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Portulaca: a Flower, a Weed and a Veggie

July 24, 1999|From ASSOCIATED PRESS

Portulaca is a plant genus that gives us a flower, a weed and a vegetable. All flourish undaunted by heat or drought.

Let's start with the flower, which also is called moss rose. In fact, the tufts of pointed leaves do resemble a large moss.

And the flowers, an inch across, with single or double rows of petals in colors from white to yellow to rose, scarlet and deep red, do resemble wild roses. The plant grows to a half-foot-wide mound, with stems that are just barely able to pull themselves up off the ground under the weight of their fleshy leaves.

Moss rose is native to the sunny, dry foothills that rise up along the western boundary of the pampas. As you might guess from its native habitat, the moss rose not only tolerates, but absolutely requires, full sun and well-drained soil. Moss rose is ideal for dry rock gardens and for edging.

Moss rose is easy to grow from seed. Once blossoming begins, it continues nonstop until plants are killed by frost. The plant is an annual but sometimes will reseed itself for the next season.

Portulaca--the weed and vegetable--is also known as purslane. Its reddish stems and fleshy, spoon-shaped leaves hug the ground and creep outward in an ever-enlarging circle.

Purslane can be a weed because it is hard to kill and spreads easily. A plant pulled and tossed on the ground usually will re-root. Chop the stems with a hoe, and each piece will take root. Even without roots, the inconspicuous flowers stay alive long enough to make and spread seeds.

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What about purslane, the vegetable? Take a bite of the weed. The young stems and leaves are tender and juicy with a slight, yet refreshing tartness. Purslane is delicious raw or cooked and is a popular vegetable in many places around the world, including its native India.

There are varieties of purslane for planting in the vegetable garden. They have yellowish leaves and a more upright growth habit than wild forms.

Grow wild or cultivated purslane from seed or by rooting cuttings from established plants.

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