The Dewplant Family

Hottentot-fig Sickle-leaved Dewplant Sally-my-handsome Hottentot-fig

What are they?

This is a large and diverse family of plants that can be recognised by their fleshy leaves, often creeping habit and typically large, daisy-like flowers. Most species are frost-tender, so the family is most common in tropical or warm-temperate parts of the world, especially in the Southern Hemisphere. Some of the larger species in this family have aquired a reputation for being highly invasive, especially in the Mediterranean region and milder south-western corner of the UK. Plants spread rapidly, trailing across the ground and rooting at the nodes. Their dense growth smothers other plants and large sums of money are being spent on eradicating them. So far, this has not happened in the East Anglian region, except at Bawdsey, Suffolk, but milder winters may see some species becoming more common.

Where are they found?

These are frost-tender succulents and are most likely to be found in more or less frost-free situations on coastal cliffs and dunes.

Identification

The flowers bear a superficial resemblance to those of the daisy family, but they differ in being large, solitary flowers rather than being constructed from a tight cluster of many, smaller flowers. The outside of the flowers are fleshy and do not have the rows of green bracts that are typical of the daisy family. The flowers are all rather similar and identification is largely based on leaf size and shape.



Hottentot-fig      Carpobrotus edulis

Introduced from South Africa as a garden ornamental. In the UK, this is by far the most common and most problematic member of the family, but it is currently limited to a small handful of coastal locations in East Anglia, in Essex and South-east Suffolk and, more recently, in North-east Norfolk. Flowers mostly May to August. Leaves up to 14cm long, more or less parallel-sided for much of their length and narrowing to a tapered point at the tip (though beware of leaves on short sideshoots which can be more curved. When seen in cross-section, the leaves are more or less equal in width and depth. Flowers 4.5-10cm across, creamy yellow or bright pink.

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Sally-my-handsome      Carpobrotus acinaciformis

Introduced from South Africa as a garden ornamental. This species has not been recorded in East Anglia but it is quite common in South-west England and is so similar to Hottentot-fig that it could easily be overlooked if it turned up. Flowers mostly May to August. Leaves up to 10cm long, less parallel-sided and more curved than those of Hottentot-fig and more broadly curved towards the tip. When seen in cross-section, the leaves are much deeper than wide. Flowers 7-10cm across, bright carmine pink.

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Angular Sea-fig      Carpobrotus glaucescens

Introduced from Eastern Australia as a garden ornamental. Abundant on cliffs at Bawdsey, Suffolk and recorded from the coast in North-east Suffolk. Flowers mostly May to July. Leaves up to 7cm long, more or less evenly curved and finely-pointed at the tip. Flowers 3.5-6cm across, bright pink.

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Sickle-leaved Dewplant      Lampranthus falciformis

Introduced from South Africa as a garden ornamental. Abundant on the Isles of Scilly but rare in our region, with a single record from Suffolk which may not have persisted. Flowers mostly May to July. Leaves up to 1.3cm long, curving broadly towards the tip. Flowers 3.5-4.5cm across, typically bright mauve-pink but may be other shades in cultivated forms.

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Purple Dewplant      Disphyma crassifolium

Introduced from South Africa as a garden ornamental. A large colony has long existed on coastal cliffs at Felixstowe, Suffolk. Flowers mostly May to June. Leaves up to 4.2cm long, rounded and looking like emerald green jelly beans - older leaves turn rich red in colour. Flowers 3-5cm across, petals purple with white bases.

Purple Dewplant Purple Dewplant Purple Dewplant Purple Dewplant
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