By: Mary Ellen Ellis
The genus Mesembryanthemumis part of a current popular trend in gardening and houseplants. These are agroup of flowering succulents. Their fleshy leaves, unique shapes and colors,and low maintenance requirements make them a great choice for gardens andcontainers. Learn more Mesembryanthemum plant information here to start growingyour own.
Mesembryanthemum plants are members of a genus of floweringplants that are native to several areas of southern Africa. They are consideredsucculents because of their fleshy leaves that hold a lot of water, likecactus. They are also called ice plants because the leaves in this particulargenus are often shiny and glistening, like ice.
Not only do the Mesembryanthemums have interesting andattractive foliage, they also have pretty flowers. In spring or summer, theywill bloom with colorful, daisy-like flowers in red, yellow, white, pink, andother colors. Mesembryanthemum flowers can be clustered or single and tend tobe long lasting.
The plants grow 4 to 12 inches (10 to 30 cm.) tall and somespread out horizontally. The shorter varieties make a pretty groundcover, whilethe taller plants are great for edging and in rockgardens.
Like other types of succulents,Mesembryanthemum plants need warm conditions and don’t tolerate over-wateringor standing water. For growing Mesembryanthemums outdoors, you don’t have tolive in the tropics or the desert, but you do need frost-free winters. If yourwinters are too cold, these plants do take well to containers and indoorenvironments.
Provide your Mesembryanthemum plant with soil that drainswell. A sandy, cactusmix will work. If growing in a container, be sure the pot can drain.Outdoors, these plants will tolerate dry, poor soils and even salt. Provide amostly sunny spot or full sun. Indoors, a bright, sunny window should suffice.
To water your Mesembryanthemum, soak the soil totally butthen don’t water again until it has dried out completely. You can also apply aliquid fertilizer after the plants finish blooming for the summer.
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Mesembryanthemum (Greek, midday flower the flowers usually open in sunshine and close in shadow). Sometimes spelled Mesembrianthemum. Aizoaceae. FIG-Marigold. Mostly low-growing succulents, grown as pot subjects under glass or in window- gardens and sometimes planted out in summer some kinds are good bank-covers in mild climates.
Annual or perennial prostrate or erect herbs, and sometimes subshrubs, with thick fleshy usually opposite lvs. which are 3-angled, terete or flat, and with entire or more or less spiny margins: fls. white, red or yellow, mostly terminating the branches, usually opening in full sun but a few expanding in the evening calyx mostly 5-parted, the lobes usually lf- like and unequal petals very many, linear, in 1 to many rows, united at the base stamens very numerous, also in many rows and united at base ovary mostly 5-celled (but variable): caps. 5- to many-celled, stellately dehiscing at the summit, becoming baccate, hygroscopic seeds very numerous.—Mesembryanthemum includes some 300 and more species, nearly all of which are S. African, according to Sonder "abounding throughout the arid plains and sands of the whole country to the south of the Orange River and west of the Great Fish River." Four species are described by Bentham in Flora Australiensis. Two (M. crystallinum and M, equilaterale) are native in Calif. Others occur in New Zeal., Canaries, Arabia and the Medit. region. They are allied botanically to the cactaceous series, although lacking the spines of those plants and bearing true lvs. Horticulturally, they are fanciers' plants, and are classed with "succulents." Very few are in the general trade, although a number are advertised in Calif, and others are in botanic gardens. As with most succulents, the species are not well understood botanically, owing largely to the difficulty in making herbarium specimens. Many of them are of odd and grotesque form. One species, M. crystallinum, is a common house-plant, being known as ice-plant, but it is one of the least showy in fl. It is grown for the thick glistening foliage. It prop. readily by seed or division. The best available account of the mesembryanthemums is Sender's elaboration of the S. African species (293 numbers) in Flora Capensis, Vol. II (1861-2), from which the following treatment has been largely taken. Sonder writes that "the caps, are tightly closed in dry weather and open naturally after rain. If thrown into water until it becomes thoroughly soaked and then removed, an old caps, will open out its capillary valves, radiating from a center like a star and will close them again when dry. This experiment may be repeated several times without destroying their remarkable hygrometric property."
In sunny and semi-arid regions the fig-marigolds are very appropriate and attractive, covering the soil with plump foliage and giving a display of brilliant colors. They are also used more or less in bedding-out on south borders and exposures in cooler and moister climates.
M. edule has extensively run wild in many parts of the world and is useful in covering banks and holding loose sands. It withstands some frost. Any number of species may be found in the collections of fanciers, and many not described below are mentioned in periodical literature, but they need not be entered here as they are really not horticulturally known. See Succulents.
The cultivation of the fig-marigolds should consider their natural conditions. They are found in their native habitats growing most luxuriantly on dry barren rocky places and on dry sandy plains. They are succulent plants with thick fleshy leaves, and are therefore able to stand the severe drought they have to put up with in those arid places. Knowing that these plants delight in dry arid situations gives the key to their cultivation. When grown in pots, care should be taken that the pots are well drained. A light sandy loam, mixed with brick rubbish broken small, makes a good compost for them. In summer they may be placed out-of-doors in a slightly elevated and sunny position, where they will produce an abundance of their showy blossoms. On the approach of cold weather in autumn they may be placed in a cool greenhouse with a dry atmosphere and plenty of air. Very little water is needed during the dull months of winter. Some of the species make good window plants. M. cordifolium var. variegatum is largely grown for edgings for beds. M. pomeridianum and M. tricolorum are good showy annuals. Propagation is effected either by cuttings or by seeds. Cuttings should be dried in the sun for two or three days before they are inserted in sand.
In the following account, the species are all South African unless otherwise specified.
The above text is from the Standard Cyclopedia of Horticulture. It may be out of date, but still contains valuable and interesting information which can be incorporated into the remainder of the article. Click on "Collapse" in the header to hide this text.
Jacob Breyne coined the name of the flower in 1684, using the spelling Mesembrianthemum ("midday flower"  ), from the Greek roots μεσημβρία , meaning "noon", and ἄνθεμον , meaning "flower", because the species known at his time flowered at midday. In 1719, on the discovery that some species flowered at night, Johann Jacob Dillenius changed the spelling to Mesembryanthemum ("flower with the pistil in the center"  ), rederiving the first part of the word from Greek μεσος ("middle") and ἔμβρυον ("pistil" or "embryo"). Carl Linnaeus used the Dillenius spelling (with the "y") in his description of the Mesembryanthemum species and the International Code of Botanical Nomenclature requires the retention of the original, deliberate spelling.  
Mesembryanthemums are often cultivated as ornamental plants for their showy flowers. Ornamental plants may escape into the wild and consequently has become widely naturalized outside their native range. They are considered an invasive weed in certain places.
Some Mesembryanthemum species are thought to be hallucinogenic plants, like related Aizoaceae,  and as such may be subject to legal restrictions (e.g. Louisiana State Act 159).
As of March 2019 [update] , Plants of the World Online accepted the following species: 
Mesembryanthemum crystallinum is covered with enlarged epidermal cells, called "bladder cells". The main function of these bladder cells is to reserve water. 
It flowers from spring to early summer. Flowers open in the morning and close at night, and are insect pollinated. 
It can be annual, biennial or perennial, but its life cycle is usually completed within several months, depending on environmental conditions. 
Mesembryanthemum crystallinum is found on a wide range of soil types, from well-drained sandy soils (including sand dunes), to loamy and clay soils. It can tolerate nutritionally poor or saline soils. As with many introduced species it also grows in disturbed sites such as roadsides, rubbish dumps and homestead yards. 
The plant usually uses C3 carbon fixation, but when it becomes water- or salt-stressed, it is able to switch to Crassulacean acid metabolism.  Like many salt-tolerant plants, M. crystallinum accumulates salt throughout its life, in a gradient from the roots to the shoots, with the highest concentration stored in epidermal bladder cells. The salt is released by leaching once the plant dies. This results in a detrimental osmotic environment preventing the growth of other, non-salt-tolerant species while allowing M. crystallinum seeds to germinate. 
In M. crystallinum, the number of seeds produced depends on whether CAM has been activated (C3 metabolism is more efficient) and the size the plant has grown to in its juvenile growth phase. During seed production, older portions of the plant progressively die off and dry out. The developing seed capsules continue to sequester salt and produce viable seeds. Seeds at the top of the capsule generally germinate immediately on imbibation while seeds at the base may remain dormant for longer than four weeks. 
The plant was once promoted in the United States and Europe as a vegetable, but failed to gain popularity. 
In Japan, the plant has become a common vegetable sold in supermarkets around the country after Saga University has succeeded in hydroponic cultivation of a commercial quantity in 2009. The plant is commonly called iceplant(アイスプラント), salt leaf(ソルトリーフ) and barafu(バラフ) in Japanese. 
Its leaves are edible, as with some other members of the family Aizoaceae. In southern Africa, the leaves and stems are gathered from the wild and pickled. Ice plants are also used in South Africa as a way of deterring fires, or "firescaping" gardens.  Seeds can also be eaten. The crushed leaves can be used as a soap substitute and have some medicinal uses. It is rarely, if ever, grazed upon by domestic stock. 
It is also cultivated for ornamentation. 
Due to its salt accumulation, M. crystallinum may be useful for bio-remediation.