Carpobrotus chilensis (Sea fig)

This edible succulent, Chilean sea fig (from Aizocaea family), is native to southern Africa, though naturalized in many other regions, and may have been introduced to California during the early Spanish settlement. A popular ornamental, the deep magenta flowers bloom all year, opening with the sun and closing at night. Also called the ice plant, it grows in coastal scrub, grasslands, bluffs and dunes, forming dense mats, and increasing organic matter in soils. The leaves are three-sided, and flowers are insect pollinated and also self-pollinating.

This invasive species, like most others, is drought and fire resistant. In Africa, the leaves are eaten by tortoises, pollinated by solitary bees, honey and carpenter bees, and seeds are dispersed by foragers such as antelope, rodents, porcupines and baboons. The plant sends out six feet long stems that root at the nodes. On the Mediterranean coast, dense mats crowd out native plant species and the black rat, which eats and spreads the seeds has aided this colonial take over, in what is known as an invasive mutualism, as both the plants and rats benefit. Black rats also carry plague, which is caused by a bacteria, Yersinia pestis, carried in the blood of fleas, rats and other mammals.

Elizabeth Oriel 2022