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Carpobrotus edulis

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Plant Profile

Flowering Months:
Aizoaceae (Mesembryanthemum)
Also in this family:
Life Cycle:
Maximum Size:
3 metres long
Sand dunes, sea cliffs, seaside, wasteland.

Pink, many petals
The flowers of the Hottentot-fig are striking and vibrant, characterized by their large, daisy-like appearance. They typically measure around 3 to 6 inches (7.5 to 15 cm) in diameter and come in shades of bright yellow, pink, or magenta, with the yellow variety being the most common. Each flower is composed of numerous slender, radiating petals surrounding a central cluster of stamens. These blooms are not only eye-catching but also attract a variety of pollinators, including bees and butterflies, contributing to their role in coastal and dune ecosystems.
The fruit of the Hottentot-fig is fleshy and succulent, resembling a small, elongated fig. It typically measures about 1 to 2 inches (2.5 to 5 cm) in length and has a greenish-yellow to reddish-brown color when ripe. The fruit has a slightly ridged surface and contains numerous small seeds embedded in a sticky, sweet-tasting pulp. Edible and often enjoyed by humans and wildlife alike, the fruit has a tangy flavor and is sometimes used in jams and preserves. Its high water content makes it a valuable resource for animals in arid coastal environments.
The leaves of the Hottentot-fig are thick, fleshy, and triangular in cross-section, typically measuring about 3 to 6 inches (7.5 to 15 cm) in length. They are bright green and have a smooth, slightly glossy surface, often tinged with red or purple at the tips and edges. The leaves grow in a dense, overlapping pattern along trailing stems, forming a robust, mat-like ground cover. Their succulent nature allows them to store water, making the plant well-adapted to its native coastal and arid environments. The leaves are also known for their astringent and mildly salty taste, and they can be used in traditional medicine for their soothing properties.
The Hottentot-fig does not have a strong floral fragrance. The flowers themselves are typically unscented or have a very mild, subtle aroma. This lack of strong fragrance is characteristic of many succulent plants, which often prioritize water conservation over producing aromatic compounds to attract pollinators. Therefore, while visually striking and attractive to pollinators like bees and butterflies, the Hottentot-fig's flowers are not known for their fragrance.
Other Names:
Highway Ice Plant, Ice Plant, Pigface.
Frequency (UK):
Rarely seen  

Similar Species

Other Information


Carpobrotus edulis, also known as Hottentot-fig or ice plant, is a species of succulent plant native to South Africa. It has become invasive in many coastal areas around the world and can outcompete native vegetation. It is tolerant of salt and drought, and can be used for erosion control. The plant's leaves and fruit are edible and have been traditionally used by the indigenous people. However, it is considered a weed in many places and efforts are being made to control its spread.


The Hottentot-fig, Carpobrotus edulis, is a succulent plant native to South Africa, but has been introduced to many other regions of the world due to its ornamental value and its ability to control erosion. This hardy plant is a member of the Aizoaceae family, which includes many other succulent species that are adapted to arid environments.

The Hottentot-fig is a creeping, trailing plant that forms thick mats over the ground, with fleshy, triangular leaves that are green to bluish-green in color. The plant produces large, showy flowers that can be pink, purple, or yellow, depending on the variety. The fruit of the plant is a large, juicy, red or yellow berry that is edible and has a sweet and tangy flavor.

In addition to its ornamental value, the Hottentot-fig has been used for centuries by indigenous peoples of South Africa as a medicinal plant. The plant contains high levels of vitamin C, as well as other antioxidants and anti-inflammatory compounds, which make it useful in treating a range of ailments, including respiratory infections, skin conditions, and digestive issues.

The Hottentot-fig is also an important plant for conservation efforts in many regions of the world. The plant is particularly useful for controlling erosion on steep slopes and in areas with poor soil quality. The roots of the plant are very efficient at holding soil in place and preventing erosion, and the thick mats that the plant forms also help to reduce water runoff and promote soil retention.

Despite its many benefits, the Hottentot-fig can also be considered a problematic invasive species in some regions of the world, particularly in coastal areas where it can outcompete native plants and disrupt fragile ecosystems. The plant is particularly aggressive in areas with high levels of rainfall and can quickly spread over large areas, forming dense monocultures that can be difficult to eradicate.

The Hottentot-fig is also commonly known as the sour fig, ice plant, or highway ice plant. The name "Hottentot" comes from the KhoiKhoi people, who traditionally used the plant for food and medicine.

In addition to its medicinal and conservation uses, the Hottentot-fig is also a popular ingredient in South African cuisine. The fruit of the plant is commonly used to make jams, jellies, and preserves, as well as a refreshing drink called "suurvyssaft" (sour fig juice). The leaves of the plant are also sometimes used in cooking, either as a vegetable or as a flavoring for stews and soups.

Because the Hottentot-fig is such a hardy and versatile plant, it has been introduced to many different regions of the world for various purposes. In addition to its use in erosion control and landscaping, the plant has also been used to stabilize sand dunes, provide shade for livestock, and even as a source of fuel and animal feed.

However, as mentioned earlier, the Hottentot-fig can also have negative impacts on native ecosystems. In some areas, the plant has become so widespread that it has displaced native vegetation and altered the composition of plant communities. The plant's ability to survive in a range of soil types and climatic conditions, as well as its fast growth rate and efficient reproduction, have contributed to its success as an invasive species.

Efforts to control the spread of the Hottentot-fig typically involve a combination of mechanical, chemical, and biological control methods. Mechanical control involves physically removing the plant or cutting it back, while chemical control involves using herbicides to kill the plant. Biological control methods may involve introducing natural enemies of the plant, such as insects or pathogens, to reduce its population.

One interesting aspect of the Hottentot-fig is its adaptation to arid environments. The plant has evolved to survive in regions with low rainfall by developing thick, fleshy leaves and stems that store water for periods of drought. The plant also has a unique form of photosynthesis, known as crassulacean acid metabolism (CAM), which allows it to conserve water by opening its stomata at night and taking in carbon dioxide, which is then stored and used for photosynthesis during the day.

Another interesting fact about the Hottentot-fig is its cultural significance in South Africa. The plant has been used by the KhoiKhoi and San people for thousands of years, and is an important symbol of their traditional culture and way of life. The plant is also used in traditional ceremonies and rituals, and is believed to have spiritual and medicinal properties.

The Hottentot-fig is an example of how human activities can unintentionally introduce species to new regions of the world, where they can have both positive and negative impacts. While the plant has been useful in many areas for erosion control and landscaping, its invasive nature has caused it to become a problem in some regions, highlighting the need for careful management of introduced species.

The Hottentot-fig is not only valued for its food and medicinal properties, but it also has a number of industrial uses. The plant is high in pectin, which is a substance used to thicken foods and create jams and jellies. The juice of the plant has also been used to make a natural dye for fabric, as well as a leather tanning agent.

In addition to its uses in South African cuisine, the Hottentot-fig has also been incorporated into the diets of people in other parts of the world. For example, the plant has been introduced to Australia, where it is used as a source of food and nutrition for indigenous communities. The fruit is also marketed as a health food in some parts of the world, due to its high vitamin C and antioxidant content.

The Hottentot-fig is also a popular ornamental plant, known for its striking, fleshy leaves and bright, colorful flowers. In many parts of the world, the plant is used for landscaping and erosion control, due to its ability to thrive in poor soil conditions and steep slopes. However, as previously mentioned, the plant's invasive nature means that it can quickly overtake native vegetation, causing ecological harm.

Overall, the Hottentot-fig is a fascinating and useful plant that has played an important role in human culture and industry. Its unique adaptations to arid environments, along with its diverse range of uses, make it a valuable resource in many parts of the world. However, its invasive nature also underscores the need for careful management and conservation efforts to protect native ecosystems.

30 Startling Facts About the Hottentot-fig

Here are 30 startling facts about the Hottentot-fig (Carpobrotus edulis):

  1. Carpobrotus edulis is also known by other common names including Highway Ice Plant and Sour Fig.
  2. It is native to South Africa but has been introduced to many parts of the world as an ornamental plant and for erosion control.
  3. The Hottentot-fig is a highly invasive species in several regions, including coastal areas of California and Australia.
  4. It belongs to the family Aizoaceae, which is known for its succulent plants.
  5. The plant's name "Hottentot" is considered derogatory and is no longer used in scientific naming.
  6. It has distinctive, thick, triangular leaves that are adapted for water storage.
  7. The flowers bloom from spring to summer and come in colors ranging from yellow to pink and magenta.
  8. Its flowers can reach up to 6 inches (15 cm) in diameter.
  9. The fruit is edible and has a tangy, slightly salty taste.
  10. Carpobrotus edulis is tolerant of salty coastal conditions and is often found on sandy shores and dunes.
  11. It spreads rapidly and can form dense mats that outcompete native vegetation.
  12. The plant has been used traditionally in South Africa for treating ailments such as colds and burns.
  13. Invasive populations can alter coastal ecosystems by reducing biodiversity.
  14. The succulent leaves can survive extended periods of drought.
  15. It is considered a noxious weed in some areas due to its aggressive growth habit.
  16. The plant has been studied for its potential as a biocontrol agent against coastal erosion.
  17. Carpobrotus edulis is listed as a pest plant in New Zealand due to its invasiveness.
  18. It has been used in landscaping for its ability to stabilize soil on slopes.
  19. The plant's ability to spread vegetatively from stem fragments contributes to its invasiveness.
  20. In some regions, efforts are underway to control its spread and restore native habitats.
  21. The Hottentot-fig's high reproductive rate contributes to its ability to colonize new areas quickly.
  22. The seeds are dispersed by animals and water, aiding its spread along coastlines.
  23. It can survive in a wide range of soil types and environmental conditions.
  24. The plant has been studied for its potential use in phytoremediation due to its ability to accumulate heavy metals.
  25. Carpobrotus edulis has become naturalized in parts of Europe, including Mediterranean climates.
  26. Its ability to tolerate salt spray makes it suitable for coastal gardens in temperate climates.
  27. The plant's growth can be controlled through regular cutting and herbicide treatments.
  28. It is a prohibited species in some states within the United States due to its invasive nature.
  29. The Hottentot-fig has been the subject of ecological restoration projects aimed at removing it from sensitive habitats.
  30. In Australia, it is listed as one of the top 20 environmental weeds due to its impact on native ecosystems.

These facts highlight both the ecological impact and biological characteristics of Carpobrotus edulis, underscoring its complex role as both a resource and a threat in various environments.


Hottentot-figs filmed at Mousehole in Cornwall on the 7th June 2024.


Music credits
Pendulum Waltz by Audionautix is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 license.

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Distribution Map

Reproduced by kind permission of the BSBI.

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