Pigface

Carpobrotus glaucescens

Herbs gallery - Pigface

Common names

  • Angular Pigface
  • Pigface

The pigface is a plant with edible fruits that has the scientific name Carpobrotus glaucescens. The first part of the name comes from the Greek words fruit (karpos) and edible (brota), while glaucescens means "becoming glaucous" in Latin. This is a reference to the leaves, which are covered in a bloom with a green to blue color.

The herb is part of the Aizoaceae genus and commonly known as the angular pigface or simply as pigface. The genus is mainly found in South Africa, where most of the 30 species that are part of it are native to. However, there are also 6 members of the genus that are native to Australia. Except for C. modestus that grows inland, all of them are adapted to coastal environments.

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Pigface is a succulent plant that produces long prostrate stems that trail on the ground for up to 2 m. The location of the roots is marked by nodes on these stems. Branches that grow upright also start from these nodes and leaves are located on them. These are between 3.5 and 10 cm long and 1 to 1.5 cm thick, with a triangular section, a thick structure and a smooth surface. It tends to expand on the ground and cover a large area.

The species is native to Australia, where it inhabits sand dunes in coastal areas south of Rockhampton along the shores of the states of Queensland and NSW. In addition, it can be found on the eastern coasts of Victoria. Pigface plays an important role in the ecology of sand dunes because it covers their front, keeping the sand in place. It helps spinifex grass and other effective sand stabilizers to grow and fix the dunes. It is considered a pioneer species that allows the development of other plants.

Since pigface is adapted to coastal areas, it enjoys sandy soils and can survive a large amount of salt, as well as seawater sprays and powerful winds. It can even survive if completely covered by sand, when it grows upright until it emerges on the surface and starts to develop again.

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Due to its growth pattern, pigface can be a very useful cultivated species. Pigface is both hardy and very attractive, which makes it great for several purposes in gardens: to fixate loose soils, to control erosion caused by wind or simply as a colourful groundcover. If there is a need to bind large sand dunes, it can't be used alone since it doesn't cover the entire surface. In such cases, it is best used in a mix with goats-foot (Ipomoea pes-caprae) and spinifex (Spinifex sericeus). It requires very low maintenance in gardens and is a great choice for locations near the sea, as well as rocky areas. The flowers include both male and female organs, so they are hermaphrodites.

The species is very resilient and creates a colourful ground cover that consists of succulent leaves with a very thick structure. A large number of flowers appear during the spring and summer, with a lower number all around the year. They are large, with a diameter of 14 cm, and have a vivid pink or magenta color, with a yellow center. The pigface is suitable for both coastal and inland cultivation and woks great as groundcover for rockeries or as a hanging basket plant. Pigface can grow on almost any type of soils with good drainage, including very poor or highly fertile ones. Pigface enjoys positions in full sun or partial shade.

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Parts used

Fruits.

Uses

The pigface is known for its edible berry, a fruit with a red or purple color that was a source of food for the Australian aborigines. The taste of the flesh has been compared to a salty apple. Natives also roasted the leaves and used them as a replacement for salt. The first European colonists tried to use the species as a treatment for scurvy. Another old medical use is against insect bites, which can be mended with juice extracted from the leaves.

Like most fruits, the pigface berries are a good source of vitamin C. This essential nutrient boosts the human immune system and allows us to fight flu or cold. Fruit syrup has been used as a cure for chest infections and persistent cough.

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Culinary uses

The edible pigface berries are said to taste similar to kiwifruits or strawberries. However, only the pulp is consumed, while the skin must be removed. Leaves are also edible, either cooked or preserved as pickles. Pigface berries can be prepared as jams or toffees.

Habitat and cultivation

Pigface normally grows during the spring and summer. Both seeds and cuttings are viable methods of propagation. Rooting horizontal stem cuttings, a procedure known as layering, is probably the fastest method and it imitates the natural growth pattern of the species. Use layers with a length of about 30 cm and allow at least 5 cm to stay above the surface. Even a cut piece of a mature plant can be used for propagation, as well as divisions.

If you prefer to use seeds, sow them in containers on the surface. If the weather is cold during the night, it actually helps germination, which at 23°C typically lasts between 7 and 10 days. As soon as the seedlings can be handled, move them to individual pots then to their final position after they are fully established.

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Pigface is a very hardy species that normally inhabits coastal regions. It used to be a staple food of Australian natives, today it is used in gardens but it can also invade them. It is a great choice for large pots placed in the sun, since it is highly resistant to drought.

The plant's native range is in subtropical areas with low elevations. Pigface has also expanded its range into tropical climates. As long as the soil has good drainage, the plant becomes established quickly. The best positions are in full sun but it will also succeed in partial shade. Pigface tolerates harsh locations on sandy zones and steep cliffs, as well as strong winds, drought and salty grounds.

The species is known for its ability to survive long dry periods. Scale insects might attack it during the summer but it is otherwise unaffected by pests.

If you want a stronger bloom, you can apply some liquid fertilizer at the start of spring. To keep pigface healthy, use a general fertilizer twice per year, although it is not really needed. The plant will eventually cover about 2 m of ground and grow to a height of up to 20 cm.

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