Heartleaf Iceplant (Aptenia cordifolia), a South African relative of Australia’s native pigfaces. Marketed by Melbourne nurseries since at least 1876 (thanks G. Brunning), this species has enjoyed an unfortunate resurgence in use as native plants became increasingly desirable in domestic and commercial landscaping. To the weekend gardener, Aptenia is a cute and tidy diminutive of the sprawling native pigfaces in Carpobrotus, and effectively unrecognisable as an exotic weed.
Collections of Aptenia cordifolia were made by early Australian plant pathologist Daniel Mcalpine at Brighton and Brighton Beach in 1885. There were further collections from Brimbank in 1904, Cheltenham in 1940 and the south bank of the Yarra at Church Street in 1944. While we can’t know the histories of these occurrences, and whether some were cultivated plants that had casualised, ‘escaped’ or been dumped, this is an escapee with a long history in this state. Despite being typically treated in the literature as ‘confined to coastal areas’ and ‘possibly not naturalised’ (Flora of Australia, 1984), a majority of occurrence records in Victoria concern inland sites in suburban Melbourne and its extra-urban periphery to the N/NW. The plant has been collected from the Werribee Gorge and seems to be locally widespread in Moorabool and Melton, and there are multiple observance records from Whittlesea and Plenty Gorge. The common denominator seems to be non-Volcanics bedrock exposures and derived soils.
1-4 show the type species, Aptenia cordifolia, a magenta-flowering plant with heart-shaped leaves, atop a section of the Barkers Rd cutting in Kew. The modern nursery trade also promotes hybrid crosses of A. cordifolia and its sister taxon, A. haeckeliana, plants which have red flowers and pokier leaves. In other jurisdictions, these hybrids are also reported to have naturalised. The hybrid plants shown in photos 5-10 have most likely established from garden waste dumped at the end of a street in Abbotsford.