There’s always a spot in a garden where nothing will grow, it will likely be a patch of poor soil that gets full sun, maybe a bit stony and hard. But it’s worth having a go with a Delosperma cooperi, common name ice plant - it will give a carpet of lovely deep purplish-pink coloured flowers and is perfect for ground cover, spreading and covering over a difficult space. The trailing stems also make it suitable for flowerpots and terraces. There are other colours too- Hardy yellow Delosperma brunnthaleri, Starburst Delosperma floribundum - pink flowers with a white centre, and Hardy white (Delosperma herbeau) – a beautiful white-flowered variety.

The genus is common in southern and eastern Africa. They are from the family Aizoaceae, and as do most Aizoaceae, have hygrochastic capsules, meaning they open and close as they get wet and dry. From the fig-marigold family, they are commonly known as ice plants or carpet weeds, and are often called vygies in South Africa and New Zealand. (Vygie means ‘small fig’ in Afrikaans, and is based on the shape of the fruiting capsule looking like a fig – I looked it up!)

Technically it is a succulent, a vigorous grower, drought-tolerant, with daisy-like flowers measuring approximately 2” across that bloom continuously from spring to autumn. It only grows between 3” -6” high, so is the perfect plant to infill bare spaces, and will grow in rockeries, on slopes, in beds and borders, tolerates well-drained sandy soil, and being salt tolerant, will even do well in coastal gardens. It actually doesn’t even need much watering – isn’t that just the perfect plant for Portugal? - and doesn’t do well in soggy soil.

With sturdy, upright fleshy leaves, they actually look like plump lush fingers! It is easy to grow, and very easy to propagate - by division, from cuttings or from seeds. You can take cuttings at any time in spring, summer or in autumn, and using a clean, sterile knife or scissors, take a stem from the main plant and let it harden, or ‘callous’ for a few days. Place the cutting into a pot with some well draining soil and water it gently for a few days and it should take root. If dividing the plant, it is recommended to do this in the spring.

Even though this plant stays evergreen most of the year, the foliage experiences dieback during the winter season. However, new growth emerges from the seed during early to the late spring season.

This plant mustn’t be confused with another plant commonly called iceplant, botanical name carpobrotus, which is an invasive species and looks somewhat similar.


Marilyn writes regularly for The Portugal News, and has lived in the Algarve for some years. A dog-lover, she has lived in Ireland, UK, Bermuda and the Isle of Man. 

Marilyn Sheridan