In Portugal, from Viana do Castelo (extreme north) to the Algarve (south), we witness its occurrence, always thriving in adverse conditions such as slopes, salinized soils, or rocky grounds. It’s a warrior. Under the interpretation of modern ecology, the fate of these warriors is not usually glorious. Like many other resilient plant, “Carpobrotus sp”, known as “ice plant” or “pigface”, native to South Africa, is also considered invasive both in the Mediterranean and parts of Australia and California.
Ernst Götsch taught us to look at a plant and ask, “what good is it bringing to that place?”. It’s because if we understand that natural succession tends to gain energy as time passes – a syntropic tendency. Each species that occur is another step in the transformation that goes from simplicity to complexity. The species able to thrive in the current conditions (in terms of nutrient availability and soil water retention capacity) are those that, through their metabolism, contribute to creating the requirements for the next and more demanding generation.
Carpobrotus covers and protects exposed soils, and also organizes water in its biomass.
What good is Carpobrotus bringing?
The answer would seem obvious if it weren’t for our judgment. Places where no other plant grows for lack of soil and water, we can see the ice plant paving its way forward, with an efficient vegetative growth and, furthermore, forming tender, succulent leaves. Even in the middle of summer, with temperatures that often reach the 40°C, it continues to cover and protect exposed weak soils and, moreover, to organize a lot of water. No other plant around seems to be able to do that in these degraded landscapes.
No enemies, only allies
Watch our test on the video below. We cut, arranged and fragmented the ice plant on a small abandoned vineyard nearby in need for care. It is very soft and comfortable to cut. With simple management, we provide a “fertigation” for the vines (which are already suffering, lacking vegetation layers over and under them).
Will it spread and take over everything?
The shredding step prevents that from happening. But anyway, it’s so easy to handle, and the benefits are so great that we see no reason for fear. The panic serves only to support the recommendations of mechanical combat (which suggests cutting and discarding) or chemical war (involving herbicides). The only thing not recommended is fire. Why? Because it’s full of water and does not burn. Having species that hold so much water in their biomass does not seem a bad idea for regions that suffer so much from wildfires. Again, we would only need to overcome prejudices.
There is more. You can eat it!
In addition to feeding small animals, some varieties of “Carpobrotus edulis” can serve as food for us. The fruit can be consumed fresh (I tried and found not too bad), in jams or fermented. The leaves have phytotherapeutic and cosmetic properties similar to Aloe vera.