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Carpobrotus is a related group, or genus, of plants that trail or creep across the ground. Common names for these species include ice plant and pigface. Most species belonging to this genus originate in South Africa, with a few species being native to America and Australia. Some species have been introduced to countries to which they are not native and are considered invasive because they grow and spread rapidly, often leaving no space or nutrients for native plants.
The leaves of the carpobrotus species are thick and succulent, similar to that of the aloe vera plant. The leaves store water reserves, allowing the plant to survive periods of drought. Some species, such as C. edulis, spread rapidly, forming large, dense blankets commonly in excess of 19 inches (0.48 m) deep.
Carpobrotus varieties are able to survive drought conditions and nutrient-depleted soils. These species prefer sandy, well-drained soils. Many carpobrotus species are used to reduce soil erosion, particularly in coastal areas, because the plants are able to tolerate strong winds, limited nutrients and salt water spray. The plants are also moderately fire-resistant because of their high water content; coupled with the fact that these plants grow in a blanket-like manner, they can be used as a moderately successful barrier against forest fires and wildfires.
Because of the rapid, aggressive growth, the invasive species can have a negative impact on local ecology. Little space is often left for native species, and the dense blankets formed by carpobrotus are usually impenetrable for many indigenous species. Localized extinction of some rare or protected plant varieties may occur because of the invasive nature of carpobrotus.
Carpobrotus species have been used for many centuries for their medicinal properties. Among others, indigenous peoples of South Africa have used carpobrotus to treat a variety of ailments, including fever, infections and stomach and digestion problems. The extract from the leaves has also been used to treat sore throats and mouth and throat infections. The liquid of the leaves is anti-septic and has also been used to treat cuts, grazes, burns, skin conditions and allergies. A syrup made from the fruit of carpobrotus plants is a very old remedy for use as a laxative.
Carpobrotus plants provide a valuable source of water and nutrition for a variety of small animals, such as tortoises, rats and rabbits, along with larger animals including deer and baboons. Snakes seek shelter and lay in wait to ambush potential prey from the densely packed foliage. Slugs, snails and lizards also seek shelter beneath the foliage during hot, dry periods.
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