Carpobrotus acinaciformis (Sally-my-handsome) is a fast-growing succulent that forms a dense mat of trailing stems with yellowish to grass…
Fig souring, or fig sour rot, is a nasty business that can render all the fruits on a fig tree inedible. It can be caused by a number of different yeasts and bacteria, but it is pretty much always spread by insects. Luckily, there are some easy and effective ways to avoid the problem. Keep reading to learn more about identifying sour figs and managing fig sour rot.
Common names: sour fig, Cape fig, Hottentots fig (Eng.) ghaukum, ghoenavy, Hottentotsvy, Kaapsevy, perdevy, rankvy, suurvy, vyerank, (Afr.) ikhambi-lamabulawo, umgongozi (Zulu)
Carpobrotus edulis is an easy-to-grow succulent groundcover, ideal for low-maintenance and water-wise gardens. It is also a useful first-aid plant with edible fruits for the herb or kitchen garden.
A robust, flat-growing, trailing perennial, rooting at nodes and forming dense mats. The succulent horizontal stems curve upwards at the growing point. The leaves are succulent, crowded along the stem, 60-130 x 10-12 mm, sharply 3-angled and triangular in cross-section, yellowish to grass-green, and reddish when older.
Flowers are solitary, 100-150 mm in diameter, yellow, fading to pale pink, produced mainly during late winter-spring (August-October). They open in the morning in bright sunlight, and close at night. Look into the centre of the flower and you'll see many stamens surrounding a beautiful starfish-like stigma. This species is easily
distinguished from the others as it is the only one with yellow flowers.
Fruit is fleshy, indehiscent and edible, 35 mm in diameter, shaped like a spinning top, on a winged stalk, becoming yellow and fragrant when ripe. The outer wall of the fruit becomes yellowish, wrinkled and leathery with age. The seeds are embedded in the sticky, sweet, jelly-like mucilage. The fruits can be eaten fresh and they have a strong, astringent, salty, sour taste. They are not as tasty as those of C. acinaciformis and C. deliciosus which are sweeter.
C. edulis is divided into the two subspecies: C. edulis subsp. edulis and C. edulis subsp. parviflorus which has smaller flowers, only reaching 50 mm in diameter, and occurs in the Du Toitskloof Mountains.
Carpobrotus edulis is not regarded as threatened in its native habitat, but it is invading natural areas in other parts of the world and threatening the survival of other species. In California, where it has been used since the early 1900s to stabilize the soil along railway tracks and roadsides and as a garden ornamental, it has naturalized and is invading coastal vegetation from north of Eureka to Rosarita Bay. It is known as the highway ice plant in the USA.
It has naturalized along the west coast of Australia from Perth to Albany where it was also used for soil stabilization and is known as pigface. It has naturalized in parts of the Mediterranean and on the south coast of England.
Carpobrotus edulis grows on coastal and inland slopes from Namaqualand in the Northern Cape through the Western Cape to the Eastern Cape. It is often seen as a pioneer in disturbed sites.
Carpobrotus is derived from the Greek, karpos, meaning fruit, and brotos, meaning edible. The Latin words, edulis, means edible, and parviflorus means with small flowers. The Afrikaans common names ghaukum and ghoenavy come from old Khoi names for the plant. The name Hotnotsvy (Hottentots fig) was in use as long ago as 1685 and is probably derived from the fact that the colonists observed the Khoikhoi using this plant and eating its fruits. It got the name vy (meaning fig and pronounced fay) because the developing fruits superficially resemble figs but it is in no way related to figs ( Ficus species, family Moraceae, the mulberry and fig family).
Carpobrotus consists of 13 species, seven of which occur in southern Africa. See below for details of the other r six southern African species.
Leaves are eaten by tortoises. Puff-adders and other snakes such as the Cape Cobra are often found in Carpobrotus clumps where they ambush the small rodents that are attracted by the fruits. Flowers are pollinated by solitary bees, honey bees, carpenter bees and many beetle species. Flowers are eaten by antelopes and baboons. The clumps provide shelter for snails, lizards and skinks. Fruits are eaten by baboons, rodents, porcupines, antelopes and people, who also disperse the seeds.
The leaf juice is astringent and mildly antiseptic. It is mixed with water and swallowed to treat diarrhoea, dysentery and stomach cramps, and is used as a gargle to relieve laryngitis, sore throat and mouth infections. Chewing a leaf tip and swallowing the juice is enough to ease a sore throat. Leaf juice or a crushed leaf is a famous soothing cure for blue-bottle stings-being a coastal plant it is luckily often on hand in times of such emergencies. The leaf juice is used as a soothing lotion for burns, bruises, scrapes, cuts, grazes and sunburn, ringworm, eczema, dermatitis, sunburn, herpes, nappy rash, thrush, cold sores, cracked lips, chafing, skin conditions and allergies. An old and apparently very powerful remedy for constipation is to eat fruits and then drink brackish water. Syrup made from the fruit is said to have laxative properties. A mixture of leaf juice, honey and olive oil in water is an old remedy for TB. The leaf juice also relieves the itch from mosquito, tick and spider bites both for people and their animal companions. The Khoikhoi took an infusion of the fruits during pregnancy to ensure a strong, healthy baby and an easy birth and smeared leaf sap over the head of a new-born child to make it nimble and strong. In the Eastern Cape it is also used to treat diabetes, and diptheria.
Fruits are eaten by people and have been since ancient times. Archaeologists have found plants covering ancient middens along the coast and sometimes marking Khoikhoi burial sites (UCT Summer School lecture).
The sour fig is frequently cultivated as a sand binder, groundcover, dune and embankment stabilizer, and fire-resistant barrier and also a superb water-wise plant.
Carpobrotus edulis is easy to grow, one of those plants that thrive on neglect and can be killed with kindness. It needs well-drained soil, a sunny position and room to spread. It is an excellent evergreen drought-, and wind-resistant groundcover that can be planted on flat, sandy ground, on loose sand dunes, gravelly gardens, lime-rich and brackish soils as well as in containers, rockeries, embankments and will cascade over terrace walls. It is relatively shallow-rooting and is a good choice for a roof garden. Very effective when planted as a groundcover around the house to create a fire-resistant barrier in fire-prone areas. Carpobrotus edulis is not frost-hardy.
Carpobrotus edulis roots easily from cuttings. Take 200-300 mm long tip cuttings during the summer. No rooting hormone or mist unit is required, either plant them where they are intended to grow or directly into a container filled with well-drained potting soil. Seed can be sown in spring, early summer or autumn. Seedlings damp off easily and must be grown in pure sand for best results.
High humidity will cause bacterial rot of the leaves. Plants in shady positions or poorly drained sites are often affected by fungal diseases ( Botrytis ). Snails cause leaf damage in damp gardens. Plants in old clumps may die back in the centre. Over-fertilizing will cause wilt and die-back.
C. acinaciformis (sour fig, elandsvy, goenavy, Hotnotsvy, strandvy, suurvy ) has purple flowers, robust, short, greyish green, sabre-shaped leaves and tasty edible fruits, used to make a delicious jam, and grows in coastal sands usually close to the sea, in the Western Cape, from Saldanha to Mossel Bay.
C. deliciosus (sour fig, perdevy, ghaukum, ghounavy ) has purple, pink or white flowers, almost straight, reddish green leaves and sweet fruits that make excellent sour fig preserve. It grows on sand dunes and in rocky grassland along the southern and eastern coast of South Africa from Riversdale in the Western Cape through the Eastern Cape to KwaZulu-Natal.
C. dimidiatus ( Natal dune vygie, Natalse-kusvy, strandvygie, ikhambi-lamabulawo, umgongozi ) has rose-purple flowers and grows on dunes in the Eastern Cape to KwaZulu-Natal and Mozambique.
C. mellei (mountain sour fig, berg-rankvy, berg-suurvy ) is the only species that occurs in the fynbos on sandstone mountain slopes inland, it is found only in the Western Cape in the Hottentots Holland Mountains, the Langeberg and the Swartberg. It has pink or purple flowers, narrow small leaves and a small club-shaped fruit.
C. muirii (dwarf sour fig, dwergsuurvy ) is similar to C. deliciosus but has narrower leaves and is only found only in the Strandveld in the Western Cape, from De Hoop to Stillbaai.
C. quadrifidus (including C. sauerae), (West Coast sour fig, Weskus suurvy, elandsvy) has large violet-pink, pale pink or white flowers-the largest flower found in the family Mesembryanthemaceae-and straight, stubby grey leaves and grows in sandy lowlands along the west coast from southern Namaqualand in the Northern Cape to Saldanha in the Western Cape.
Christien Malan & Alice Notten
Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden
I would call myself a pretty adventurous eater. I mean, I eat banana peels, how can I not be adventurous? I also love foraging, finding new types of wild edibles to pick and eat. So when I heard that the fruit of the ice plant was edible, I knew I had to try it out.
Last year when I went to the seaside on vacation, I picked a fruit from an ice plant, took a bite, and promptly spit it out. It was disgusting. Slimy, salty, sweet, mushy, seedy. Uch.
I didn't understand how people ate such things- they were quite revolting, and as I said above, I'm not easily turned off by foods, no matter how strange.
But eat them they do.
Ice plants, carpobrotus edulis, it turns out, are a native of South Africa, but they're cultivated in gardens around the world, from where they've spread as an invasive species, covering large areas. (My next door neighbors have ice plants growing in their garden.)The plants are made of lots of light or dark green finger like fleshy leaves on a greenish or reddish mat of stems, leaves that have 3 distinct sides and moist insides like aloe or other succulents. They have either yellow, white, or magenta, or purple flowers that remind me a bit of sea anemones. South Africans call the fruit of this plant sour figs, sea figs, or hottentot figs, and commonly use them in jams.
Recently, when I went back to the coast, I again saw ice plants, and as I was on a quest to see what I could forage on vacation, I decided to give hottentot figs another chance, so that maybe this time I could finally see the appeal that these strange little fruit had for South Africans. Fortunately, I got it right, and now know how to make these fruit actually taste edible.
Here's a mat of ice plants growing.
Here's one ice plant flower in the sea of ice plant leaves.
When the flowers mature, the petals fall off while the ovaries of the plant swell up, leaving the ice plant with a bunch of greenish purplish orange fruit that kind of look like ping pong balls with horns.
Now here's the important part, the part I only learned now.
Do not take a bite of the fruit as is, unless you want to be grossed out as I was the first time I tried them.
The outside of the fruit is an icky, slimy, salty layer. Inside it is a little fruit that is seedy and sweet.
To eat it, first peel off the outside, as I show step by step in the pic below, and then eat the inside.
As far as I know, there are no poisonous look a likes.
I wasn't able to find nutritional information for the plant.
Medicinal benefits of ice plants:
The leaf juice is antiseptic, and is gargled to treat throat and mouth infections. It is taken orally for dysentery, digestive troubles, tuberculosis and as a diuretic. It is applied externally to treat eczema, wounds and burns. It is said to be effective against toothache, earache and oral and vaginal thrush. Mothers used to wipe the baby's mouth after lactation, with a cloth soaked with the juice of the sour fig.
( From here )
I haven't tried cooking with these, but after I finally figured out the trick in how to eat them, I was just eating one after the other after the other, all I could get my hands on. They taste good. They're still slimy, but at least once you peel them they're not sweet, salty, and slimy!
Have you ever seen ice plants growing? Ever seen the fruit? Ever eaten the fruit? Did you know the fruit was edible?
Have there been any foods that the first few times you ate them, you thought they were so gross, only to find out afterward that you were eating them incorrectly, and that's why they tasted so bad? What food was it?
Linking up to Simple Lives Thursday
**Our Wild & Edible series showcases different wild and edible plants in the San Diego region. The purpose of this section is to educate the masses about our native plants and their uses. We feel it is important to have this knowledge in case you are ever stuck in a sticky situation, such as being lost on a hike and need to forage in order to survive. It also helps re-connect us to the land, which thanks to technology, most of us are being pulled further and further away.
Native plants may grow on your own property, or a friend’s property, in which case it is completely legal to harvest from. Plant nurseries often have a native plant section as well, in which case you can purchase your own plants! Otherwise, wild harvesting is considered illegal in most places in San Diego. Learn your plants and grow your wisdom! Wisdom is power, afterall.**
Ice plant is one of the most common ground covers to be seen around San Diego. Growing on both manicured landscapes and wild against coastal regions, this drought-tolerant plant is both easy to maintain and also beautiful when in bloom.
Originally from South Africa, ice plant was introduced to California as a ground-stabilizing plant to help halt the erosion on the coastal dunes. It is now classified as a weed, but if there’s one thing I’ve learned about weeds it’s that most are delicious and super nutritious!
In the springtime ice plant will burst with either bright purple, magenta or yellow flowers. Later in the season the plant becomes less sightly with dry yellow and red hues due to the aftermath of the dead blooms. What most don’t realize is that once the flower dies, an edible fruit has actually grown out of it!
That fig is commonly known as Sour Fig, with a sweet/salt taste that reminds me of Mexican candy. They are so much fun to peel and eat while out on a walk. Just look for ones that are yellow and squishy and pull off easily from the plant. Make sure you’re not eating from a plant that has been sprayed with pesticides!
Sour figs leaves are bitter, antiseptic and can be chewed to relieve a sore throat, mouth infections, sunburn, itches, cold sores, nappy rash and blue bottle stings. Other medical uses include a cure for Tuberculosis (a syrup is made of the leave juice, olive oil and honey) and to treat constipation (by eating a syrup made from the fruit). It is also used to treat digestive issues and diabetes.
The leaf juice is used in a similar fashion to treat sunburns, bruises, scrapes and cuts. Chewing the leaf can also sooth a sour throat. Sour fig grows easily from cuttings and enjoys well-drained soil and a sunny position.