Walk under the cliffs at Glynde Gap or Cliff End and you’ll encounter a wall of picturesque flowers, the exotically named Hottentot Fig. A non-native species, once popular in ornamental gardens, the Hottentot, with triangular succulent leaves and large yellow or purple blooms, comes originally from South Africa.

What’s the problem?

Although used to stabilise sand dunes (in Cornwall), in the wild it’s aggressively invasive, forming dense, impenetrable mats on warm, sunny coastal cliffs to the exclusion of other species. A single ground-creeping plant can dominate a space up to 50 metres wide, swamping native flora. Currently considered one of the 100 worst invasive species on the planet, the Hottentot Fig has caused habitat damage in California, Portugal, the Mediterranean and New Zealand. In the UK there’s a law against planting it in the wild: Schedule 9 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act in England and Wales.

Also known as ‘Pig Face’ and ‘the Ice Plant’, its impressive propagation and seed production rates lead to the quick colonisation of vast areas. 

Anything good about it?

The fruits of the Hottentot Fig are said to be edible, although they don’t fully ripen in our climate. Also found on southern cliffs in Wales and Ireland, the striking flowers appear between May and September, slightly resembling those of the dandelions and thistles.

According to wilderness bushcraft expert Paul Kirkley, Carpobrotus Edulis has various medicinal properties. “Juice from the leaves has been used to staunch bleeding and is said to speed the healing of wounds. (It) seems to have antiseptic qualities, having been used for mouthwash and gargling for sore throat.” It has reputedly been employed by traditional healers to calm itching – from insect bites to eczema. Other health claims include being a strong antioxidant, an anti neuro-inflammatory and improving cognitive functions. In its native habitat the dried, sour fruits are sold in markets as food, being eaten raw, preserved, dried and as jam or syrup.

One undisputed attribute is how beautifully the bee-pollinated Hottentot Fig adorns the sandy cliffs of east Sussex.


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