Groundcover Wednesdays: Golden Creeper
Week 4: Golden Creeper
Among the fair criticisms of our national organization is that much of our information is geared for the northern part of the country. As the SafeLawns founder, I have traveled North America extensively, from the Florida Keys, to the Hawaiian Islands and most of the provinces of Canada. But as someone who has resided in Maine for 49 years, the cold-weather plants have become part of my fiber.
It’s our goal here, though, to be fair to everyone and to represent all corners of North America. So in honor of the late Rodger Keller, a retired botanist from Michigan, who spent the last years of his life in Key West, I’m going to focus this edition of Groundcover Wednesdays on a plant that only grows in the very warmest regions of our nation — where winter temperatures usually never dip below 40 degrees.
Rodger introduced me to this plant, golden creeper, when we filmed our television show, People, Places & Plants in the Keys back in 2006. I asked him for the absolute toughest groundcover that he knew of it without hesitation he offered up this one. Native to beach areas, this plant has small, light green leaves on red stems. That’s really all you need to know when you come from a place like Maine, which really has no similar plant. Golden creeper has flowers and attractive golden berries, from which it gets its common name, but it’s really the stems of plants that turn heads.
Here’s a rundown:
Botanical name: Ernodea littoralis
It does not appear to be widely available in the national trade, but Florida garden centers carry the plant and it can be purchased from www.plantcreations.com.
Plant Characteristics: If you have areas of thin, sandy soil, this is your plant. Appearing more like a perennial, but technically a shrub, it will also grow in heavy clay soils, gravelly soils and just about everything in between. It can bake in the heat and take full sun and, although it is suited for dry landscapes away from the coast, golden creeper is most noted for its ability to tolerate salt spray and reduce beach erosion. Don’t overwater, or the foliage may die back.
Foliage Characteristics: The almost delicate inch-long light green leaves might appear frail, but this plan is tough throughout the year when grown in its proper climate. Because it is a subtropical plant, the foliage won’t change throughout the year. If the overall plant appears too leggy for your taste, it can be whacked back with a scythe or hedge trimmer.
Flower Characteristics: The flowers range from white to pink, but are relatively inconspicuous. The plant will flower year-round; if you cut the stems and trim back some of the foliage, the flowers work well for cutting. They also attract all sorts of native insects.
Fruit: One of the alternative common names for this plant is miniature pomegranate due to the tiny fruits that are shaped like, well, pomegranates. They taste more like apples, though, if my memory serves.
USDA Hardiness Zone: 10-11
Light Range: Part Shade to Full Sun
pH Range: 5.5 to 7.5
Origin: South Florida
Soil Range: Mostly sand to clay loam, but prefers thinner soils.
Foot Traffic: Golden creeper can serve as a grass substitute on lawns, but it’s not something that you’d plant where you walk every day. Just know you won’t hurt at all if you chase your dog through it.
General Comments: you score major points with naturalists when you consciously include golden creeper in landscape. There’s just no way to lose with a native plant that is tough, flowers year-round, produces edible fruit and requires almost no maintenance.