ice plants

… that is, plants in the Aizoaceae, or ice plant, family. On the occason of recent visits to Palo Alto’s Gamble Garden, where there’s a spread of gorgeous Lampranthus spectabilis (syn. Mesembryanthemum spectabile), trailing ice plant:


(photo by Kim Darnell)

On the genus, from Wikipedia:

Lampranthus is a genus of succulent plants in the family Aizoaceae, indigenous to southern Africa.

The genus name “Lampranthus” means “shining-flowers” in Latin, and the species of this genus have large, extremely bright flowers, of a range of colours (sometimes even bi-coloured), that usually appear in summer, and frequently cover the plants entirely.

The species of this genus typically have long, smooth, elongated, succulent leaves. These can be triangular or cylindrical, and appear in opposite pairs on the shrubs’ branches

Lampranthus spectabilis, a tender perennial, comes in intense shades of rose, pink, purple, and white.

On the family (a new one on this blog, #62 in my tally of plant families):

Aizoaceae or Ficoidaceae (the fig-marigold family or ice plant family) is a family of dicotyledonous flowering plants containing 135 genera and about 1900 species. They are commonly known as stone plants, carpet weeds or vygies. Species that resemble stones or pebbles are sometimes called mesembs. Several species are known as “ice plants” because of the glistening globular bladder cells covering their stems, fruit and leaves. (Wikipedia link)

The Wikipedia ice plant / iceplant entry lists an assortment of plants in the family:

Carpobrotus edulis, native to South Africa*
Conicosia, narrow-leafed ice plants
Delosperma cooperi, Cooper’s ice plant
Delosperma bosseranum, a Delosperma species
Disphyma crassifolium, New Zealand Iceplant
Dorotheanthus bellidiformis*
Lampranthus species*
Mesembryanthemum crystallinum (syn. Cryophytum crystallinum), common ice plant*

The asterisked items are the ones I’m looking at in this posting. Carprobrotus edulis (yes, its fleshy leaves are edible) is the omnipresent ice plant of the Califorbia coast (especially common in highway plantings, and anchoring sand dunes). Dorotheanthus bellidiformis, known as Livingstone daisy, is a common garden plant. And Mesembryanthemum crystallinum is a plant that truly merits the name ice plant; the genus name is often used for other plants in the family, especially Lampranthus and Dorotheanthus.

Mesembyanthemum. From Wikipedia:


M. crystallinum

Mesembryanthemum (meaning “midday flowering”) is a genus of flowering plants indigenous to southern Africa.

Fig marigold or icicle plant is a name for any of several South African taxa of Mesembryanthemum which are cultivated as ornamental plants for their showy pink or white flowers. “Pebble plant” or “Ice plant” are other, but rather ambiguous, common names, usually referring to other Aizoaceae. In Afrikaans, “Mesembryanthemums” are known as ‘vygies’, although this term also refers to many plants in the family Aizoaceae.

Mesembryanthemum is a member of the family Aizoaceae; like many members of this family, it is characterized by long-lasting flower heads. Flowers of Mesembryanthemum protect their gametes from night-time dews or frosts but open in sunlight. There is an obvious evolutionary advantage to doing this; where sun, dew, frost, wind or predators are likely to damage exposed reproductive organs, closing may be advantageous during times when flowers are unlikely to attract pollinators.

And on M. crystallinum, again from Wikipedia:

Mesembryanthemum crystallinum is a prostrate succulent plant native to Africa, Sinai and southern Europe, and naturalized in North America, South America and Australia. The plant is covered with large, glistening bladder cells or water vesicles, reflected in its common names of common ice plant, crystalline ice plant or ice plant. The bladder cells are enlarged epidermal cells. The main function of these bladder cells is to reserve water.

Mesembryanthemum crystallinum is found on a wide range of soil types, from well-drained sandy soils (including sand dunes), to loamy and clay soils. It can tolerate nutritionally poor or saline soils. As with many introduced species it also grows in disturbed sites such as roadsides, rubbish dumps and homestead yards.

Dorotheanthus. From Wikipedia:


A field of commercial D. bellidiformis of many colors

Dorotheanthus bellidiformis, commonly called Livingstone daisy, Bokbaaivygie (Afrikaans), or Buck Bay vygie, is a species of flowering plant in the family Aizoaceae, native to the Cape Peninsula in South Africa. It is a low-growing succulent annual growing to 25 cm (10 in), and much cultivated for its iridescent, many-petalled, daisy-like blooms in shades of white, yellow, orange, cream, pink and crimson. In temperate areas it must be grown as a half-hardy annual, and lends itself to mass plantings or as edging plants in summer bedding schemes in parks and gardens. It is still widely referenced under its former name, Mesembryanthemum criniflorum.

Caprobrotus. From Wikipedia:


C. edulis

Carpobrotus, commonly known as pigface, ice plant, and Hottentot plant, is a genus of ground-creeping plants with succulent leaves and large daisy-like flowers. The name refers to the edible fruits. It comes from the Ancient Greek karpos “fruit” and brotos “edible”.

The genus includes some 12 to 20 accepted species. Most are South African, endemics, but there are at least four Australian species and one South American.

Carpobrotus acinaciformis, known in the United States as icicle plant, strand ivy, Cape fig, Hottentot fig, and sour fig, is often used for groundcover due to its rapid growth, dense habit, and resistance to fire. Carpobrotus are also drought resistant.

And the plant can also help to anchor banks and dunes:


C. acinaciformis

On the species name, from the plants’

short, stout, gray-green leaves. These are acinaciform: mildly curved and shaped like a sabre [Latin akinakes ‘short sword, scimitar, sabre’ < Greek], and having the shape of an isosceles triangle in cross-section, if cut perpendicularly. (link)

Previously on this blog. Every so often I’ve mentioned the question of whether the compound ice plant is C(ount) or M(ass): Do we say There were a lot of ice plants growing along the highway [C] or There was a lot of ice plant growing along the highway [M]? (The compound referring to a collection of species of such plants is of course C, as in the title of this posting.)

The short answer is that there’s genuine variation from speaker to speaker on just this point. For some general discussion of this case and similar ones, see the (detailed) handout for my

2001 SemFest talk on “Counting Chad”, on the count/mass distinction in English, with special reference to chad, e-mail/email, and ice plant. On the grammatical categories C, M, SG, PL, E, and I.

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