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Hottentot Fig Carpobrotus edulis


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Hottentot Fig
credit: Winfried Bruenken/CCSA

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Alternate name: Common Hottentot Fig, Ice Plant

Family: Aizoaceae, Ice Plant view all from this family

Description Mat-forming succulent with rooting stems and foliage that can turn a vibrant red to yellow in color. Light pink or yellow flowers on short, thick stalks with tall, slender succulent leaves. Often confused with smaller, less aggressive close relative the Sea Fig (Carprobrotus chilensis) which has magenta flowers with almost no stalk.
Flowers: 2.5-6" diameter; numerous and very narrow petals; some sepals as large as leaves.
Leaves: 3-5.5" long, curved and primarily opposite; cross-section sharply triangular, fine teeth near outer tip, edible.
Fruit: Plump green, flat-top that ripens to yellow, edible.
Height: Creeper with individual shoot segment growth of 3'+ (1m+) per year and plants 165' (50m) in diameter. Flowering branches approximately 8" (20 cm).

Flower Almost year round: February (southern CA)-October (northern CA).

Habitat Beaches; dune and coastal bluff scrub; coastal prairie; maritime chaparral areas; other public and private landscapes including sandy areas along roadways, railroad tracks, military bases, and gardens.

Range Native of South Africa; introduced in California and spread to Baja California. Found in coastal habitats from north of Eureka, CA south into the Baja California peninsula of Mexico. Also reported in Florida.

Discussion Hottentot Fig is also known as Highway Ice Plant, Pigface and in its native South Africa as Sour Fig on account of edible fruit. It was introduced to California in the early 1900s to stabilize soil along railroad tracks and later by Caltrans for similar purposes. Up to the 1970s, it was widely planted in coastal areas prone to erosion including coastal freeways and dune environments. Due to it's aggressive, year round growth cycle, and preference for well-drained, loose soil like sandy inclines and gravelly areas, ice plants are now considered an invasive exotic pest plant in California as well as in other parts of the world (Australia, Mediterranean locales, New Zealand). Ity ybridizes naturally in California with its close relative the Sea Fig (C. chilensis).