Chances are that you’ve one time passed through a green court and overlooked some “herbs” with thick succulent leaves that resemble overgrown moss. It is also probable that the next time you passed by, you had to stop and wonder about the wing-shaped cluster of yellow or bright pink ephemeral flowers you saw sprouting from the same plants you’d overlooked earlier. It’s probable that this miraculous transfiguration was on a portulaca plant, common purslane to be precise, botanically known as Portulaca Oleracea.
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If on another lawn you pass a flowering weed with similar easy-to-overlook oblong-shaped fleshy foliage, topped by a saucer-shaped white or magenta-colored floral bouquet, then you will not be wrong mistaking it for a member of the portulaca plant family: for it is in fact a variety of purslane and it is known as Portulaca grandiflora.
These are just two of many edible varieties. In fact, there are tens of such pretty-looking varieties in this flowering family of over 100 plant species. One of them, Portulaca Molokiniensis, a Hawaii native variety, is rare and you may not have probably seen it, but now you can with this review!
You are just about to get up close with their characteristics, uses and health benefits. If keen to know the nutritional value, then please check this breakdown of the nutrition contents of cooked purslane.
What is portulaca?
Best known as purslanes, portulaca is a genus of highly populated fleshy-leaved plants, some of them edible, that mostly grow in dry marshy areas in warmer climates and some temperate regions. Besides their thick leaves, the most recognizable feature of this family of flowering plants is their flower blossoms.
The most typical and widely propagated is Portulaca oleracea, which doubles as a food and ornamental plant in gardens. Some regard it as a weed because it is highly invasive on a patch of land.
However, the positives outweigh the negatives about this portulaca flower: poultry, like humans, peck at them to share their rich repository of nutrients. Indeed, they are high in Vitamins A and C, besides manganese-the highest present mineral in this leafy vegetable. In fact, portulaca oleracea benefits extend to disease treatment such as heart disease. It is among the few leafy plants out there with omega 3 fatty acids that promote healthy arteries.
Portulaca common names
Like all invasive plants, Portulaca has attracted many common names, some of them slang, including pigweed and little pigweed. This specifically applies to the most typical species, Portulca oleracea, whose conventional common name is common purslane and in some areas, pusley.
Portulaca grandiflora, on the other hand, as its name suggests, is really grand-looking, with its cluster of mainly magenta-to-white colored clusters of large flowers (of up to 4 centimeters width) in natural bouquet formation. Truly amazing-looking for a weed, this species has garnered many common names that reach out to its beauty: ross moss, Mexican rose, sun rose and eleven o’clock are just a few of the pretty common names for it.
Another type is Portulaca umbraticola, also known by the common term wingpod purslane. Like the slang suggests, it has a flung apart, beautiful flower in the shape of an open umbrella. Its yellow flowers are ideal for ground laying or annual celebrations especially in the sunny outdoors of the cities.
Thus, from garden purslane to hogweed, the common names for the portulaca species never exhausts the imaginations of lovers of these edible ornamental flowers.
History of portulaca
Essentially, portulaca is a plant of the tropics which is a common sight in the drier regions of Africa. Some species, however, have become two-world choices, particularly portulaca grandiflora, which has found a home in temperate countries from China to the United States.
Where did these edible ornamental flowers come from?
Portulaca was first grown as a leafy vegetable in the Near East or the Indus Valley and it ranks among the earliest vegetables ever propagated by man.
Some sources point to a history going back to 4000 years, probably in the Middle East or India. It is not clear exactly in what form of weed or food it first grew, but modern researchers think it adapted slowly to the hot sun of the Western Asia region before crossing into tropical Africa where it is found in dozens of species.
Africa is now home to 30 of the 150 species including, oleracea and the 4-meter tall Portulacaria afra (purslane tree) of South Africa. Farmers in countries ranging from Egypt, to Kenya and Cameroon grow portulaca plants.
How to propagate and grow portulaca
Planting of portulaca is usually an easy task since you only do it once and the invasive plant will spread like a mat. In the case of Portulaca umbraticola, you need a well-drained area of cleared ground with variable pH. You can plant it by seed or stem cuttings.
This variety adapts well in salty marches so this need not factor in swampy areas. It is also rather resistant to high temperatures. It grows best in South American marshes but can also be propagated elsewhere including temperate North America. Almost all other species including Oleracea grow on dry soil as long as it is well-aerated and has a clear view of sunshine.
They just need regular care: two months after planting, feed them with organic manure or other plant food around the soil’s surface. They require little water management as they just love the solar rays for photosynthesis. They keep extra water on their succulent leaves and grow to a height of about eight inches. They spread to a distance of 1 to 2 feet around their propagation point, which indicates successful planting care.
In the case of the Hawaii-native wild plant, which is a rare find in the continental United States, known as Portulaca Molokiniensis, you can expect a height of 12 inches when it is in full bloom.
How to care for portulaca
- The plant can sprout in areas you never grew it due to its reseeding nature. So, keep a weather eye on weedy sprouts and clear them, leaving only those you planted.
- Keep an eye on the right minerals as the plants are prone to root rot.
- Though it can be grown as a pot plant, portulaca needs direct sunshine so that it can flower during the summer or fall in temperate climates.
- Flowering is a very critical time for most varieties and it is essential to cut them for ornamental purposes on a daily basis as each blossom lasts but for a day.
- The wild variety, portulaca Molokiniensis, requires proud places to grow including well-aerated soil areas and is watered only when the ground has dried out.
How long do portulaca flowers last
In temperate regions, flowers of most portulaca varieties have a lifespan of a day: though they return in full bloom regularly afterward, sometimes the flowers may remain closed in the hot sun, thus denying you a peek at their inflorescence.
So, be keen on flower cutting: you only have a single day before the saucer-shaped beautiful white or yellow flower of portulaca umbraticola wilts and lets in another bloom in its place!
What to plant with portulaca
The growth and maturity fashion of portulaca is early spring when the leaves sprout from seed. By May and June in diverse climes from Argentina to North America, the plants will be haloed with little blooms which will have turned fantastic by July.
As such, from seed to bloom, they follow the same growth route as other summer blooms. here are some companions to grow side by side with portulacas:
- Gilt Edge Silverberry: Like common purslane, they love the outdoor heat and climb walls in full bloom. They create a net-like growth pattern as they crawl the ground around them. Like portulacas, they can spread two feet from their sprouting point.
- Halls Japanese Honeysuckle: this is another summer flower that rivals the inflorescence of common purslane with its canary yellow largesse of bloom and also rivals the bloom of a moss rose with its cluster-like flower.
Use of portulaca plant
The uses of a portulaca plant are ornamental, herbal and dietary in nature. For diet watchers, here are the portulaca oleracea nutrition facts for each 100-gram serving:
- Vitamin C content is at 35 percent of your daily recommendation, meaning that with 100 grams of this edible plant in your diet, you will have boosted your immunity everyday.
- Beta-carotene-derived Vitamin A is lush in this portulaca plant, providing 26 percent of the daily value. Portulaca oleracea benefits, in particular, include antioxidant action against toxins, a powerful vitamin A attribute.
- Mineral contents for healthy bones, strong teeth, proper blood flow and healthy hair include calcium at 7 percent, iron at 11 percent, potassium at 13 percent and manganese at 15 percent of the daily value, respectively. Please check this comprehensive breakdown of the nutritional value of purslane.
Herbal uses include the treatment of inflammation in joints and the alleviation of certain types of diabetes. This particularly applies to Portulaca grandilora which has certain components that fight the rise in blood glucose.
Ornamental uses of portulacas range from display in bocquets during annual celebrations, laying as ground wreaths, display as pot plants and hanging on baskets outdoors.
Do portulacas need full sun?
Yes: one of the reasons portulacas grow best in the tropics is that they are well adapted to sunshine. In fact, one can trace their love for the sun to their very first cultivation in the Middle East, a region famous for its desert sun, around 4 millennia ago. Though you can grow portulacas in pots on balconies, it is necessary to let them see as much sun as possible.
Is moss rose medicinal?
Moss rose – the common name for Portulaca grandiflora-is absolutely medicinal. Tests have shown that it has vomifoliol as well as loliolide, two terpenoids that hinder the effect of rise in blood sugar for patients suffering from Type 2 diabetes.