Hottentot Fig, Carpobrotus edulis

by Paul Kirtley

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Hottentot Figs, Carpobrotus edulis

Hottentot Figs, Carpobrotus edulis, on the west cost of Portugal, May. Photo: Paul Kirtley.

The Hottentot Fig, Carpobrotus edulis is a southern African plant. Introduced to Europe, the plant can be found entirely naturalised in some coastal habitats, particularly sea cliffs and sand-dunes. The plant tends be quite invasive, spreading and forming continuous mats over large areas. In the UK, the plant is found mainly in the south west on the coastline of counties such as Devon and Cornwall but can also be found as far north as Anglesey.

Hottentot Figs, Carpobrotus edulis

Hottentot Figs, Carpobrotus edulis tend to form continuous mats. Portugal, May. Photo: Paul Kirtley.

The striking flowers, which appear between May and September, resemble the composite flowers found on members of the family asteraceae such as dandelions or thistles. The pink or yellow flowers of the hottentot fig are true flowers, however, not composites. The flowers are quite large – up to 10 cm (4 inches) in diameter.

The leaves are like firm and fleshy like succulent plant species (such as aloes). They are 6-10cm (2.5-4 inches) long and 3-sided. The leaves also have a triangular cross-section.

Hottentot Fig, Carpobrotus edulis, flowers and leaves

Hottentot Fig, Carpobrotus edulis, flowers and leaves. Photo: Paul Kirtley.

The fruits resemble figs and are edible. It is not only the outward appearance that is fig-like; inside the hottentot fig is sticky and has many seeds. When ripe the hottentot fig is a little sweet but also salty, reflecting its seaside habitat. To eat the fruit, bite or cut off the end and suck out the pulpy inner flesh.

The plant is also reported to have various medicinal properties (which I have not tried). Juice from the leaves has been used to staunch bleeding and is said to speed the healing of wounds. The juice seems to have antiseptic qualities, having been used for mouthwash and gargling for sore throats. The juice has also been employed to calm itching – from insect bites to eczema.

 

Best Practice while Foraging

Please read the BSBI’s Code of Conduct for the Conservation and Enjoyment of Wild Plants for guidance on the best practice (and UK laws) relating to foraging for wild plant foods.

 

Disclaimer

This article is meant only as a guide and is largely a record of my recent forages. It is not a complete treatment of all edible plants that might be available. Nor does it provide a complete treatment of all poisonous plants that may also be present in the habitat where you find the above-mentioned plants. If you want to learn more about plant identification you should invest in some good field guides. The safest way to learn about edible wild plants is for someone who already has the knowledge to show you in person. Any foraging you do on your own is at your own risk.

The most important thing to remember when identifying wild foods is:

IF IN DOUBT, LEAVE IT OUT!

 

Recommended Books for Further Reading:

    

 

Related Articles on Paul Kirtley’s Blog:

White Dead-nettle, Lamium album

Red Dead-nettle, Lamium purpureum

Conopodium majus: Pignuts and How to Forage for them

Brooklime, Veronica beccabunga

Primrose, Primula vulgaris: Wild food?

Common Dog-violet, Viola riviniana

Greater Stitchwort, Stellaria Holostea

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Paul Kirtley is an award-winning professional bushcraft instructor. He is passionate about nature and wilderness travel. In addition to writing this blog Paul owns and runs Frontier Bushcraft, a wilderness bushcraft school, offering bushcraft courses and wilderness expeditions.

 

{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

Mark

Hi Paul,

I must keep an eye for these on The Cornish coastline.. very interesting.

Thanks
M

Reply

Lee

I’ve got loads of this near me! When is the fruit ripe?
Thanks for putting this one up

Lee

Reply

Paul Kirtley

Hi Lee

After the plant has flowered and the flower itself dies back, there is a fig-like fruit at the top of the flower stem. This starts of being green and hard and ripens over time. The exact timing depends on your location/climate.

All the best

Paul

Reply

Arthur King

We have a lot of this on our beaches in Kwa-Zulu Natal, South Africa. Very useful when stung by Blue Bottles (type of jelly fish). Crush the leaves into a fleshy pulp and place on the wound. Do not rub. Acts as a mild anti-histamine and relieves the pain somewhat.

Reply

Paul Kirtley

Hi Arthur

Thanks for your comment and for the local knowledge. Much appreciated!

All the best

Paul

Reply

Derrick J. Rowe

Identification of Carpobrotus taxa is extremely difficult and further compounded by the fact that they hybridise readily. Indeed in southern Africa C. edulis currently has two subspecies that may prove to be two separate species.
However, C. edulis subsp edulis has only yellow flowers to 15 cm (6″) across so these plants are almost certainly not a pure taxon.
In California (see http://www.amjbot.org/content/84/7/896.full.pdf) (and in New Zealand) naturalised C. edulis is creating hybrid swarms with the putative USA native C. chilensis (possibly native only to Chile) a species with particularly beautiful magenta flowers but to only 10cm (4″) across. Gene flow appears to be more common into edulis than into chilensis. I wonder how this effects edibility of edulis fruits.
C. chilensis is also a very probable UK import and other carpobrotus species are naturalised on continental Europe so are probably also in the UK.
Disphyma taxa can also add their genes to hybrids but these plants will be substantially smaller in leaf and flower sizes Australian species aside..
Evolutionary Biologist Dr Julie Hawkins at Reading University was given a grant back in 2004 toward establishing the parentage of UK naturalised Carpobrotus. Sadly, I can find no published results.

Reply

Paul Kirtley

Derrick,

Thank you for your detailed and informative comment.

It seems that these examples in Portugal could be a hybrid or even C. chilensis.

Thanks and warm regards,

Paul

Reply

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