Weed - Portulaca oleracea - (also Portulaca neglecta, Portulaca retusa): purslane, verdolaga, pigweed, wild portulaca, little hogweed, pusley, akulikuli-kula
Description: Purslane is an annual, succulent plant. The shiny, oval, fleshy leaves are almost opposite. Purslane stems usually have a reddish cast to them. The yellow flowers that form at the axils or the ends of the branches are tiny, with 5 petals. Although the plant can grow upward, it usually lays flat with stems radiating out from a central point. A group of these plants can form a thick fleshy mat. It has a taproot, with secondary fibrous roots.
Where: Purslane is found in gardens, lawns, cultivated areas, sidewalk cracks, and waste places. It is not shade tolerant.
Propagation: A plant may produce 240,000 seeds that can lay dormant up to 40 years before germinating. Seeds germinate when soil temperatures reach 60 degrees F. Fleshy stem tissue can root if the plant is broken off, especially in moist soil. Tilling the plant breaks it up, creating many broken stems that could each root.
Poisoning: Although it is considered generally safe, purslane can accumulate toxic oxalates, and be harmful when eaten in large quantities. These oxalates can be removed by cooking
Historical: Purlsane was first identified in the US in Massachusetts in 1672. It has been commonly cultivated in India and the Middle East. It gained popularity in Europe in the Middle Ages
What: Purslane is an annual. Cultivated purslanes are more upright than the wild plant.
Pros: Purslane is an edible weed. In this country it is considered a weed, although a search of the internet will produce as many articles promoting the eating of purslane as those treating it as a weed. Used raw in salads, pickled, or cooked, the flavor is said to be sweet and somewhat acid. In South American countries it is popular as an edible crop that goes by the name Verdolagas. In the US, verdolagas is sold as the cultivated variety Goldberg that is described as having a mild flavor. A cultivated variety called 'Goldgeler' is supposed to have a lemony scent.
Health: Purslane has the reputed health benefits of having omega-3 fatty acids and being high in iron. It is supposed to have the highest content of vitamin A of all the leafy vegetables. Purslane also contains carotenoids, vitamin C, and some B-complex vitamins like riboflavin, niacin, and pyridoxine. It also has minerals, such as magnesium, calcium, potassium, and manganese. Not bad for a weed! The USDA has a list of nutrients in purslane on their online Nutrient Database.
Clatonia perfuliata, an edible plant called "winter purslane" is not related to the portulaca purslanes referred to in this article.
Ornamental: Seed companies now have a brightly colored purslane called Toucan Hot mix. It is a quick spreading groundcover which may mean it can become invasive.
Wildlife: Small birds and mammals feed on the seeds.
Cons: It is a weed. In Arizona it has been declared a noxious weed. As a weed, common purslane can limit summer vegetable production. It can take over thin areas of lawn and can be rather ragged-looking in the landscape.