Portulaca

COMMON NAME: portulaca
GENUS: Portulaca
SPECIES: P. grandiflora
FAMILY: Portulacaceae
BLOOMS: summer
TYPE: perennial {grown as an annual}
DESCRIPTION:  The creeping habit of portulaca makes it wonderful to use in rock gardens, hanging baskets or low flower beds. The plant rarely grows taller than 8 inches. The leaves are short and narrow but thick and fleshy. The blossoms look like single or double roses, measure 1 1/2 to 2 inches across, and come in nearly every shade of red and yellow. New strains have been developed that stay open all day, unlike some of the earlier varieties that close by noon.
CULTIVATION:  Portulaca is heat and drought tolerant and thrives during a long, hot summer. Sow the seeds in full sun in the garden after the last spring frost and then thin the plants to 10 to 12 inches apart. Blooms should appear eight weeks after sowing. Do not water portulaca too frequently; the plant blooms more prolifically when kept on the dry side.

Portulaca was first introduced from South America to European gardeners in the early 1700s. Although its beauty as a garden flower was much appreciated, it was also considered quite useful medicinally for such complaints as teeth set on edge or burning from gunpowder. Because portulaca has a very high iron and vitamin content, the leaves were also eaten as a vegetable and were good to cure scurvy. Placed on the neck, portulaca was thought to relieve muscle spasms or neck cricks. Putting it under the tongue was supposed to prevent thirst. However, eating portulaca was thought to stimulate the appetite.
Because it is mucilaginous, this plant has many uses in cooking, such as to thicken soups and stews. The leaves and flowers could be eaten cooked, raw, or pickled. It has a very mild, pleasant taste.
Portulaca also reputedly held magical properties: placed on a child’s bed, it would keep away evil spirits as the child slept.
A German legend tells of the origin of portulaca, or moss rose, as it is sometimes called: An angel walking through a forest became tired and sat underneath a rose tree to rest. When she awoke, the angel thanked the tree for its hospitality and offered to spread a carpet of moss underneath its branches to keep its roots cool. This moss we now call moss rose.
The name portulaca comes from the Latin portula, meaning “little gate,” for the top of the seed capsule opens like a gate.

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