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Carpobrotus edulis

Carpobrotus edulis
Carpobrotus edulis

An unintentional coda to the series on African plants, today's photographs supplement some of the comments made on the Delosperma cooperi entry regarding the iceplant that is well-known in California. In an illustration of why common names are not perfect, Carpobrotus edulis is also known commonly as iceplant, and it is this species (along with its close relative Carpobrotus chilensis and the hybrid between the two) that Californians will likely know under that moniker.

These photographs were taken along the Point Reyes National Seashore in mid-March of 2006, so it was too early in the year to observe a mass of blossoms. Of the plants in bloom, though, about half were the pink-magenta colouration shown in today's photo, while the other half were the light-yellow colouration also representative of the species. Both colour variations can be seen in the CalPhotos database. Note, also, the strong resemblance of Carpobrotus chilensis to the pink-magenta flowered Carpobrotus edulis type – my identification of the plants in today's photographs may be off (but I think I've sussed out the ID via the Jepson manual: Carpobrotus edulis and Carpobrotus chilensis).

Wikipedia provides a good summary of the use in roadside stabilization (and subsequent invasiveness) of this South African native in California: see Carpobrotus edulis. Little mention is made of the species outside of California, but perhaps that's because it seems the Wikipedia article draws heavily on this detailed factsheet on invasive plants in California. Plantzafrica, once again, provides an account of this species in Africa, where it is known as sour fig.

18 Comments

It may be an urban myth but When I first moved to Northern California I was told that one of the reason that iceplant was so popular along highways in CA was that when cars go out of control their tires get no traction and just spin on the shredding plant so they slow and stop.

usda has this plant growing in florida
daves garden has information also
thank you daniel

flower and sea my passions many, many tanks Daniel

Stan, I think the major reason it's planted there is for its outstanding fire control qualities; burning cigarette butts don't stand a chance when they hit a patch of iceplant, and it can stick to steep slopes. Exactly the same quality that makes it invasive, unfortunately.

Forgot to add:

You actually WANT out-of-control cars to meet surface resistance when they go off the road; it makes them stop sooner. They would skid further on shredding iceplant than on, say, gravel.

Driving north on US 101 in southern and central Marin county there are huge fields of this plant visible from the road. When they bloom it's the most arresting sight you've ever seen. Waves and oceans of hot pink.

The only thing that comes close are the fields of Lupinus in central Texas, aka Bluebonnets.

Carpobrotus edulis - Z8 - RHS Index of Garden Plants, Griffiths
Carpobrotus edulis - minimum 7 degrees C/45 degrees F. A-Z Encyclopedia of Garden Plants, Brickell, Cole, Zuk
Carpobrotus - kar-po-bro-tus. From Gk, karpos [a fruit] and brotus [edible] referring to the edible fruit. edulis e-dew-lis. Edible [the fruit]. Dictionary of Plant Names, Coombes.

I worked in Pt. Reyes with the Park for a number of years, and if I learned anything, it was to never sit on a blanket of iceplant -- it stains!!

Today's Photograph is of much interest to me. My son and family have gone there many times and my granddaughter loves the pink flowers. I am also glad to learn where it came from orginally and each day I learn more and more.
Thank you,
Margaret-Rae

Having grown up literally rolling in this stuff (yes, it does stain) here in SoCal, I have a few comments:
First, and sorry Daniel, that is one of the sorriest flowers I've ever seen on this plant.
Second, I 2nd (or 3rd...) the motion about the sight of large expanses of this in bloom. Truely eye-dazzling.
Third, another common name is sea fig (though I understand this is more properly applied to C. chilensis).
Fourth, there is (or was) another plant locally (N coastal San Diego County) that grew on the sea bluffs that we also called "iceplant". Unfortunately, I haven't seen any in the years since I became botanically literate, so I haven't a clue what it was. I always thought that it was much more deserving of the name "iceplant" as the entire surface of the plant appeared to be covered in tiny crystals that would sparkle in the sun. About all I can recall is that the leaves were chordate and 3-4" long and slightly less wide. I also have a vague memory that it was related to spinach and/or could be eaten (cooked) like spinach. If anybody has the least idea what this may have been, please chime in.
Fifth... well, there really isn't one, other than to say that C. edulis was a lot of fun to play with as a kid: tumbling down the banks covered in it, or taking lengths of it, twirling it around, and letting it fly (usually towards another similarly armed individual).

There's a plant similar to this which I believe has varieties Pacific-wide, which is vigorous on the northern coastlines of New Zealand. Its flowers change colour as they age, from yellowish to pink. It isn't the same as the native Disphyma australe which is smaller flowered. I don't know why, but although the common name for both is also iceplant, the popular name for the invader is Pigface ...

To be fair to me, Eric, I did note that it was in mid-March re: the flower's condition – not ideal conditions, and not generally something I'd use for BPotD, but I wanted to clear up the misconception and happened to have a photograph.

Carpobrotus edulis is also an invasive plant in Portugal.

So that's what that's called! Thanks for the info.

This plant gave me and my friends at lot of entertainment when we were kids. The broken off leaves can be squeezed to create a mini-squirt gun.
We slid down steep slopes of ice plant in cardboard boxes. The more we slid on a path the slicker it got, and of course we were constantly throwing the "figs" at one another.

Re: Pigface
Strangely I posted a Disphyma shot on my Flickr stream and a discussion developed on why the plants are called pigface.
As far as I can see this is derived from Carpobrotus but I can't find any reason why. Does anyone have an idea where this name might come from?

On the island of Syros, in the Greek Cyclades, where I live, this is an invasive plant also. However, it is appreciated by some because it creates greenery without any need to water, a blessing in this nearly rainless environment.

Where in New Zealand can I get some of these beuatifull plants??

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