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What is an Ice Plant and How to Care for It?

Get to know what the ice plant is and its many different variations. What makes it so special and is it worth having in your garden?

Beautiful orange flower heads and evergreen foliage of the ice plant

The Family of Ice Plants

Alright, listen up. The story of the ice plant can get a little complicated. It’s not as straightforward as “this is a daisy, it’s part of the daisy family”. There are many different plants that take the common name of ice plant, but they are part of many different botanical families.

Ice plants are members of the fig-marigold botanical family (Aizoaceae) which is… rather large. It’s a huge family of dicotyledonous flowering plants with over 1800 species within it (like the baby sun rose, aptenia cordifolia)

Some notable subfamilies that contain ice plants are lampranthus, which are valued because their flowers bloom throughout the year, delosperma because they are one of the mold cold hardy ice plant species, and Carpobrotus because of their incredible growth habit.

The next step is understanding the different common names of the ice plant. They’re also known as carpet weeds because of their dramatic ground cover growth habit, they’re commonly called vygies in places like South Africa and New Zealand because of their small fruiting capsule that resembles a fig, and finally, lithos, which is Greek for “living stones” which is describing their unusual leaf type.

Now you must be wondering, why the heck is it called an ice plant? Well, that’s because of the plants glistening epidermal (skin cells) that make the plant literally glisten as though it is covered in frost or ice crystals!

You still with me? Didn’t think so. Let me just explain to you why you care: these plants are gorgeous! They’re unusual, they flower for a very long time, you basically plant it and then walk away forever, and they make for a rather charming house plant. So keep reading to learn about the lovely flowering plant: the illusive ice plant.

Related: Sun-Loving Flowers | Water-Loving Flowers | Shade-Loving Flowers | Types of Flowers | Types of Flowers by Color | Types of Flowers by Alphabet | Types of Flower Colors

What do Ice Plants Look Like?

Lovely vibrant purple ice plant flowers and evergreen foliage growing in sand

Flowers

Though it will vary from species to species, ice plants will bear daisy-like flowers that are a couple of inches across. Ice plant flowers are known for being simply in appearance, but striking in color.

Ice plant flowers can come in a variety of colors, including red, orange, yellow, golden, pink flowers, and purple too! What makes them special is the hue that ice plant flowers can achieve. They are incredibly vibrant.

The blooming period will vary between species, though they all tend to have a wonderfully long period of blossoms. Some will bloom in the early spring or late spring and last until the end of summer, whereas others will blossom in the early summer and last until the late fall.

Leaves

The leaves that grow on ice plants are one of the main reasons why people like to grow them: because they are evergreen succulent leaves. This beautiful green foliage is major quality.

They are evergreen, meaning they will provide foliage interest all year long, as they persist and remain green. And they are succulent, meaning that they have an attractive, fleshy growth habit.

Leaf growth habits will also vary from species to species, but the one thing that they all have in common is that same effect due to that glistening epidermis we mentioned earlier, which makes it look like the foliage is covered in ice crystals.

Macro image of amazing crystalline effect of ice plant foliage

Growth Habit

In congruence with both the flowers and the leaves, the overall growth habit of ice plants is truly what makes this a remarkably attractive ornamental variety.

The herbaceous perennial evergreens have a classic ground cover growth habit, which is what earns them the nickname, “carpetweed”. They don’t usually grow any taller than 12 inches.

They are highly valued as plants that you can introduce to an area and just let spread as they please. They quickly mat an area with their gorgeous succulent leaves and will provide intensely colored flower blossoms for a large portion of the year as well.

Reproduction

Once an ice plant flower is fertilized, it will produce numerous seed capsules. Each seed capsule will contain one or more seeds. Ice plants are very good at reproducing and can be propagated by seed sowing, cuttings, or division.

When you plant one, ensure to plant them at least 15-18 inches apart from one another as they will very quickly fill in space.

Divide your ice plant in the spring, take cuttings and plant them in either spring, summer, or fall (this is flexible), or scatter seeds on a soil surface in the spring. Ensure not to cover the seeds with extra soil as they require light in order to germinate.

What Are Some Types of Ice Plants?

Three different colors of beautiful ice plant flowers growing in the garden

Delosperma Cooperi

Delosperma cooperi is an evergreen succulent plant that has a mat-forming growth habit. They grow very vigorously and produce so many flower blossoms that they will literally cover the foliage of the plant.

Flowers will be in blossom from summer through fall and will be an incredible purple-ish pink daisy-like flower. These are not regular pink flowers, they are very vibrantly colored. This purple ice plant is a favorite amongst gardeners.

Carpobrotus Edulis

Carpobrotus edulis is an evergreen succulent plant that is native to South Africa (they are prolific around table mountain), and also goes by the names of highway ice plant or sour fig plant.

This ice plant variety can be identified by its flowers that are usually a far less vibrant hue of yellow or pink than most other varieties. It also has the classic creeping growth habit.

Lampranthus Deltoides

Lampranthus deltoides is a succulent evergreen that is native to South Africa and can be found growing wild directly out of sandstone rock. Lampranthus is a Greek word that translates to “shining flowers”.

This ice plant variety can be identified by its unusually large, brightly colored flowers that are accompanied by stunning silvery blue succulent foliage.

Where do Ice Plants Come From?

Vibrant pink ice plant flowers in full bloom growing next to the coast

Since there are so many different species within the genus, ice plants will come from a variety of different places. However, since we know that they are succulent plants, it is obvious that they will derive from places that are dry and warm.

Many ice plant species are endemic to the arid and semi-arid regions occurring in South Africa, New Zealand, Australia, and the Central Pacific. Outside of their natural growing range, they can exist in USDA hardiness zone 5 through 9.

What are the Growing Conditions of Ice Plants?

Growing ice plants is truly amazing. They are one of those garden plants that require absolutely nothing from you and they will just happily continue to spread and bloom.

You literally just have to toss a handful of seeds at some soil and watch them grow! Here are a few tips on what their ideal growing conditions are:

Beautiful bright purple ice plant flowers cascading over big boulder

Soil Type

The best way to go about creating the perfect home for an ice plant is by attempting to imitate their natural growing range: the desert! They are the perfect plant to place in that area of your property that is dry and troublesome.

With this in mind, pick a spot in your garden that has dry and sandy soil. It is also important that this sandy soil is very well-drained. They do not like wet soil whatsoever.

Ice plants are very used to existing in poor soil as well, which means that they are not high in nutrients. No need to add any compost to the mix, ice plants don’t need it!

Sun Exposure

Like all succulent plants, the ice plant is a sun-loving specimen. This means that it prefers to be exposed to a bare minimum of 6 hours of direct sun per day. They are tolerant to very partial shade, though it is certainly not ideal.

Additionally, one of the main requirements for seed germination is sunlight. So make sure not to cover ice plant seeds once you’ve scattered them across the soil.

Water Level

Watering requirements for an ice plant are simple: there are none! Not only are these plants completely drought tolerant, but they also don’t really want to be watered at all, and shouldn’t be planted near any standing water either.

It is important that an ice plant is able to exist in extremely dry soil. But remember, because this is the ideal environment they can quickly take over a dry, barren area.

Vibrant red ice plant flowers growing directly out of dry rocky site

Temperature

As succulent, ice plants are surprisingly tolerant of cold. Some species are more cold-hardy than others, but the vast majority of them can exist quite happily in USDA hardiness zone 5 through 9.

Fertilizer

Ice plants come from regions that have extremely nutrient-poor soil, so this means that they don’t need to be fertilized! They’ve adapted ways to do without, so skip this step of plant maintenance.

Pruning

Ice plants are also very low maintenance in terms of pruning requirements: there are none! They grow in a very attractive and neat habit all on their own.

However, don’t be afraid to prune away any stems that died off over the winter months in the early spring. This way the plant can avert its energy towards its new spring growth, rather than trying to bring those old stems back to life.

Intolerances

Even though these plants are super duper low maintenance, there are a couple of things that they can’t tolerate. Just remember: they don’t like to be too cold, they don’t like too much watering, and they don’t like shade!

*Here’s another tip (on the house), plant your ice plant in a sheltered spot on your property, as their flower blooms can be a little bit fragile against high winds.

How are Ice Plants Used?

Stunning yellow ice plant cascading over an ornamental garden wall

Ornamental Plant

Ice plants are truly the perfect garden specimen. They grow with enthusiasm, they are shockingly lovely, they have beautiful evergreen foliage, and they are very low maintenance.

They can be kept indoors as a house plant, they make the perfect addition to a desert garden, rock garden, or zen garden, and they will be the show-stopping ground cover plant you’ve always been looking for. They are commonly planted with sedum, which is another gorgeous ground cover garden plant.

If you happen to live in colder climates and you’re worried about the winter, just keep them in outdoor containers or outdoor pots and simply bring them inside once the first threat of frost approaches.

FAQs

Are ice plants perennials?

Ice plants are a great perennial plant option. This means that they will continue to grow and bloom year after year as long as their ideal growing conditions are maintained.

Are ice plants invasive?

Ice plants are tough. There is not much that they can’t handle, and they are also very good at reproducing. This combination of traits can sometimes lead to an invasive species. Ice plants have been known to become invasive species outside of their natural growing regions when they are planted on dry sites. So keep this in mind when considering planting one on your property.

What are the damaging agents of ice plants?

Many of the damaging agents of ice plants occur because of overwatering. They require low to average moisture levels, and exceeding that can result in things like root rot or leaf rust.

Ice plants are also susceptible to invasions from mealybugs, and they can be quite sensitive to urban pollution as well.

Are ice plants succulents?

Ice plants are succulent species, meaning that they have fleshy foliage that is adapted to help them survive in dry and harsh conditions by holding water in these swollen leaves.

Can I grow an ice plant indoors?

Ice plants can grow happily indoors as long as they are placed in a south-facing window. The trickiest thing to maintain indoors is the adequate amount of sun exposure.

How should an ice plant be trimmed?

Ice plants are also very low maintenance in terms of pruning requirements: there are none! They grow in a very attractive and neat habit all on their own.

However, don’t be afraid to prune away any stems that died off over the winter months in the early spring. This way the plant can avert its energy towards its new spring growth, rather than trying to bring those old stems back to life.

Will ice plants survive winter?

The most cold-hardy ice plant is the delosperma. Though it will survive winter, it will experience some foliage dieback once the snow melts. This can be pruned away and it will be replaced with spring growth.

Will ice plants grow in shade?

Like all succulent plants, the ice plant is a sun-loving specimen. This means that it prefers to be exposed to a bare minimum of 6 hours of direct sun per day. They are tolerant to very partial shade, though it is certainly not ideal.

Additionally, one of the main requirements for seed germination is sunlight. So make sure not to cover ice plant seeds once you’ve scattered them across the soil.

When should an ice plant be divided?

Once an ice plant flower is fertilized, it will produce numerous seed capsules. Each seed capsule will contain one or more seeds. Ice plants are very good at reproducing and can be propagated by seed sowing, cuttings, or division.

When you plant one, ensure to plant them at least 15-18 inches apart from one another as they will very quickly fill in space.

Divide your ice plant in the spring, take cuttings and plant them in either spring, summer, or fall (this is flexible), or scatter seeds on a soil surface in the spring. Ensure not to cover the seeds with extra soil as they require light in order to germinate.

How fast do ice plants grow?

Ice plants can grow very quickly. It will only take them a few short months to become full-grown, but once they reach that level they won’t get much bigger or taller. They will basically grow as wide as the space you’ve given them.

How often should an ice plant be watered?

Watering requirements for an ice plant are simple: there are none! Not only are these plants completely drought tolerant, but they also don’t really want to be watered at all, and shouldn’t be planted near any standing water either.

It is important that an ice plant is able to exist in extremely dry soil. But remember, because this is the ideal environment they can quickly take over a dry, barren area.

Do ice plants need fertilizer?

Ice plants come from regions that have extremely nutrient-poor soil, so this means that they don’t need to be fertilized! They’ve adapted ways to do without, so skip this step of plant maintenance.

What USDA zone can an ice plant live in?

Since there are so many different species within the genus, ice plants will come from a variety of different places. However, since we know that they are succulent plants, it is obvious that they will derive from places that are dry and warm.

Many ice plant species are endemic to the arid and semi-arid regions occurring in South Africa, New Zealand, Australia, and the Central Pacific. Outside of their natural growing range, they can exist in USDA hardiness zone 5 through 9.