Visiting coastal California, you can't miss iceplant (Carprobrotus edulis). It grows in big patchs of pointy green fingers, covering the ground in a monoculture. Probably every visitor and resident in California gets to know it. In 1970, I was a new graduate student taking a Genetic Ecology course at the University of California, Berkeley, from Herbert Baker. He assigned a research paper about a plant. I had no idea what I was doing. I saw iceplant and chose that for my project.
|highway iceplant, Carprobrotus edulis|
So I go way back with iceplant. Iceplant is from South Africa. It was brought to California a hundred years ago and widely planted to stop erosion. It did that pretty well, and was an easy, low maintenance plant, so roads departments and parks, and people generally, planted it all over the place. In 1970 it was very widespread and people were just starting to wonder if that was good thing.
|Iceplant on the Berkely campus 1970|
So who is this invader?
Iceplant a member of the Aizoaceae, a plant family with most of its members in South Africa, a few scattered along the coasts of the Southern Hemisphere. It is succulent; the thick leaves are very water-retentive. The leaves are three-sided, 4-5 inches long, spear-like, and rough (serrate) along the ridge of the leaf. It has round, many-petaled flowers in yellow, white, pink and hot magenta. It was flowering in April, and visited by numerous bees.
|flowers of highway iceplant, Carpobrotus edulis|
|Leaves of highway iceplant, Carpobrotus edulis|
The name Carpobrotus means edible fruit (karpos Greek for fruit and brotus meaning edible). The species epithet, edulis, means edible also (in Latin).
|highway iceplant, Carpobrotus edulis|
Highway iceplant is a pretty plant and might have been nice as an accent in a rock garden. But having been planted on highways and dunes throughout California, it turned out that despite looking like a well-mannered succulent, it has characteristics--easy dispersal, drought-tolerance, competing well against other plants--that make a highly successful invader. As the Pacific Grove flier urges, don't help it spread.
Comments and corrections welcome.
Cal-IPC Carpobrotus edulis link (Accessed 4/26/22)
d'Antonio, C. M. 1990. Seed production and dispersal in the non-native, invasive succulent Carpobrotus edulis (Aizoaceae) in coastal strand communities of central California. Journal of Applied Ecology. 27: 693-702.
Stearns, W. T. 1996. Dictionary of Plant Names for Gardeners. Cassell Publishers. London.