In Southern California the notion of a groundcover plant is practically synonymous with ice plant, not a single species but a group of spreading succulents that hail from South Africa. These plants were traditionally chosen for fast soil stabilization on open slopes.
However, these shallowly rooted plants are actually poor at preventing erosion and often require regular water to thrive and remain attractive. In heavy rains ice plant can even pull down entire hillsides when their water weight becomes too much for the shallow roots to support.
There are many drought-tolerant native alternatives to ice plant that are more deeply rooted and have superior aesthetic character. One of the best is the dwarf or prostrate gum plant.
Covered in beautiful yellow daisies in mid-spring, this evergreen groundcover thrives inland with low supplemental water and with almost no water when planted close to the coast.
Prostrate gum plant stays under six inches high but spreads up to six feet around, giving you a big bang for your buck. Why use a groundcover cliché from Africa when we have a native plant that not only saves your money but provides a unique aesthetic beauty to distinguish your garden from every freeway overpass and corporate hillside?
Clayton Tschudy is an ecological landscape designer and the assistant manager of Las Pilitas Native Plant Nursery in Escondido.