Growing Hottentot Fig Flowers: Information About Hottentot Fig Ice Plant
By: Bonnie L. Grant, Certified Urban Agriculturist
I have seen hottentot fig ice plants spilling out of hanging containers, draped over rockeries, and delicately placed as ground cover. This super easy-to-grow plant has an invasive potential in areas such as Southern California where is it a coastal weed. In most gardens, however, the plant can be kept under control with little effort and hottentot fig flowers are a cheery, early-season treat.
Is Hottentot Fig Invasive?
The hottentot fig ice plant (Carpobrotus edulis) was introduced from South Africa to California as a ground stabilizing plant. The spreading roots and ground cover nature of the ice plant helped halt erosion on California’s coastal dunes. However, the plant became so naturalized that it is now classified as a weed and requires careful management to prevent it from taking over native plant habitats.
The hottentot fig flowers do not turn into any verifiable fruit and it’s not related to the fig tree, so the reason for the “fig” in the name is not clear. What is clear is that the plant grows so easily and well in its new region that growing hottentot fig in USDA plant hardiness zones 9 to 11 is such a snap that it bears some consideration when used in wild erosion control.
Hottentot Fig Cultivation
Stem cutting is the fastest way to propagate this fast-growing plant. Seeds are also available and you may start them indoors at least six weeks before the date of the last frost. Hottentot fig is a perennial plant in its chosen zones but also thrives as an annual in colder areas. The best temperature range for the succulent is between 40 and 100 F. (4 to 38 C.), but some protection from the sun’s scorching rays may be required in the higher temperature ranges.
Growing hottentot fig in planters prevents it from spreading in those areas where that is a concern. Freezing temperatures may cause the plant to die back, but it will resprout in spring in a temperate area.
An important part of hottentot fig cultivation in areas where it is a problem plant is cutting back the plant in fall. This will keep it in a moderate habit, allows new leaves to burst forth, and prevents seeds from forming.
Hottentot Fig Care
Ice plants are notoriously un-fussy. As long as their soil drains well, the soil is allowed to dry out between watering and the plant receives pinching or pruning to keep it in shape, there is little more to be done.
The only serious threats to the plant’s health are spittle bugs and some root rots and stem rots. You can avoid the rot by minimizing overhead watering during periods in which the plant will not dry off before nightfall. The bugs will remove themselves if you spray the plant with a horticultural soap.
Growing hottentot figs in containers are ideal, and you can overwinter them in temperate regions. Just bring the pot in and water it deeply. Cut back the plant and let it dry out and languish for the winter in a warm location. In March, resume regular watering and move the plant to a full light situation where it has some protection from burning rays. Gradually reintroduce the plant to temperatures outdoors until it can tolerate a full day outside.
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Learn About Hottentot Fig Cultivation And Is Hottentot Fig Invasive - garden
If you’re familiar with the ice plants (Delosperma spp.), chances are you’ll have no trouble recognizing the Hottentot-fig as a relative. These plants are members of the same family, Aizoaceae.
In the U.S., this species is most commonly grown in areas with warm, sub-tropical conditions, such as south and central Florida, and California. It has been introduced to other countries as well, and in various areas of the world it has become naturalized.
Though Hottentot-fig is primarily most useful as an outdoor plant, it can also be grown as a container plant. For that purpose, its spreading stems spill down the edges of the pot. Regardless of how you use it, this species needs full sun.
Originally native to South Africa, Hottentot-fig is common in the Karoo Desert and on the Cape Peninsula. In nature, both yellow and purple flowering varieties can be found.
Hottentot-fig is named for its fruit-like capsules, which happen to be edible. Their edibility is expressed in its Latin name (Carpobrotus edulis). Any plant with the word edulis in its name is edible.
Due to its creeping, wide-spreading stems, this plant is a favorite for use as a ground cover on sandy shores. It is especially recommended for areas receiving salt spray. Hottentot-fig is only about six inches in height. The branches can be three feet or more in length. The long, fleshy, green leaves are triangular, and occur in clusters along the length of the stems.
Hottentot-fig has particularly beautiful, glistening, silky blossoms. Over four inches wide, these are particularly showy. As the blooms age, they usually turn to orangish-pink. The plant is most attractive when it is in bloom, which is mostly during the summer months.
Like most succulents, this species requires a sandy, well drained soil. Rich soils aren’t recommended.
Hottentot-fig is very easy to propagate from cuttings. In addition, the plants can also be divided.
So far as its landscape use is concerned, it is best to use this with extreme caution. With its tendency to spread and become naturalized, there is a strong possibility it will get out of control. In other words, it can become invasive. If you must use it, do so sparingly. The best solution is to restrict its use to container gardens where it won’t have a chance to spread.
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Planting Slopes and Hillsides: Gardening at an Angle
Many San Diego subdivisions are cut into hillsides and out of hillsides, thanks to our wacky topography and policy of building on every inch of usable space. That leaves homeowners to deal with pretty challenging slopes and the baffling issue of how to plant a hillside.
Most people think “groundcover” when it comes to a hillside. But have you ever seen a mountain covered in groundcover? Nature doesn’t do that and neither should we.
Slopes and hillsides are simply gardens at an angle. You have to choose the right plants and avoid over irrigating, but it’s not that difficult.
One of the biggest issues is how to keep hillsides from eroding and from washing away. The best plants for the job are ones that make deep roots to stabilize the soil, yet require very little irrigation. Native trees and shrubs are ideal: California lilac, toyon, oak trees, and sugar bush are good examples. Include Romneya coulteri, the giant Matilija poppy. This six foot tall perennial is known as the “fried egg plant” for its round, white crepe papery flower with a yolk-yellow center. Underground, it forms a vast network of creeping roots. California natives also create habitat for birds and other wildlife.
Shrubs and trees from other Mediterranean climates work well too. On garden tours I lead in these regions, I marvel at how similar the native habitats appear to ours, yet are entirely different plants. In Italy, for example, the macchia (also called maquis) is the equivalent of our chaparral. Plants like rockrose (Cistus), cork oaks (Quercus suber), rosemary, carob (Ceratonia siliqua), and bay (Laurus nobilis) grow wild there. All are excellent choices for hillside gardens too.
Plant succulents and other shallow rooted plants around and under these plants, but as accents rather than for structure and stability. Sprinkle in some California poppy seeds and you’ll have a lovely springtime display.
Avoid Eucalyptus and other trees and shrubs with shallow roots and brittle branches. As we see whenever storms hit, these plants are among the first casualties.
Don’t plant ice plant, especially Hottentot fig (Carpobrotus edulis). This spreading succulent is many people’s choice for covering vast slopes. However, the plants grow new succulent blades over top the old dead, brown, blades and stems. Eventually, the mass grows so heavy that it slides, taking the slope down with it. In addition, Hottentot fig is an invasive plant.
A single, uniform planting of one plant across an entire slope is never successful. It is simply impossible to maintain an even, uniform look. Over time, a plant dies here and there, gophers burrow up from below, and weeds blow in. Our eyes focus on the flaws. It simply looks crummy.
- Choose deep-rooted woody shrubs and trees with low-water needs, suited to your garden’s microclimate. Use trees for structure, shrubs for substance, succulents and spreaders to fill the spaces between.
- Group plants in sweeps of threes, fives, or sevens to create a beautiful, undulating mosaic. Don’t alternate plants in a hopscotch pattern.
- Irrigate slopes with in-line drip irrigation. Overhead spray can worsen runoff and erosion. The County of San Diego Landscape Design Manual mandates that any slope greater than 25 percent (one foot elevation change for every four level feet) be irrigated at a precipitation rate of no more than .75 inches per hour. Drip is the most direct way to achieve that slow rate.
- Top the soil and cover the irrigation with a thick layer of woody mulch.
Hottentot Figs, Carpobrotus edulis, on the west cost of Portugal, May. Photo: Paul Kirtley.
The Hottentot Fig, Carpobrotus edulis is a southern African plant. Introduced to Europe, the plant can be found entirely naturalised in some coastal habitats, particularly sea cliffs and sand-dunes. The plant tends be quite invasive, spreading and forming continuous mats over large areas. In the UK, the plant is found mainly in the south west on the coastline of counties such as Devon and Cornwall but can also be found as far north as Anglesey.
Hottentot Figs, Carpobrotus edulis tend to form continuous mats. Portugal, May. Photo: Paul Kirtley.
The striking flowers, which appear between May and September, resemble the composite flowers found on members of the family asteraceae such as dandelions or thistles. The pink or yellow flowers of the hottentot fig are true flowers, however, not composites. The flowers are quite large – up to 10 cm (4 inches) in diameter.
The leaves are like firm and fleshy like succulent plant species (such as aloes). They are 6-10cm (2.5-4 inches) long and 3-sided. The leaves also have a triangular cross-section.
Hottentot Fig, Carpobrotus edulis, flowers and leaves. Photo: Paul Kirtley.
The fruits resemble figs and are edible. It is not only the outward appearance that is fig-like inside the hottentot fig is sticky and has many seeds. When ripe the hottentot fig is a little sweet but also salty, reflecting its seaside habitat. To eat the fruit, bite or cut off the end and suck out the pulpy inner flesh.
The plant is also reported to have various medicinal properties (which I have not tried). Juice from the leaves has been used to staunch bleeding and is said to speed the healing of wounds. The juice seems to have antiseptic qualities, having been used for mouthwash and gargling for sore throats. The juice has also been employed to calm itching – from insect bites to eczema.
Best Practice while Foraging
Please read the BSBI’s Code of Conduct for the Conservation and Enjoyment of Wild Plants for guidance on the best practice (and UK laws) relating to foraging for wild plant foods.
This article is meant only as a guide and is largely a record of my recent forages. It is not a complete treatment of all edible plants that might be available. Nor does it provide a complete treatment of all poisonous plants that may also be present in the habitat where you find the above-mentioned plants. If you want to learn more about plant identification you should invest in some good field guides. The safest way to learn about edible wild plants is for someone who already has the knowledge to show you in person. Any foraging you do on your own is at your own risk.
The most important thing to remember when identifying wild foods is:
IF IN DOUBT, LEAVE IT OUT!
Recommended Books for Further Reading:
Related Articles on Paul Kirtley’s Blog:
In several parts of the world, notably Australia, California and the Mediterranean, all of which share a similar climate, the Ice Plant has escaped from cultivation and has become an invasive species. The Ice Plant poses a serious ecological problem, forming vast monospecific zones, lowering biodiversity, and competing directly with several threatened or endangered plant species for nutrients, water, light, and space (State Resources Agency 1990).
In the early 1900s C. edulis was brought to California from South Africa to stabilize soil along railroad tracks and was later put to use by Caltrans for similar purposes. Thousands of acres were planted in California until the 1970s. It easily spreads by seed (hundreds per fruit) and from segmentation (any shoot segment can produce roots). Its succulent foliage, bright magenta or yellow flowers, and resistance to some harsh coastal climatic conditions (salt) have also made it a favoured garden plant. The Ice Plant was for several decades widely promoted as an ornamental plant, and it is still available at some nurseries. Ice Plant foliage can turn a vibrant red to yellow in color.
The Ice Plant is still abundant along highways, beaches, on military bases, and in other public and private landscapes. It spreads beyond landscape plantings and has invaded foredune, dune scrub, coastal bluff scrub, coastal prairie, and most recently maritime chaparral communities. In California, the Ice Plant is found in coastal habitats from north of Eureka, California, south at least as far as Rosarito in Baja California. It is intolerant of frost, and is not found far inland or at elevations greater than approximately 500 feet (150 m).
On the Mediterranean coast, Carpobrotus has spread out rapidly and now parts of the coastline are completely covered by this invasive species. Moreover, it has been shown that another invasive species, the black rat, enhances the spreading of the ice plant through its feces [ 1 ] . As the ice plant represents a food resource for the rat, the invasive species benefit from each other (invasive mutualism).
Learn About Hottentot Fig Cultivation And Is Hottentot Fig Invasive - garden
2. Carpobrotus edulis (Linnaeus) N. E. Brown in E. P. Phillips, Gen. S. Afr. Fl. Pl. 249. 1926.
Mesembryanthemum edule Linnaeus, Syst. Nat. ed. 10, 2: 1060. 1759
Stems to 3 m bark persistent, leathery. Leaves green blade sharply 3-angled in cross section, widest proximal to middle, ad-axial side concave, outer angle serrate near apex, 5-11 × 1-1.5 cm. Inflorescences: pedicel 20-60 mm. Flowers 8-10 cm diam. calyx lobes 10-60 mm outer 2 lobes sharply 3-angled in cross section, abaxial angle serrate near apex, 30-60 mm inner 3 lobes smaller, with membranous margins petals (including petaloid staminodia) 100-200, yellow, aging pink, 2-4(-5)-seriate, 30-40 mm stamens 100 per series, yellow, 4(-7)-seriate, simple to plumose, 6-8(-12) mm anthers yellow stigmas radiating out over fruits, 8-15 mm. Fruits yellowish, clavate to subglobose, depressed apically, 20-35 mm. Seeds ca. 1000. 2 n = 18.
Flowering year-round, mostly spring. Coastal dunes, bluffs and terraces, margins of estuaries 0-100 m introduced Calif., Fla. Mexico (Baja California) South America (Chile) Europe s Africa Pacific Islands (New Zealand) Australia.
Carpobrotus edulis is extensively planted in gardens and along highways and is also used for dune and bluff stabilization. An invasive, introduced species escaped from cultivation, C. edulis hybridizes with other Carpobrotus species. According to W. Wisura and H. F. Glen (1993), pink-flowered plants are seen in the wild only when C . edulis comes in contact with species of Carpobrotus with purple flowers.