What is Aptenia?

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  • Written By: Alex Tree
  • Edited By: Melissa Wiley
  • Last Modified Date: 09 October 2019
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Aptenia is a plant genus that was formerly classified under the Mesembryanthemaceae family, but as of 2010 it is recognized under the Aizoaceae family. Its common name is red apple groundcover or red apple ice plant. These are perennial evergreens with glossy succulent leaves and bright pink flowers. The two Aptenia species are native to the South African eastern coastal plains and can also be found in other places like Oklahoma, Arizona, and California in the United States. These succulent plants are often used as ground covers for gardens.

One species in this genus, Aptenia cordifolia, is commonly known as the baby sun rose or red aptenia. These creeping plants can reach up to a height of 10 inches (25 cm) with a spread of 2 feet (0.6 m). They grow profusely and can withstand drought and high temperatures, but they are often short-lived.

Aptenia xordifolia’s many-petaled flowers can range from magenta to bright pink and typically bloom from April to August. They are shiny and small to medium-sized, usually 0.6 inches (1.5 cm) wide. Growing out of the branch forks, they resemble daisies and bloom singly or in clusters. These flowers open up in bright sunlight, usually during mid-day or early afternoon when the sun is at its brightest.


The shiny green leaves are heart- or oval-shaped and are usually 2 inches (5 cm) long and 1 inch (2.5 cm) wide. These flat and fleshy leaves are spaced widely and arranged either individually or in pairs on the plant’s four-angled or rounded stems. On the leaf’s surface and stems are water cells that shine in the sun. These plants have capsule fruits with four chambers that contain one large brown seed each.

Aptenia is a popular groundcover that is known to help hold the soil on slopes and steep embankments. It can be planted in gardens along the beach as it resists sea spray. This plant can be grown from seed, with summer as the ideal time for sowing. Cuttings can also be planted directly into the ground, and they typically root within three weeks.

In alternative medicine, Aptenia plants are used as an anti-inflammatory, poultice, and body deodorant. They are used as a mild enema for babies, and its burnt leaves are used to treat aching joints in Zulu medicine. The Zulus use the black powder for vaccination, thwarting witchcraft or sorcery spells, and as a charm believed to bring good luck and love.


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