The Invasion of Ice Plant: A Threat to California’s Dune Ecosystems

Imagine driving along the picturesque California Coast, with bright green carpets stretching wide next to the glistening ocean. Splashes of hot pink, yellow, and purple catch your eye as vibrant flowers bloom. It’s a sight to behold, but little do you know, these seemingly beautiful plants are wreaking havoc on our precious dune ecosystems.

Welcome to the world of Carpobrotus, commonly known as ice plant. This plant has become an extensive weed in our dunes, making its presence felt in many of our parks and even on cliff edges. Up close, you’ll notice succulent leaves that reach for the sky like miniature columns. Unlike traditional bush-like growth, ice plant prefers to sprawl low to the ground, with intertwined branches forming large mats.

You might wonder, if ice plant thrives in California and adds beauty to our dunes, why is it considered a problem? After all, if you’ve read my previous blog post, you know how challenging it is for plants to survive in dunes. Shouldn’t we be grateful that something is growing there? Unfortunately, the truth is far more complex.

Ice plant is not native to California; it originates from South Africa and was brought here in the early 1900s. Initially used to stabilize soil along railroad tracks, it has now invaded our dune plant communities. In areas where a diverse range of up to 10 native species could have thrived, ice plant reigns supreme. This dominance severely reduces the diversity of our dunes and jeopardizes the survival of native plants already struggling to find suitable habitats.

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Ironically, ice plant’s role in stabilizing soil is questionable. Despite its reputation, its shallow roots and intertwining branches actually make it quite heavy. Consequently, large mats of ice plant detach from steep surfaces, carrying away essential nutrients and topsoil. This threatens not only the delicate balance of our dune ecosystems but also the overall health of our coastline.

Removing ice plant is a monumental task. As with any invasive species, there are various control methods, including biological, manual or mechanical, and chemical approaches. Unfortunately, there is currently no biocontrol agent capable of eliminating ice plant, and burning it is ineffective due to its high water content.

The most effective means of eradication involve manual or mechanical removal, which entails pulling and completely removing the plant from the affected area. Every segment of the plant has the potential to regenerate, so meticulous debris removal is essential. Additionally, chemical control using herbicides like glyphosate has shown some promise; however, caution must be exercised when using chemicals near native vegetation and water sources.

Regardless of the approach, combating ice plant requires years of monitoring and follow-up removal to ensure complete eradication. The battle has already begun, but there is still a long road ahead. Through collaborative efforts, we can strive to restore the natural beauty of our native dunes.

Ice Plant

Together, let’s reclaim our precious dune ecosystems from the invasive grasp of ice plant. Visit Ames Farm Center to learn more about how you can contribute to this important cause.