When you maintain a garden in Southeast Georgia, you quickly realize it requires a lot of almost year-round nonstop weed pulling! This summer I have spent hours using my favorite shuffle hoe to attack common purslane (Portulaca olearacea), one of many weeds that thrive in our coastal environment. If I don’t pick up what I have hoed, every little broken off piece will seemingly root right where it landed. Sometimes, I just wonder if I shouldn’t leave it and simply call it my ground cover of choice!
If you caught the Latin name mentioned above, perhaps it seemed familiar. It is. Portulaca is a genus of flowering plants comprised of 40-100 species found growing natively in warm temperate zones and the tropics. The plants are also known as purslanes. Portulaca species are all known for their incredible tenacity to endure the harshest of conditions. They not only tolerate drought and heat but also salt. The succulent leaves retain water and that is why the common purslane actually does resurrect itself even after being uprooted. The scientific name Portulaca is from the Latin word portula or gate. Each seed capsule has a gate or lid that opens up and scatters numerous seeds that have great longevity. This is why the common weed multiplies so quickly.
There are three species of Portulaca familiar to me. Common purslane (P. olearacea) is the widespread prostate weed with spoon-shaped leaves easily recognizable by its small yellow flowers that open in the sunlight. In researching the common purslane, I quickly learned that all parts of the plant are edible and that a good number of recipes can be found on the web. The nutritional value is considered to be very high. The National Library of Science offers many articles on the value of eating purslane as it contains very high levels of Omega-3 fatty acids. It has the potential to be cultivated as a food product that will supplement the human diet and also assist in treating or preventing disease (nutraceutical application). Joan Hall, in her December 2019 article “How to Identify Purslane: A Nutritious and Edible Weed” reports that the Ultimate Guide to U.S. Army Survival Skills, Tactics and Techniques mentions purslane in their chapter on “Survival Use of Plants.” Pretty interesting read that comes with the warning not to eat anything unless you can positively identify it!
Rose moss (P. grandiflora) is cultivated as a garden ornamental with an eye-catching array of colorful flowers and fleshy succulent leaves that look like fat needles. Flowering purslane (P. umbracticola) has become a popular garden ornamental. Like common purslane, the leaves are spoon shaped. Offered by Proven Winners, the Mojave series have continuous blooms all summer in colors of tangerine, rose red, fuchsia, yellow and pink. I’ve been seeing these plants used more frequently in the coastal landscape. As long as the plants get at least 6 -8 hours of direct sunlight and are positioned in very well-drained soil, they should be spectacular. If the soil is poorly drained or if the planting site is in line with a sprinkler head, they won’t survive. The large flowers of these ornamental forms are attractants for bees and butterflies. What I like about both forms is that they can be grown in pots, window boxes or baskets or in the landscape as an edging plant or ground cover. Mass plantings create a breathtaking sea of color. Keep in mind that blooms will close at night, or on cloudy/rainy days, although some newer varieties now remain open. Deadheading, removal of spent blooms, helps to promote flowering.
I purchased one of the Mojave Tangerine plants last spring and it did amazingly well on the back deck, despite the unfortunate fact that the deck reaches a surface temperature that doesn’t allow us to use it until late afternoon in the summer. The flowering purslane loved the location. It even survived the winter. What finally killed it before this summer was a move by hubby to a more shaded location and several extraordinary rains that kept the container just too wet. However, what is nice about containing gardening is the relatively low cost of replacing a plant. I hope to find the Mojave Red this time around.