Yesterday on Sharpes Beach, Ballina, I had one of the more interesting conversations I’ve had with a random stranger. Peter Hardwick, according to his Linkedin page ‘wild food researcher, consultant, regenerative forager, native food research, feral food, zero input food, food ingredient invention, bushfood regeneration’, was photographing native pigface. I’d read about the hybridisation threat with introduced pigface and it was nice to meet the originator of that information. I’d never tasted the native pigface fruit before – sweet and salty at the same time.
Peter’s Facebook post (reproduced with permission)
The non-native Carpobrotus aequilaterus, angled pigface on the left with red stems and dark leaves, whereas the native pigface, Carpobrotus glaucescens, with the lighter coloured leaves is on the right.
There’s a serious risk to the native pigface throughout Australia from hybridisation with the non-native pigface that have escaped from peoples gardens and from council plantings.
It so important to only plant the local native pigface from locally sourced stock.
Native pigface, Carpobrotus, are one of the best coastal bushfoods in Australia. But unfortunately, there’s an unseen threat to the survival of native pigface that comes from peoples’ gardens – introduced ornamental pigface are escaping and hybridising with the native pigface.
The problem of introduced non-native pigface going wild is widespread. In some places in South Australia researchers found that half of the Carpobrotus in the wild were hybrids with the non-native pigface. Hybrid pigface can also be vigorous and overwhelm the native pigface in their habitat.
Ultimately this could drive local native pigface into a kind of hybrid extinction. It also represents a loss of culture – pigface fruit is an important traditional food.
In Bundjalung country the pigface has a superb flavour – somewhat like salty kiwifruit. It would be a tragedy to lose that wonderful flavour profile and cultural feature from hybridisation with introduced pigface.
There needs to be an active campaign to save pigface and encourage people to only plant the local native variants. Some regeneration style native nurseries make a point of keeping the local pigface in stock. But also be careful of mislabelled plants.
One of the most popular cultivated pigface varieties which is labelled as native Carpobrotus glaucescens, but based on a number of features including the purple colour of the petaloid staminoides going right down to the base, it looks more like non-native C. aequilateris.
Non-native pigface are also easy to remove, but just make sure it’s identified correctly before removal, and replace with cuttings of the local native pigface. Pigface are very important sand dune stabilisers too.
It can get complex identifying what’s native and what’s non-native in some locations in Vic, SA, Tas, WA and NSW because there can be multiple native species of the pigface family in the same location. Good to get know the local native pigface species before removing anything.
Identifying and removing hybrids is going to be difficult because they have a mixture of native and non-native features. But there’s the hope that we will be able to tune in to the species so as we can work out what to remove and what to keep.
Peter’s later answers to questions in comments on his FB post
- If you have white at the base of the petals it’s probably fine. Pale pink, but not white, at the base of the petals it’s most likely non-native. Red stems can occur on non-native and native, but some non-native Carpobrotus have very distinctive deep burgundy red stems.
- You can eat the pulp of the fruit raw, but discard the astringent skin. The leaves can also be eaten, but my experience is that the leaves are usually too astringent to be eaten raw. I cook them in simmering water with a change of water.
- Here’s a pic of Carpobrotus glaucescens, the main native east coast species. See the white base of the ‘petals’. Also, the native bee working the flower. Both native and introduced bees are major pollinators and will aid in pollen dispersal between plants.
- This is non-native Carpobrotus aequilaterus, angled pigface. See how it’s consistently pink coloured all the way to the ‘petal’ base. This plant is growing very vigorously in a council park at Lennox Head.
- Sometimes I find the non-native pigface don’t develop fruit because they are hybrids. Also, I find that the non-natives are generally not as flavoursome.
– Carpobrotus in Australia:
– Carpobrotus hybridisation in SA:
– Carpobrotus hybridisation in WA: