A Flower of the Salish Sea

Anemones are predatory sea animals named after land-based flowering plants of the buttercup family. They really do look like flowers! Some can move around, most remain anchored in one place, others float near the surface. Often, anemones line rocks, waving their stinging tentacles in search of passing prey. Many are solitary, but some form groups, like a garden in spring. The stubby rose anemone has carved out a life of being mostly buried in sand and gravel, often with only its short tentacles exposed, looking like a 4-inch wide red or pink pin cushion. Anemones often live in close association with small crabs, fish, or other animals to their mutual benefit, each helping the others is subtle ways.

When we describe something as an animal, we usually think of cats or bats, deer or mice, but anemones really are animals. Muscles and nerves, stomach and mouth, arms and a column for a body — they’re like other animals in many ways. But anemones also have a few things most animals don’t have, like stinging tentacles. The tentacles are armed with special cells that are defensive and also used to subdue prey. A tiny trigger hair, when brushed, sets off a harpoon that injects a lethal dose of toxin into the victim. Sometimes it’s another anemone and the battle can leave both injured. On a low tide, you can find these interesting animals, in gravelly sand, looking decidedly stressed they await incoming water to let it bloom again. Their stubby rose-colored arms are good descriptors, but there are also dozens of other anemones in the Salish Sea. Scientists have only recently discovered that the stubby rose lives here, too!

Artist’s View – Secrets of the Salish Sea is a monthly column by Port Townsend-based artist and sailor, Larry Eifert. It often appears in our print magazine, and some months (as is the case in October) it is only available in digital format here at 48north.com.