The Surprising Mesembryanthemum ‘Mesbicla’
Mesembryanthemum ‘Mesbicla’. Photo: Proven Winners
Question: I saw this magnificent container plant that I can’t identify. Do you know what it is?
Answer: It’s a succulent with a whole range of names: currently, it is officially called Mesembryanthemum ‘Mesbicla’, although generally sold as Aptenia Mezoo™ Trailing Red. (Aptenia is its former botanical genus, changed to Mesembryanthemum in 1997, while Mezoo™ Trailing Red is a trademark name and has no horticultural value.) You’ll also see it sold as Dorotheanthus bellidiformis Mezoo™ Trailing Red, even though it looks nothing like the true Dororeanthus bellidiformis (now Cleretum bellidiforme).
As for its common names, take your pick! I’ve seen:
- Variegated heartleaf ice plant
- Giant sun rose
- Trailing red Livingstone daisy
- Variegated heartleaf aptenia
What Is Mesembryanthemum ‘Mesbicla’?
Mesembryanthemum ‘Mesbicla’ is a hybrid of horticultural origin, resulting from a cross between a long-cultivated plant usually called heartleaf aptenia (Mesembryantheum cordifolium, formerly Aptenia cordifolia) with tiny, magenta-purple flowers and green heart-shaped leaves, and a lesser-known but larger plant called M. haeckelianum with yellow flowers.
This cross gave the cultivar M. ‘Red Apple’, with larger red flowers, a denser but still trailing habit and bright green leaves that aren’t heart-shaped like those of M. cordifolium, but rather elliptical. A mutation of ‘Red Apple’ with variegated leaves (green with a creamy white border) appeared spontaneously and was named ‘Mesbicla’.
‘Mesbicla’ is a low-growing, trailing succulent with dense, elliptical, succulent green and creamy white leaves. It is rarely more than 3 to 5 inches (8 to 12 cm) in height, but can grow to a considerable width—3 feet (90 cm) or more—if used as a groundcover in a tropical climate. In temperate climates, it’s usually used as an annual for summer containers or as a houseplant and can trail down from its pot for up to 3 or 4 feet (90 or 120 cm).
The flowers are small and bright red, with numerous petals (actually staminodes) and a yellow eye. They open only on sunny days, not all on cloudy days, and close at night, giving the plant one if its common names: sun rose.
Mesembryanthemum ‘Mesbicla’ is in the Aizoaceae or Mesembryanthemum family and its parent species are native to South Africa.
Growing Mesembryanthemum ‘Mesbicla’
It’s a sun-loving plant, needing a bright patio or sunny windowsill. It will weaken in anything but full sun.
It is very drought-tolerant, but will grow and bloom best if kept moderately well watered during the summer months, when it puts on most of its growth and bloom. During the fall and winter, keep it cooler, if possible, and certainly drier, watering only when the leaves start to shrivel. It’s prone to rot if kept in soggy, waterlogged soil.
It’s best not to fertilize this plant, as that can result in straggly, weak growth. Its parent species grew in poor, arid soils and it seems to have inherited their ability to thrive with few minerals.
Left to grow on its own, it may wander off awkwardly in various directions, so don’t hesitate to pinch or prune as needed to keep it in check.
Except in tropical areas (hardiness zones 10 to 12), bring it indoors in the fall when nighttime temperatures drop below 50 °F (10 °C). M. ‘Red Apple’ has escaped culture and become a weed in parts of California and Australia. It’s not known if M. ‘Mesbicla’ is as invasive.
You could also bring in stem cuttings, easy to root in fairly dry soil. No need to cover the cuttings with a clear plastic dome: they don’t need the extra humidity. Do not root in water.
Curiously, the leaves are edible and can be eaten like spinach. However, if your plant comes straight from a nursery, hold off on tasting it for a few months so that any pesticide residues have time to break down.
Mesembryanthemum ‘Mesbicla’: identifying it has flummoxed even some botanists, but it’s a straightforward and attractive succulent most people find easy to grow.