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purslane, little hogweed
Purslane, also known as little hogweed, photographed at Lake Ida Park, Delray Beach, Delray Beach, in February 2014.
hogweed purslane

There are those who see purslane, Portulaca oleracea, as a noxious weed, a pest to be pulled or poisoned. And then there are those who prize it, who would tell you if you find it growing in your tomato garden to pull up a few beefstakes to give the purslane more room to grow. It's that kind of plant.

As Sandra Mason of the University of Illinois Extension Service puts it, purslane is "cursed and curried all the time."

First thing about the plant itself: purslane is a succulent, meaning it has thick, fleshy leaves and stems. It has bright, small, yellow flowers that last about a day. The leaves are shiny and somewhat oval-shaped, some more elongated.

It is found in all of the lower 48 states, plus Hawaii and Puerto Rico. It is found throughout Canada and much of the globe, really. And that's one of the mysteries about purslane: where does it come from?

Purslane is a member of the Portulacaceae family, which generally are warmer weather plants and hail from the southern hemisphere. Purslane is one of the few members that can tolerate colder climates.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture says purslane is a native of Canada but an introduced plant in the United States, including Florida. Some, including the Institute for Regional Conservation, say it is a native of the "old world," meaning Europe, Asia, Africa or Australia. Some say it's from India. In any regard, it's been around North America long enough that Native American tribes were familiar enough with it to use it for food and medicines.

Portulaca oleracea

Purslane is packed with nutrients. It has the highest level of omega-3 fatty acids of any plant. It has more omega-3 than some fish. In fact, it's fed to chickens to reduce egg cholesteral, according to Cornell University. But wait! There's more! Purslane has six times more vitamin E than spinach, seven times the beta carotene of carrots. It's regularly eaten as a green throughout Europe and Asia. It's also used to treat a host of diseases and conditions: anthrax in China; insomnia in Haiti; warts in Japan, Mexico and Peru. The list goes on. However, it contains oxalic acid, a problem for people with kidney stones.

Despite its medicinal and gastronomic benefits, purslane can be an agricultural pest. Arizona prohibits it as a noxious weed, and, according to the Flora of North America, purslane is listed among the 10 most noxious weeds in the world. As we said, it's that kind of plant.

Other names: akulikuli-kula, common purslane, duckweed, pursley, pusley, wild portulaca and little hogweed.


Photographs by David Sedore
Links for Purslane
Institute for Regional Conservation Natives for Your Neighborhood Atlas of Florida Vascular Plants USDA PLANTS Database Center for Aquatic and Invasive Plants
Unless otherwise stated, all photographs are property of the publishers and may not be used without their express permission.