One of the more noticeable plants in southern California is the Ice Plant, Carpobrotus edulis. It is also known as Hottentot Fig or Sour Fig. Ice Plants seem to grow everywhere here. They have beautiful large yellow flowers that catch the eye. Besides being pretty, the ice plant has a variety of uses.
The leaves are triangular and succulent. Because they are full of water, they are resistant to fires. One of the main landscaping uses of the ice plant is as a fire barrier. By planting a dense patch of ice plants, people can protect their houses from the wildfires that are so common here in the west.
As you can see, ice plants grow very densely, excluding other plants. This prevents other, more flammable plants from growing in the otherwise fireproof ice plant barrier. They also have short but strong roots that are used to prevent erosion. This makes them useful on slopes and dunes where erosion can cause serious damage. It was first imported to stabilize the ground around railroads. On the other hand, it is very heavy because it is full of water, and the weight has caused some slopes to collapse.
The skin of ice plants is extremely astringent. I tasted it, and it made my mouth completely pucker up. The leaves are considered edible, but I would peel them first. I have read that chewing on the tip of a leaf (nearly all skin) is a remedy for sore throats. On the other hand, once you cut open a fruit…
The inside of the fruits is filled with a seedy pulp, that is very edible. You can see the comparison with figs clearly here. I couldn’t find a ripe fruit for the photos, but the flavor is sweet, tangy, and a bit salty since it grows by the coast. Quite tasty, and a good source of moisture in such a dry climate.
A word of warning: This plant can become invasive very easily. It was imported from South Africa, where it is native, to prevent erosion, and has quickly spread everywhere. If you grow it, take care that it does not spread out of your control.
~The Homesteading Hippy