Purslane and Portulaca

More About Purslane and Portulaca: September 2018

I’ve got some new photos and experiences with purslane and portulaca to share since publishing this post a few years ago.

First, I actually purchased an ornamental purslane this year for a container. In other words, I could enjoy its pretty, delicate flowers but not worry about it spreading through a flower bed.

purslane flower and foliage
Ornamental purslane in a container arrangement. The flowers were striking.

And it’s a good thing I kept the purslane contained. We had a really strange weather year. Our grass emerged later than usual, and we were overtaken with two prostrate weeds: goatheads and purslane.

purslane in new mexico lawn
With moderate drought, this grass is not as green as it should be. But note the reddish-brown bare spots. Yep, that’s fading purslane.

I don’t know if the lack of grass around the dead purslane was the reason the purslane is so heavy in some areas, OR whether the hardiness of the purslane in our recent conditions simply covered the ground and choked out native grass in many areas. Either way, it is difficult to get rid of the purslane and the goatheads in a large lawn because they are too short to effectively mow, and too numerous to hoe.

For more information, here is the original post, with a few new photos:

I’ve grown to accept that some invasive plants (aka: weeds) are not so bad. I’m still on the fence with purslane (Portulaca oleracea), a prostrate spreading succulent that can take over entire flower beds.

portulaca flower
Ornamental portulaca from the same family as purslane. Note the ornamental’s thinner, needle-like leaves.

Weed or edible?

Purslane can grow in pavement, between rocks, and in moist conditions. It spreads from seed or from pieces of stems. And a purslane can have more than 50,000 seeds per plant. It re-roots after being hoed. That’s a weed, right? Still, many value purslane because it is edible. But in my mind, if the plant interferes with the objectives in managing a lawn or garden, it’s a weed. And since mats of purslane suck moisture and nutrients from soil and even shade soil from sun as they spread, they’re pretty much weeds in my book. That’s especially true in a vegetable garden, where I don’t want a weed competing for precious water.

faded purslane reddish
Close-up of fading, sort of mowed purslane; it’s returned to its reddish color.

Purslane was grown in India originally and provided nutrition and reported health benefits. Those who eat purslane have described its taste as lemony or similar to spinach. And the plant tastes best if “harvested” while its fleshy leaves still are young. So one way to eradicate common purslane where you don’t like it is to follow the philosophy “If you can’t beat ‘em, eat ‘em.”

You can spot common purslane as a small seedling with reddish-tinged leaves that form flat against the ground and spread out like spokes in a wheel. Pull it up before it sets seed to avoid having an entire bed full of the weed the next year. Not sure a weed is purslane? Check out these photos of seedlings and other stages of purslane from Missouri State University.

Ornamental value

Even common purslane can be pretty. The fleshy leaves contrast nicely with tiny, usually orange, flowers. And I bought one years ago before I knew better. I paid for that, because the plant came back with a vengeance, choking out other plants in a tiny rock garden. So if you choose to plant purslane as an edible, just beware that you’re introducing the seeds to your landscape.

purslane weed
Purslane taking over a rock garden. It’s best to pull it up before it gets this big, whether you eat it or throw it out.

A better alternative is an ornamental portulaca such as P. grandiflora. You can tell an ornamental portulaca from a purslane by its leaves. Ornamental portulaca, often called moss rose, has more needle-like leaves than purslane foliage. The flowers also are showier, often looking either like a cactus bloom or a tiny carnation or rose.

coral colored portulaca bloom
I love this portulaca bloom. The plant loves sun and heat.

The best part? Portulacas love sun and heat, are highly drought tolerant, and will spread in warm climates to make an interesting groundcover. They’re also a perfect container plant, especially if you buy a mix of colors, which warm-climate nurseries usually carry. Both purslane and portulaca bloom in the morning after the sun has been up a few hours, and close later in the day.

portulaca blooms mounding
These are annuals worth the money! I’ve never seem portulaca mound like this, but loved the effect and color.

Caring for portulacas

Portulaca is an annual, but can re-seed. Although not nearly as invasive as its purslane relative, an ornamental portulaca often pops up somewhere in the landscape. But to me, it’s a happy surprise. The easy-care, drought tolerant annual is welcome in our garden any time temperatures begin to warm up in early summer. The worst thing you can do is overwater the plant, especially if it’s in potting mix. The portulaca will grow leggy.

portulaca in hanging baskets
Portulaca actually do better with sun and heat, but who would have thought it would be 40 degrees F in mid-May? I can’t wait for these containers at the back of our garden to fill in.

Portulaca will keep blooming and spreading into fall, provided you do one thing: pinch off spent blooms. The energy will go to helping new blooms form. The equivalent of deadheading this annual is so simple; just pinch the blooms off into your hand after they have closed up and begun to look withered. If the flower resists, wait a day. You’ll soon recognize the difference between a bud and a spent bloom.

portulaca and cactus
This portulaca re-seeded in some soil we repurposed for one of Tim’s cacti. It just goes to show how little water they need! You can see the bloom stages really well in this photo. A tiny dried-up flower peeks from behind the bloom; it’s ready to pinch off! Two new buds are a little lower on either side of the stem. And a faded bloom, nearly ready to pinch, lies at the lower right.

And if you want to pinch your portulaca while eating a salad with purslane leaves, that’s up to you. Just be armed with new recipes to cook up all of your purslane in years that follow.