Sunday, June 5, 2011

A weed only by name: Part 1

Today's plants of note are the two Portulacas both of which are so closely related most garden books dont even bother to note the specific epithet. Before we delve into that murky gray area between weed and non-weed  there is a event announcement to be made I will be making public appearance at this venue

What: Local Authors' Showcase
Where: Headquarters Library, Pate room 300 Maiden Lane Fayetteville, NC 28301
When:  Saturday June 11, 2011 from 1:00 to 3:00pm

It would be really cool if those of you reading this blog came by, a portion of the proceedes fromt he event benefits the Friends of the Cumberland Public Library and thus by supporting local authors you too are supporting your local libraries. I look forward to seeing all of you, and feel free to have your garden questions ready not only will I be talking about the book but I'll be doing a mini-garden clinic. 

Portulaca grandiflora - Moss Rose

This Moss Rose is actually three plants from a 6-cell pack.

Portulaca oleracea - Purselane

To be fair this purselane is a single plant in a 1qt pot thus more foliage.

The portulaca group of plants are rather capable survivors of often tough environments and typically will prosper where many other plants with fail. Ironically because of this some of the uncultivated species are often unfairly labelled weeds when there are many other plants that more aptly deserve the title such as Japanese and Chinese Wisteria.  The first thing you should know about portulaca is the most common name, Purselane. Purselane is  an english corruption of the actual name; Porcelaine which originates in the French language. While I personally cannot say what the actual name means I would imagine it might be a reference to the often porcelain looking flowers that have their own unique sparkle. 
Portulaca Grandiflora or Moss Rose is a common annual in garden centers across the country and is a solid and prolific annual in most northern climates. It's seeds overwinter as far north as New Jersey and it might be a tender perennial further south then North Carolina. In the landscape Moss rose does what sedum does not as it is coated in blooms from early summer through a few frosts of early winter. What makes Moss rose so interesting is that it's blooms are disproportionately large, numerous and bright for such a restrained plant. It is not uncommon to see shades of pink, white, yellow, red, orange and, a variety of color blends all within a few inches. The foliage is often a glaucous green and is on par with Moss phlox and any of the needle-leaf type sedum.

Portulaca oleracea or Purselane in comparison is flat, sprawling and bears  succulent leaves that resemble those seen on most stonecrop-type sedum. The stems of purselane tend to be a rich shade of red which stands at odds with the green of the leaves. The real attraction are the disproportionately large blooms that are seen at the tips of stems.  Few garden center shoppers realize that this annual is actually edible and it's leaves bear the highest iron content of any leaf green you can get*. The foliage is somewhat bitter, but certainly no worse then broccoli rabe and typically can be used in small amounts to liven up salad along with arugula, radicchio and something like nasturtium leaves. Additionally the leaves  can be cooked like spinach with just  a a little garlic to make a unique pot of greens. Last on the list is the bloom; purselane has one heck of a display, recent cultivars can be found  in varying hues of yellow, orange, red, white, pink and bi color blends. The most recent varieties even have sharply contrasting pistil & stamen.

Now for those of you who aren't already making a run on the local garden cdenter where is one more reason why you should consider portulaca.  Moss rose is utterly indifferent to  the effects of drought or heat and is highly likely to return year after year from seed. Puselane is the ultimate hot & dry area potted plant.  Both Plants are negligence tolerant so if you think you have a black thumb, these forgiving annuals are for you! For everyone else, if you just have to keep that variety of Portulaca alive year after year you can! Both plants mentioned today can be maintained by way of cutting as houseplants for the winter. All you need is a 2-3 inch long cutting some decent potting soil and a plant to take cuttings from some time in August, September or October. You dont even need rooting hormone these little guys will root as long as their stem is in contact with soil for long enough. If that doesn't suit your fancy both plants produce copious amounts of seed and all you need to do is collect it from the seed capsules at the stem tips. Look for capsules that are fully formed and hold a small jar, vial or plastic baggie beneith the capsule, if it pops open when you rub the capsule with a finger the seed is ready. I do advise storing the seed with your container open for up to two weeks in a dry area so the seed can dry and there is less of a risk of mold.
 As a final note these other wild species of Purselane have been noted  as safe to eat as forage foods*: Portulaca neglecta and, Portulaca retusa.

*They are listed as such in 'Field Guide to North American Edible Wild Plants' by Tshomas S. Elias and Peter A. Dykeman.

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