Mesembryanthemum crystallinum is a plant that is native to Africa, Sinai, Canary Islands, and southern Europe. It has also been naturalized in other parts of the world including North America, South America, Australia, and various islands in both the Pacific and Atlantic. This plant is often grown as an ornamental. It can be found at altitudes ranging from sea level to 100 meters. Mesembryanthemum crystallinum grows in coastal bluffs, cliffs, ballast dumps, and disturbed ground on a variety of soil types. It can tolerate poor or saline soils due to its unique physiology and ability to accumulate salt. This plant tends not to grow in shady areas. It is commonly known as common iceplant, crystalline iceplant, or ice plant in English, while other languages have their own names such as herba gelada in Catalan and Isört in Swedish.
Mesembryanthemum crystallinum is a sturdy plant that can grow up to 1 meter wide and has a small basal non-flowering rosette. Its common name, “ice plant,” reflects the large, white, glistening bladder cells that cover the plant. These bladder cells function to reserve water and are especially prominent on the receptacle. The plant can live as an annual, biennial or perennial, and typically completes its life cycle within a few months depending on environmental conditions. Mesembryanthemum crystallinum blooms prolifically from April to September, with white or rose-colored flowers. The plant’s stems are trailing and dichotomously branched up to 1 meter long, with sessile or petiolate leaves that are ovate or spathulate and have undulated margins. The plant is pollinated by insects and produces brown, rough seeds with minute tubercles. Mesembryanthemum nodiflorum is similar to M. crystallinum, but smaller in size, while Mesembryanthemum guerichianum has larger flowers and is exceedingly papillose.
The plant, Mesembryanthemum crystallinum, is an ornamental plant that can also be occasionally cultivated for its edible leaves. It is easy to grow and thrives in a wide range of soil types. It prefers well-drained soil and grows best in sunny positions. The plant cannot grow in the shade and is not very hardy, being killed even by light frost. It is usually grown as a half-hardy annual and is sown in a greenhouse in the spring for summer bedding. The plant has few problems with pests or diseases, but young plants are prone to root rot and damping off unless given plenty of ventilation and dry growing conditions. The leaves and stems of the plant may be eaten raw or cooked, and can be used as a spinach substitute. They have an acid flavor, are thick, succulent, and slightly salty. The seeds can also be eaten, and the crushed leaves can be used as a soap substitute and have some medicinal uses. The plant has become widespread throughout the world due to its use to treat scurvy by sailors, its popularity as an ornamental potted plant aboard ships, and its occurrence in ballast dumps. The plant can be propagated by seed, which should be sown in the spring in a greenhouse and not overwatered.
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