(Tetragonia tetragonoides, formerly T. expansa— Family Aizoaceae [Tetragoniaceae])
New Zealand Spinach, tetragonia, warrigal greens, Botany Bay greens, New Zealand ice plant
This type of green is not related to the ordinary spinach, but is a close relative of the iceplant (see below).
It bears seed pods which float and are borne naturally for long distances on ocean currents. Consequently, not only is it found in New Zealand and Australia, but also clings to the rocky beaches of the Pacific Islands, China, Japan, and South America.
Having been known as tetragona, tetragone, and tetragonia, this plant suffered another name change. After Captain Cook returned to England, it soon became known as Botany Bay greens.
This creeping perennial is high in iron, beta carotene, and folate, and was unknown in Europe until 1771, when it was introduced to the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew by the great botanist Joseph Banks after his voyage on board the Endeavour with Captain Cook.
By the 1820s, tetragonia was being cultivated in both England and France, and appeared for the first time in American seed catalogues, after seeds were distributed to members of the New York Horticultural Society in 1827. It did not appear in New Zealand literature until the 1940s.
Many claim that it is much more useful than spinach because it can be grown all summer in heats which spinach cannot stand without turning to seed. It can also be washed more easily and gives repeated cuttings.
Its thick, arrowhead leaves are firm and springy, with slight glassy dots on the underside like the ice plant. The leaves are about two inches long and make an attractive edging and ground cover while serving its duty as a nutritious food.
When cooked, the greens turn creamy and the rich texture dominates, but the flavour does become almost bland. The New Zealand spinach is sometimes grown as a crop of “green manure” to improve the soil structure.
(Cryophytum crystallinum or Mesembryanthemum cristallinum – Family Aizoaceae)
The iceplant is closely related to the New Zealand spinach and the Hottentot fig (C. edulis)
of South Africa. Aizoaceae, the Carpet-weed family, contains some 2,500 species.
Its botanical name is derived from the Greek “aizoon” (to live eternally), and was probably chosen because many of these plants flourish under unfavourable climatic conditions in steppes and deserts. Their thick-fleshed, succulent, moisture-storing leaves develop to defy drought.
The iceplant was introduced to Europe and North America in the 18th century as a substitute for spinach. It did not prove successful in that role, but did as a flowering ornamental.
The iceplant is indigenous to the coasts of South Africa, where it is best known as a medicinal herb. It is cultivated today in Central and Southern Europe, India, California, and Australia.
Since it needs plenty of warmth, it is grown almost exclusively in greenhouses in temperate zones and used like spinach, either cooked or raw. The ice plant received its name from the eye-catching salt crystals on its stems and leaves, which resemble frozen dewdrops. The ice plant has a pleasantly acid flavour.