Alien Iceplants in California’s Half Moon Bay State Beach

July 29, 2021


Photographer: Ray Boren

Summary Author: Ray Boren

Like botanically-based invaders in old science fiction movies (1951’s The Thing from Another World and the meteorite segment of George A. Romero’s Creepshow in 1982, starring horror writer Stephen King himself), pretty but relentless iceplantssucculents native to southern Africa — have been taking over the sandy marine terraces and dunes of California’s long Pacific Coast for more than a century. In the photograph here, taken early on the morning of June 6, 2021, yellow-flowered Carpobrotus edulis (sour fig) iceplants have even managed to find rootholds on the gray-weathered trunk of a long dead tree on Roosevelt Beach, part of the Golden State’s scenic Half Moon Bay State Beach.

The California Department of Fish and Wildlife notes that iceplants, like the sour fig and the pink-to-magenta Carpobrotus chilensis (sea fig), were introduced in the early 1900s as groundcover to help prevent erosion and to stabilize railroad corridors, and later roadsides. Unfortunately, the agency says, the pervasive succulents thrived and spread easily in the familiar, temperate habitats. Although they continue to be used as garden ornamentals, and are still sold at nurseries, the creeping iceplants are now considered invasive in coastal California: Their colorful mats choke out indigenous — and often rare or endangered — plant species. Efforts are under way to remove, or at least stem, the carpet-like succulents in many locations, including along Half Moon Bay’s beautiful 4-mile (6.4-kilometer) stretch of white-sand beaches and the community’s paved bluff-top California Coastal Trail.

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