Thursday, June 7, 2012
Plant with thick leaves in the shape of a heart
Ice plants belong to a large family of plants most of which are indigenous to southern Africa.
A few species can be found in Australia and the Central Pacific.
A number of species have been cultivated in Maltese gardens for many years and because of their ability to regenerate easily from pieces of broken stem have become naturalised in the Maltese countryside especially in the vicinity of gardens. .
The most common species are probably the heartleaf ice plant and the sword-leaved ice plant.
These two species can grow profusely and cover large areas of ground. They both produce large numbers of small red or pink flowers but it is very difficult to tell the two species apart.
They differ mainly in the shape of their leaves, one has heart-shaped and the other slightly pointed leaves but the leaves vary and sometimes it can be very difficult to tell the two species apart.
I have never met with a Maltese name for these two plants but they are so common in gardens and urban areas that I am sure that they do have a Maltese name.
Another well known species of ice plant is better known as the Hottentot fig.
In Maltese it is known as xuxet San Ġwann or perhaps more commonly as il-pjanta tas-swaba.
This species has thick succulent leaves and large pink flowers that can attract large numbers of bees and other insects in search of nectar and pollen.
In parts of the world with a climate similar to that of southern Africa notably parts of Australia, California and the Mediterranean this species has invaded large areas and has displaced indigenous species to the detriment of the areas’ biodiversity.
This has happened along parts of the Mediterranean coast where it now completely covers large tracts of land. Although these plants can be removed mechanically one must pay particular attention not to allow pieces of the plant in the soil as these can easily regenerate.
This article was published in The Times on 11.01.12