Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Crystalline Ice Plant



Crystalline ice plant, or ficoïde glaciale in French and Eiskraut/Kristallkraut in German, is a South African succulent plant (Mesembryanthemum crystallinum) and is popular in France and Spain and very trendy in New York restaurants. While it grows wild and has spread around the world, the only place you can score some around here is from my garden.


I first saw ice plant on a John Kohler You Tube video. It was one of several strange greens he was growing in his front yard garden (tyfon was another and I also have seeds for that). Pinetree has the seeds so I decided to plant a small patch of the stuff this year just to see what it is like. Ice plant is in the Aizoaceae family and is actually related to tetragon or New Zealand spinach.





The heart-shaped leaves are broad and light green colored in the Spring and covered with crystalline bumps used to store water. The plant is salt tolerant, often growing on the coast and on sand dunes. The leaves are edible and the taste is very subtle. It has a briny, slightly salty taste. Since it is a succulent, when you eat it, it sort of melts in your mouth, releasing the briny juices. Chefs often pair it with seafood for that reason.




I have yet to experience it, but in summer the foliage changes form to smaller grey leaves with pink flower buds and white aster-like flowers. The buds are edible and attractive and are prized by chefs. The flowers are attractive and you can see a picture of them in the Baker Creek catalog. They describe them as looking like sea anemones, and they do.


In climates without frost, the plants can become invasive. There is another ice plant (Carpobrotus edulis), another succulent from South Africa, that was used for ground cover and is now an invasive species causing a lot of trouble in California. That plant is also called Hottentot fig, highway ice plant, pigface and sour fig. It produces a tart fruit that is used to make jam. I am not sure if the two plants are related.


So far I have only had a few leaves to add to a salad, where it does not stand out. The plants are now large enough to produce enough leaves for a more substantial dish, but I am not sure what I will do with them. While this is certainly an intriguing and attractive plant, I surely will not plant it again. The little taste and texture it has is just not worth the space in my small garden.


  1. What an interesting looking plant - I really like succulents & am thinking that that one would look great in a shallow container with other succulents. For some reason, it never occurred to me that you could grow a succulent from seed. It's too bad that the taste isn't there.

  2. It is an interesting looking green. I know what you mean about these odd veggies that are difficult to find a good use for. It's one thing when the tender little thing graces a fancy plate in a chic restaurant and quite another when you try to use it at home. Somehow it just doesn't translate. And I do have that other iceplant, it graces, or shall I say disguises the the cover of the septic tank...

  3. Sounds like a curiosity, but no more!

  4. Interesting. It is fun experimenting with new crops. Too bad it wasn't worth the effort though.

  5. Akk! Be careful with this plant. It is a noxious invasive weed and is destroying native coastal habitats here in San Diego. It crowds out poor little native plants and provides no food for native animals.

    1. Really? I think you're thinking of Carpobrotus edulis.

      M crystallinum is indeed naturalized in coastal So Cal, but I've never seen a site where it is crowding everything out.

  6. It is very delicious in salads with a soy sesame dressing.

  7. Dave, come to Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve in Huntington Beach, CA and I'll show you mats of "the Red Menace" that drown out the native plants and then poison the soil so they can't return. I've seen this stuff all along the Pacific Coast from Southern California USA to Southern California MX. We treat it like a toxic substance because of its ready cloning from bits of leaf or stem, and we remove literally tons of it every year. A "crop" that carries its own toxic herbicide which "rounds up" everything that the native animals could survive on.

    I generally enjoy your blog, but felt I had to squawk about this one!


    Mike Armstrong

  8. By all means grow some, the phrase to get more than you bargained for comes to mind. What KILLS it I want to know

  9. I lave to try to grow them in my garden on Hood Canal, WA. Can I buy some started plant or seedlings or instructions on how

  10. nice article keep up the good work satopradhan vision


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