The ice plant

Costa Blanca News (North Edition) - - GARDENING AND NATURE - flo­re­na­s­pain@hot­mail.com

It’s par­tic­u­larly apt this week, when icy tem­per­a­tures are fore­cast for most of Spain, to talk about a lit­tle heat-lov­ing, creep­ing suc­cu­lent that is af­fec­tion­ately known as the ice plant, drosan­the­mum flori­bun­dum. It will soon be in flower in our gar­dens and is of­ten seen in ur­ban­i­sa­tion plant­ings, flash­ing its eye-catch­ing sheets of flow­ers in bright swathes.

There are a range of th­ese ground-cov­er­ing ice plants (next week I will tell you about some oth­ers) and iden­ti­fi­ca­tion and nam­ing has be­come some­what mud­dled but they all be­long to the mesem­bryan­themaceae fam­ily so are of­ten just called mesem­bryan­the­mums. Drosan­the­mum are also known as dewflow­ers, com­ing from the Greek words for dew, drosos, and flower, an­thos, in recog­ni­tion of their sparkling, glit­ter- ing leaves and flower buds.

D. flori­bun­dum pro­duces daz­zling pale li­lac flow­ers in spring­time, con­vert­ing into sheets of metal­lic-sheened ground cover on sunny days. Their flow­ers do not open on dull, cool days but it is stun­ning on win­ter-bright sun­shine days. It is a South African sunlover, found in a wide swathe from Cape Town into the Ka­roo desert. In the past, th­ese tough sur­vivors were com­monly planted around home­steads; when times were hard, they were ex­cel­lent feed for cat­tle, sheep and os­triches and were also a rich pollen source for honey bees. The plants grow very flat to the ground, hug­ging its con­tours tightly and each plant can eas­ily colonise two square me­tres. They are ex­tremely drought re­sis­tant, fire re­sis­tant, salt tol­er­ant and help pre­vent ground ero­sion by break­ing the force of down­pours. In­ter­est­ingly, although they have fleshy, grey-green, stubby sausage-like suc­cu­lent leaves they are reck­oned to be hardy to - 10C, so the low tem­per­a­tures fore­cast over the next week shouldnt´ harm them. They are happy in poor soil, gravel gar­dens or tucked be­tween rocks or paving; dont´ put them into cold clay soil, they will not do well. Plants will gen­er­ally per­form well for some 5 or 7 years, then they will be­come strag­gly with poor flow­er­ing and are best re­placed.

Some­times they will self-seed but if you want to help them along it is quite easy to prop­a­gate from their tiny seeds. Col­lect the ripe seed cap­sules and break them up to re­lease the seed. It may help to pass them through a fine sieve. Sow in a fine gritty com­post and cover very lightly; deep sow­ing will re­sult in poor ger­mi­na­tion. Keep the seed tray moist, us­ing a fine spray so as not to dis­lodge the tiny seeds. Ger­mi­na­tion will gen­er­ally take about a week. Once they have formed 5 or 6 leaves, care­fully prick them out into in­di­vid­ual pots. Grow them on and then har­den off (es­pe­cially ac­cli­ma­tise them to sun) be­fore plant­ing out. Cut­tings can also be taken but the strike rate is usu­ally poor. The main flow­er­ing is in spring­time when they will, lit­er­ally, be­come a sheet of shin­ing li­lac. If you lightly trim the plants over af­ter flow­er­ing, they will of­ten pro­duce a sec­ond flush, if lesser, in au­tumn.

Try some on a hot, dry bank or draped over a wall - the ef­fect is truly glis­ten­ing!

Drosan­the­mum Flori­bun­dum

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