Yellow ice plants have intrigued me since I first saw them many years ago along a freeway in Los Angeles. Slamming the brakes on a freeway in order to check out a roadside plant is not advised, thus several years passed before I had the opportunity to closely examine another yellow ice plant.
A native of South Africa, the yellow ice plant (Carpobrotus edulis) was actively introduced in the last century as an ornamental and was used to stabilize sand dunes, banks and other coastal areas. The California Department of Transportation began to plant yellow ice plant as a ground cover along freeways. Yellow ice plant produces abundant seeds and also grows by fragmentation (a small piece of plant will root at the stem nodes). Before long yellow ice plant naturalized and is now considered an invasive species. This aggressive spreader crowds out native and other desirable plants, creating a monoculture.
Florida also used yellow ice plant along roadways, where it also naturalized. California and Florida are the only two states where yellow ice plant is found outside of gardens. The preferred habitat is along coastlines and this alien is rarely found inland or above 500 feet in elevation.
A member of the Carpet Weed Family, yellow ice plant has a long, trailing stem and often forms thick mats. The fat, succulent three-sided leaves have fine serrations on the edges near the tips. The numerous petals are yellow, aging and drying pink, and the many stamens are yellow. The inferior ovary is in a thick, cuplike tube. The fruits are edible thus the genus name – from the Greek, “karpos” meaning fruit and “brotus” meaning edible. The foliage of yellow ice plant is also edible and often used as a potherb or eaten fresh.
There are several different ice plants, including C. chilensis. This smaller cousin of the yellow ice plant is a deep magenta. Both species will hybridize resulting in ice plants with varying shades of pink flowers.
Common names for yellow ice plant also include sour fig, highway ice plant and Hottentot fig. Originally yellow ice plant was designated as Mesembryanthemum edule and will often still be seen in the literature as such.
These yellow ice plants were growing along Lake El Estero in Monterey CA.