Originally published June 2011
If you are wondering about now if there is anything that will bloom during the dog days of summer, you are probably not alone. As I’ve mentioned before, the heat of the summer is often a time of mere survival for plants, especially when it comes to flowering annuals. However, Moss Rose and Purslane, also known as Portulacas, are reliable bloomers when it comes to the mid-summer season. In fact, the flowers of some varieties of Portulaca will not open until the intense heat of the sun reaches them.
Moss Rose, Portulaca grandiflora, and Purslane, Portulaca oleracea, are heat-loving, drought-tolerant, vibrant-blooming succulents. Both varieties can produce multicolored blooms from the same plant; in colors as varied as orange, pink, purple, fuchia, coral, lavender, yellow, and white – reminiscent to me of the bright, fiesta-style paper flowers seen among the river vendors of San Antonio and into Mexico (although much smaller!) Both plant varieties can also be found to produce flowers of one, uniform color. The single colored varieties are most dramatic in my opinion when planted en masse or along the entire border of a very sunny flowerbed or pathway. New colors, shapes and varieties are being developed all the time, but in general, the blooms of Moss Rose look like tiny roses and those of Purslane looks more like small teacups. Another difference among the two plants is the shape of their leaves. Although they are not thorny, Moss Rose leaves are spiny-looking and cylindrical while Purslane leaves are typically fleshy, flat and paddle-like.
Back to their similarities: Both Moss Rose and Purslane are low-growing, somewhat trailing plants and thus, will look best if planted at the front of a flowerbed or along a pathway as I mentioned above. They also have a wonderful cascading effect that will provide a gorgeous pop of summer color in pots and hanging baskets. Sometimes I fill a pot with Moss Rose alone and other times I use it as a filler plant among existing drought-tolerant plantings. Just remember, Portulacas bloom best when in full sun, and again, some open only when sunlight touches them, so arrange your pots and baskets in your landscapes accordingly.
In performing research for this post, I learned Moss Rose is native to Brazil, Argentina and Uruguay. Non-ornamental Purslane, on the other hand, is native to Persia and India. There is record of Purslane being used as a culinary and medicinal herb in that part of the world for over 2,000 years. Word spread of its benefits to Europe and when Europeans introduced it to the new world, various American Indian tribes also began utilizing its leaves for both food and medicine. Today, Purslane has indeed been identified as a very good source of omega-3 fatty acids and anti-oxidants, as well as vitamins A & C and some B’s. For more detail about Purslane’s taste and nutritional value, go to http://www.nutrition-and-you.com/purslane.html, where you’ll also be able to link to sites providing recipes should you have an interest.
With regard to negatives about these plants, I can’t find anything as they are virtually disease and pest free and grow with little care – unless you consider the fact that they are annuals a negative. They may re-seed, and may do so quite prolifically actually, but oftentimes the new seedlings will not be true and you may find you will have new plants that never bloom. Thus, it is best to replant Portulacas each year. As for me, I am a “grow from seed if you can” kind of person, so I purchase packets every year and sprinkle the tiny, silvery-black seeds into starter pots. I set out the 4-inch pots in the sun, water every other day or so, and watch them reliably sprout. Then I transplant them where needed or wanted.
So if your flower beds, pots or baskets are looking a little bare right now, it is A-OK to plant Moss Rose and/or Purslane seedlings – even in the midst of summer. You may be fortunate enough to find Portulaca plantlets on clearance at some of the large home improvement and garden centers. And if you find seed, go ahead and spring for a packet or two. Just sprinkle the seeds in your sunny pots and sunny spots and watch them grow. There’s plenty of sunshine in store for them to enjoy.
Until next time –