Ice plants are hot

In recent weeks, I've been focusing a lot on aloes—no surprise, seeing how they're at their bloom peak right now. 

But there's another group of succulents from Southern Africa that give us vibrant color at this time of year: ice plants native to winter rainfall areas. This common name refers to the succulent members of a huge family, the Aizoaceae. Some people also call them mesembs, after the genus Mesembryanthemum, which once contained most of the commonly seen species. In South Africa, they're known as “vygies,” meaning “little figs” in Afrikaans.

The photos in this post were taken at the Ruth Bancroft Garden last weekend. I was fortunate enough to run into curator Brian Kemble, and he identified the plants for me. I'm able to recognize maybe a handful of different species by sight, but the vast majority of them eludes me.

Many ice plant species hug the ground and are ideal for filling bare spots. I'm making a concerted effort to add more to our garden for that very reason. The flowers are an extra bonus, but what a bonus they are!

Oscularia caulescens. This is one of the more common species; I've seen it sold even at big garden centers.

Marlothistella stenophylla

Marlothistella stenophylla. The rocks really make it stand out.

Delosperma sphalmanthoides; unlike most Delosperma species, this one is native to the winter rainfall portion of South Africa and flowers in winter 

Ruschia karooica, taller than most of the plants in this post

Cephalophyllum 'Red Spike' (with Euphorbia myrsinites on the left)

Cephalophyllum 'Red Spike'

Cephalophyllum stayneri

Cephalophyllum stayneri (with Euphorbia caput-medusae)

Cephalophyllum aureorubrum

Cephalophyllum pillansii

Cephalophyllum pillansii

Cheiridopsis denticulatum

Cheiridopsis denticulatum

Cheiridopsis denticulatum, older flower

Glottiphyllum longum

Glottiphyllum longum

Glottiphyllum longum

The round structures in the Glottiphyllum photos above are the seed capsules. They may not look like anything special, but the way they work is pretty remarkable. When the seed capsules are hit by rain, they open up, scattering the seeds. When the capsules are dry again, they close up until the next rainfall. This ensures that seeds are dispersed only when conditions are favorable for germination. This behavior, called hygrochasy, is shared by many ice plant species. (Don't worry, there won't be a test.)

If you're wondering where the name “ice plant” comes from, you're not alone. I was wondering, too. AskNature.org has a good answer: 
The ice plant, which is native to southern and eastern Africa, is named for the small, transparent bladders that cover its leaves and make the plant look like it’s covered with frozen dew.

Not all “ice plants” glisten, but some certainly do. 

And not all ice plants bloom in the winter. Species from areas that receive summer rainfall (generally speaking the eastern parts of South Africa) flower in the summer. This includes many members of the genus Delosperma, including Delosperma cooperi and the popular Delosperma hybrids ('Fire Spinner', the 'Jewel of the Desert' series, etc.).


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Comments

  1. I inherited a rabid ice plant which may be Drosanthemum or possibly Delosperma. I've been pulling it out because it quickly develops into a ratty mess but I could really use an alternative to fill in between some of my succulents. Thanks for the introduction to other (perhaps better behaved) alternatives.

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    1. If they're taller, they might be Drosanthemum. But both of these species can easily become ratty and untidy. All the ones in this post are neat and not invasive. Most of them are very low to the ground.

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  2. RBG visit, you lucky guy!

    Tricky to find some Aizoaceae that can take prolonged dry heat without either dying, looking miserable for long stretches of time, or taking over. The Cheiridopsis denticulatum is particularly attractive.

    Had masses of Oscularia for a while, but it has vanished.

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    1. I just sowed seeds of Cheiridopsis denticulatum. Why can't you just go buy these beautiful plants in nurseries???

      I have Oscularia caulescens in two places now and it seems to be thriving. You should try again!

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  3. Such gorgeous jewel-like colours. I have three in a container and tried to collect seed from some of the spent blooms. It's tiny so was never sure if I had seed or fine plant debris. Will see in a few months I guess.

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    1. I know EXACTLY what you mean. I ordered seeds of eight different mesembs from Mesa Garden and sowed them yesterday. They're the tiniest seeds I've ever seen!

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  4. Wish I could grow these cuties. Unfortunately in Phoenix the high heat especially at night does them in. I have tried many times!

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  5. I've grown ice plants in the past: the words "rabid" and "ratty" I read in the comments are an accurate description of my experience. Which is a shame, because they are rather charming and could make perfect fillers. The seed pods are fabulous!

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