VYGIES BY ANY OTHER NAME

The ice plant family is better known in South Africa as vygies (little figs), or even as mesembs (from Mesembryanthemacae). There is a bewildering array of these flowers, some of which have been hybridised, so that trying to accurately identify them from the different guides I have is problematic – each one covers only a limited range. Looking at the photographs accompanying the names and brief descriptions of the plants can be confusing too. The Carpobrotus acinaciformis – which I think this one might be – grows along dunes and coastal sands in the southwestern and southern Cape. This means I should rule it out for these flowers blooming in the veld close to Cradock.

Yet, these magenta flowers have a pale centre. Mmm, the actual petals do not have a pale base – so perhaps it is not this one. After all this site is some distance from the ocean. Now the Carpobrotus deliciosus, which has similarly shaped leaves, not only grows on sand dunes but also in rocky grassland in both the southern and Eastern Cape. This would make it a more likely candidate except … those centres do not look pale. On the other hand, Carpobrotus dimidiatus has a flower that matches the one in the picture above and it grows along the coast of the Eastern Cape … only we are not at the coast and the leaves of this species appear to be tinged with purple. Perhaps this might help you to appreciate the dilemma of a non-botanist who is fascinated by the myriad wild flowers we are blessed with in South Africa.

There are similar flowers growing in my garden:

At least I have discovered the etymology of Carpobrotus is a combination of the Greek carpos (fruit) and brotos (edible). Certainly the fruits of these flowers turn brown when dry, and have juicy centres scattered with seeds – reminiscent of a fig and hence the Afrikaans name, vygies. These fruits can be used to make jam or to add to curry dishes, which brings to mind that another common name for these plants is sour fig.

Note: Neither my camera nor my cell phone are able to accurately reflect the gorgeous colour of these flowers.

Guides referred to:

SMITH G.F AND VAN WYK B: Guide to Garden Succulents. Briza Publications 2008.

MANNING J: Field Guide to Wild Flowers of South Africa. Struik Nature 2009.

SMITH G.F, CROUCH N.R AND FIGUEIREDO E: Field Guide to Succulents in Southern Africa. Struik Nature 2017.