Skip to main content
Pollinator bee visiting Portulaca flower

Wildflower, weed, … or groundcover?

Often, the question of “wildflower vs. weed” is a matter of location. I recently decided to test that concept with the native succulent “weed” Portulaca pilosa, a.k.a. pink purslane.

 

Portulaca pilosa - succulent with tiny bright pink flowers

Wildflower, weed,… or groundcover? Portulaca pilosa can tolerate poor soil, full-sun, and drought.

 

Trivia factoid #1 – One nickname for Portulaca pilosa is the “kiss-me-quick flower.”  This is due to its habit of opening its flowers in the morning, but closing them in the afternoon (or on cloudy days.)

Trivia factoid #2 – The word “pilosa” in means “hairy” – a reference to the fuzzy white hairs that grow along the stems.

 

While some people consider Portulaca pilosa a weed, these hardy succulents are actually related to the ornamental Portulaca grandiflora, a.k.a. the “moss rose.” Both species of Portulaca can thrive in well-drained, nutrient-poor soils, and can handle full-sun locations.

“When life gives you lemons, make lemonade…”

 

Earlier this spring, following the lemons/lemonade philosophy, I decided to take advantage of the abundant “volunteer” purslanes sprouting in my yard. I was curious to see whether they could be “re-purposed” as a groundcover for difficult sites, similar to their cultivated ornamental cousin, P. grandiflora – a.k.a. the moss rose.

 

The trial: A sandy, full-sun, non-irrigated “trouble area” was cleared and designated as the “purslane-patch.” Whenever I was weeding the yard, if I encountered a purslane plant, it got re-located to the “purslane-patch.” A few months in, here’s a pic of the progress:

Portulaca progress

Preliminary results: The “rescued” Portulaca plants are forming a low-growing, low-maintenance groundcover.

 

Results and musings:

Thanks in part to a very wet spring, the transplanted purslane plants are thriving, spreading, and blooming like crazy. The stems are knitting together nicely, creating an attractive, low-growing groundcover effect. And aside from a minimal amount of weeding to prevent competition, the area has basically been maintenance-free.

 

This purslane-patch is an “outside-the-box” example of how gardeners can use a plant’s natural adaptations to our advantage to solve difficult landscape issues. Whether using native plants like these Portulaca, or a cultivated ornamental, following the Florida-Friendly Landscaping concept of matching the “right plant, right place” can help you create a thriving, low-maintenance landscape with minimal inputs of fertilizer, pesticides, or surplus irrigation.

(Click to learn the 9 Principles of Florida-Friendly Landscaping!)

 

Dainty Sulphur butterfly on Phyla nodiflora - a.k.a. frogfruit, turkey tangle fogfruit, match-stick flower.

Another great example of a “weed” with potential landscape benefits – the native Phyla nodiflora – a.k.a. turkey tangle fogfruit, frogfruit, match-stick flower – serves as an important host for a number of butterflies such as this Dainty Sulphur. But that’s another post for another day…

 

Tampa Bay Community Water-Wise Awards

Have you created an innovative, low-maintenance, “water-wise” landscape at your home or business? Each year, The Tampa Bay Community Water-Wise Awards Program recognizes outstanding examples of Florida-Friendly Landscapes from across the Tampa Bay Region. Applications for this year’s competition are being accepted until June 30, 2018. Visit TampaBayWaterWise.org to learn more about the program or to fill out an easy online application.

 

About UF/IFAS Extension:

UF/IFAS Extension serves as a source of non-biased, research-based information for the residents, businesses, and communities of Florida, providing educational materials and programs for adults and youth. We proudly “provide solutions for your life.”

UF/IFAS has local Extension offices throughout the state! Click to find your local office!

 

6 Comments on “Wildflower, weed, … or groundcover?

  1. I enjoyed the article and details of your relocated “rescued” portulaca. Similarly, I have “rescued” these charmers from many places on our property in Kissimmee and transplanted them in planter pots that decorate our back patio. I’m glad to know that someone else has such an interest in the maintenance of this plant.

  2. I did absolutely the same. I found these pretty weeds on my lawns and saved them before my gardener mow them away. I planted them under a frangipani tree as ground cover. I wanted to know the name of this plant and found your blog – thank you. “kiss me quick flower” such a cute name. Gold Coast Australia

  3. I see that you wrote this article nearly 2 years ago. I have been repotting some of the multitude of volunteers in my yard with the intent of placing in a “bad area” next to my driveway. In ‘re-searching’ (googling mostly), many articles say it doesn’t tolerate being stepped on, but I have quite a bit throughout the backyard and the kids play and run around, but it is not in one big patch, just here and there. I am curious to know if you still have this patch and if it holds up to being walked on. Thanks for the article!

    • Hi Gia, thanks for checking out the blog! I’ve moved to a new home since the writing of this post, , so unfortunately, I can’t provide an update on the purslane patch. We only moved a few miles away from the old house, but the landscape conditions are VERY different – it actually gets soggy in the summertime! New challenges, new opportunities…

      To answer your question – the purslane in the photos was planted along the edge of a pollinator garden I’d built, so they weren’t really getting walked on… Therefore, the photos really show how it can look when densely planted, without being regularly trampled. That said, there were plenty of other purslane plants scattered around the yard, and they seemed to survive occasional foot traffic just fine. I’m just not sure if you’d achieve the same full, “fluffy” growth as in the photos, but it will likely stick around, once established…

      Next to a driveway, there’s likely a bigger issue to consider though… The purslane tends to die back in the winter, and re-appear in the springtime. That worked ok in my pollinator garden, where I had a constant rotation of things in bloom to provide interest, but if you’re thinking of using it along the edge of the driveway, I could potentially foresee two issues – 1) sand/soil erosion from bare ground; and/or 2) HOA complaints due to those winter bare spots.

      One possibility to deal with the winter dormancy issue… you might consider inter-mixing purslane with one or more other creeping groundcovers such as Phyla nodiflora. That way, there’s always something green for appearance, and to help hold the soil in place.

  4. I can give you some more info on this plant, we did a prescribed burn on our property and now have a 20 x 20 space we cleared for an in ground garden, I have had a over abundance of the purslane in pink and purple come up since the burn, I left if as ground cover as the pollinators love it, I walk all over it, drag hose across it and move it out of the way to weed around it, in my experience it just seems to thrive and continues to reseed easily, it has made a huge difference in the garden..also have you published any books on florida native plants and sustainability??

    • Hi Adele, thanks for checking out the blog and sharing your experience with purslane! Really interesting to hear about its positive response to a controlled burn.

      In response to your question about whether I’ve published any books about native plants and sustainability – no, BUT… there are some really excellent books available through the University of Florida Press. Here’s a direct link to the “Gardening” topic section – LINK: https://upf.com/subjresults.asp?expres=equals&subj=29&index=0

      On the topic of Florida native plants, gardening, and sustainability, authors such as Craig Huegel, Ginny Stibolt, and others have written some wonderful how-to guides, available through the UF Press link above. Hope that helps!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *