Ice plants (Mesembryanthemum crystallinum)
Common names: Ice Plant, Common Ice Plant
Taxonomic name: Mesembryanthemum crystallinum
Habitat: Saline areas, salt marsh, shorelines
Form: Prostrate succulent
Flowering Time: Spring and Summer
Ice Plants (Mesembryanthemum species) are a beautiful family of succulent, usually coastal, ground covers that thrive in saline environments. They get their names from the glistening, water laden cells on their leaves and stems from which they get their name. These cells are how the plants survive in a hostile environment. The plant filters water taken up by the roots and stores the excess salt in these cells where it can do no damage to the metabolism of the rest of the plant.
Ice Plants live in saline environments and deal with the high levels of salt by pumping it into external cells so that, when these cells are ruptured, the salt is released back into their environment. They’re close relatives of Pigface , Round Leaf Pigface, and Bower Spinach which you’ll also find on our Bushfoods and Bush Medicines page.
You’ll easily identify Ice plants. It’s a succulent, low herb,, up to 1m, wide with thick leaves which are covered with tiny water cells that glisten like dew or ice. These cells rupture easily to yield salty water. SIngle white daisy – like flowers are on short stalks. Because of the nature of the saline environment in which they live, you may only see Ice Plants in an area or very few other plants with them.
Most Ice Plants are quite tasty, though, as their preferred environment suggests, they can be a little salty for some tastes. A little safety note – eating lots of salty plants such as Saltbushes, Ice Plants and Samphires can give you an upset stomach and diarrhoea from the salt contained in them. Moderation in all things.
Ice plants are rich in vitamins A, B and C, mineral salts and trace elements. The juice of the leaves can be used as an antiseptic and astringent that can be used externally for minor cuts or infections. It can be taken orally for digestive problems such as sluggish digestion.
I’ve used the crushed leaves to clean my hands as a gooey green kind of soap substitute too.