Mesembryanthemum crystallinum L.


=Gasoul crystallinum


=Cryophytum crystallinum


Aizoaceae (Carpetweed Family)


S. Africa


Common Ice Plant  


Crystal Ice Plant      

                                          April Photo


Plant Characteristics:  Very succulent annual, prostrate, much-branched, the branches 2-6 dm. long, with large vescicles; lvs. ovate or spatulate, 2-10 cm. long, narrowed to a short amplexicaul base or somewhat petioled; fl. tube campanulate, 8-12 mm. long; petals white to reddish, 6-8 mm. long; caps. 5-loculed; seeds brown, round-papillate, ca. 0.8 mm. long.


Habitat:  More or less saline places, Coastal Strand, Coastal Sage Scrub; along the coast from L. Calif. to cent. Calif.  Mar.-Oct.


Name:  The genus name, Mesembryanthemum, was originally named Mesembrianthemum from mesembria, meaning mid-day, because the flowers were believed to open only in the sun, but when night-blooming species were discovered, the spelling was changed so that the name indicated a flower with its fruit in the middle (mesos, middle, and bryon, fruit).  Crystallinum refers to the many ice-like bubbles on the herbage.  The common name is said to have arisen because it is claimed that even on the hottest day, the leaves are cool to the touch.  (Dale 40).  The origin of Gasoul has not been found.  Cryophytum is Greek for ice and plant.


General:  Common in the study area. (my comment).     The plant is introduced and thus was not used by the early Indians.  Iceplant was advertised in American seed lists of 1881 as a desirable vegetable for boiling like spinach or for a garnish.  In its native land, the entire plant of a similar species is beaten, fermented and chewed.  The leaves can be used as a substitute for making pickles, but are best when added fresh to salads. (Clarke 152-53).     Introduced species often invade native communities following disturbance, and some become a common part of that community even when disturbance is peripheral.  Two ice plants, Mesembryanthemum crystallinum and M. nodiflorum, germinate readily in roadways at the upper marsh boundary, while brass-buttons, Cotula coronopifolia, has become a common member of southern California coastal marshes.  All three species are native to South Africa.  Two European grasses, Parapholis incurva and Polypogon monspeliensis, are sometimes abundant in upper marsh habitats.  (Zedler 38).    This plant adds salt to the soil after death and may prevent natives from growing on such spots.  (Dale 40).    There are several large patches on the Castaways Bluffs where M. crystallinum has grown and left the ground so salty no other plants can survive.  (my comment).   Delfina Cuero, a Kumeyaay or Southern Diegueno Indian, made the following comments about M. crystallinum in her autobiography:  "Used red berries and red leaves as face rouge and paint; roots or whole plant was ground for soap.  Away from the salt marsh, leaves are cooked and eaten as greens; at the marsh or beach they are too salty to eat." (Shipek 93).        The plant is disagreeable to walk through, as it yields up the water of its crystals very readily, and this is said to be ruinous to shoe-leather. (Parsons 53).    Parsons was published in 1909.  (my comment).        Bailey uses the genus name Cryophytum instead of Gasoul and states that the genus has probably 50 species native of South Africa, Mediterranean region, South West Asia and Calif.  (Bailey 362).


Text Ref:  Abrams, Vol. III 118; Bailey 362; Hickman, Ed. 129; Munz, Calif. Flora 309; Munz, Flora So. Calif. 56; Roberts 6.

Photo Ref:  Dec 2 82 # 9; April 7 83 # 22; April-May 91 # 31.

Identity: by R. De Ruff.  

First Found:  December 1982.

Computer Ref:  Plant Data 119.

No plant specimen.

Last edit 6/5/05.


                                               April Photo