On a trip to the ocean, I wade through a thick reddish-green mat of rubbery plants to get to the beach. The ankle-high leaves are spiky and break off under my feet with a crunch. Large yellow flowers are scattered across this green carpet, each with hundreds of skinny petals surrounding a nest of pollen-dusted stamens. This is Carpobrotus edulis, one of several kinds of iceplant in the area. None are native.
The fruit of Carpobrotus edulis, as its name suggests, was traditionally eaten back in its original territory of South Africa. It was deliberately brought to California, planted to bind coastal soils together and help stop erosion. It does seem to be successful at that job – you can see it growing on beaches and even in colorful tapestries drooping over the edge of cliffs. However, it’s another good intention gone wrong since it has turned out to be highly invasive; an “ecological bulldozer,” along the lines of broom, that wreaks havoc on the delicate dune ecosystem. All the species of ice plant look at least somewhat similar, though not all of them are closely related (there are five species in four different genera, with the two types of Carpobrotus being the most common around here, as far as I can tell).