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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.

Pink, many petals
Large and many-petalled daisy-like flower, later fading to pink-purple. Yellow centre but not always. Up to 10cm wide.
Fig-like fruits but not tasting like fig at all. They rarely ripen in the UK.
3-sided succulent leaves with pointed tips, carpeting the surface of the ground if left to grow.
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.

Distribution Map

Reproduced by kind permission of the BSBI.

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