look like shrubs. Larger animals such as foxes, deer, and raccoon find protection in this environment.

Roanoke Sound

The Roanoke Sound Estuary

The Roanoke Sound Estuary is a rich habitat for a variety of plant, animal and bird life. Cattails, sawgrass, giant cordgrass and black needlerush provide habitats for many waterfowl and serve as fish nurseries. The sound is also home to the Blue Crab, an important commercial fisheries industry in North Carolina.


Prickly Pear Cactus
Prickley Pear Cactus
Live Oak
Live Oak
American Beach Grass
American Beach Grass

Trumpet Creeper
Trumpet Creeper

Also look for: Persimmon, Black Cherry, Honeysuckle, Toad-flax, Swamp Rose Mallow, Pennywort, Wild Lettuce, Yucca, Yaupon, Wax Myrtle, Bayberry, Loblolly Pine, and others. A complete list is available at the park office.

The Friends of Jockey’s Ridge State Park
Ray Matthews Photos © Ray Matthews