Ice Plant Colorado: Nature’s Colorful Delight

Delo floribundum

There is an abundance of hardy ice plants flooding the market these days, but in our enthusiasm for the new, we tend to forget about the tried and true. It’s hard to believe, but it has been twenty years since I first laid eyes on the delightful Delosperma floribundum ‘Starburst’ in the windswept plains near Springfontein, South Africa. The sparse grasslands it called home reminded me of the picturesque landscapes of Colorado. This particular specimen in the cultivation is robust, but the wild ones were just as impressive. It was part of the second wave of hardy ice plants, championed by Plant Select, a program that undoubtedly contributed to its popularity.

The Fear of Unruly Plants

Recently, I’ve been asked a recurring question whenever the topic of hardy ice plants arises: “Aren’t you worried that they will become invasive?” It’s a bit like asking a surgeon if they fear their patient won’t survive the operation. While there is a remote possibility that any plant grown outside its natural context might become invasive, it’s crucial to consider the specific characteristics of each plant. Carpobrotus edulis, the weedy Californian ice plant often mentioned in this context, is a comparatively massive plant. The ecological conditions of California’s coasts are far different from the shortgrass prairies of Colorado. However, fate seems to have a sense of irony, as I discovered something just across the street from my own house- a charming Delosperma floribundum that had ventured into the wild!

Delo 3

Nature’s Unexpected Wanderer

My daily drive revealed flashes of pinkish-purple hues dotting the unkempt prairie to the west of me. Intrigued, I stopped the car and ventured into the grassland. To my surprise, a dozen or so Delosperma floribundum had taken root and flourished. Panic set in. What had I unwittingly unleashed?

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Delo 4

The plants grew within a few feet of a weed barrier and a mulched bed where their parent plants had been planted a year ago, now deceased. I couldn’t help but wonder if the demise was due to the richer soil or the pathogens attracted by the bark mulch. It became apparent that Delosperma floribundum is a grassland plant that thrives in the harsh conditions of shortgrass prairies with its pedocal soil, as opposed to the fluffy garden pedalfer mulch with bark chips. This observation speaks volumes about horticultural practices. We often attempt to grow plants from more humid climates, requiring acid-rich, humusy soils (pedalfers), while Plant Select and others introduce plants from semi-arid regions that flourish in our native alkaline mineral soils (pedocals). It’s a fascinating contrast, isn’t it?

Delightful Encounters

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A few self-sown seedlings near the parent plant hardly constitute a rampaging weed (although critics of exotic plants may disagree). Delosperma floribundum does produce occasional random seedlings, as I observed years ago when I discovered a charming plantlet nestled along a low wall in front of the Waring House. Many other garden plants, both native and non-native, have the potential to self-sow and spread. Red Valerian (Centranthus ruber), Knautia macedonica, Perovskia, and black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia triloba) are just a few examples. While they may be considered pesky if they grow in the wrong spot, they are hardly obnoxious weeds.

Nature’s Return

Over the years, I will closely monitor the growth and spread of these Delosperma floribundum in the field nearby. As they settle into their new home, I can’t help but marvel at the irony of their return, right across the way from where it all began.

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To discover more about the wondrous world of plants, visit the Ames Farm Center today!