Portulaca and Purslane By Rick Schoellhorn

We talked about succulents last month, and these crops aretwo groups there wasn’t space for in that column. With all the emphasis on lowwater use and the constant demand for color, these two crops should be amainstay for growers. Incorporating drought-tolerant crops into your portfolionot only saves on inputs but also shows that, as an industry, we can supplyplants to create beautiful landscapes and work within reasonable waterguidelines.

There are some new introductions and new colors everywherein both groups of plants, also some new specialty forms that are really worthyof note. In general, the way to tell portulaca (Portulaca grandiflora) frompurslane (Portulaca oleracea) is that portulaca has cylindrical leaves andpurslane has flat teardrop or ovate shaped leaves. Both are equally droughttolerant, and all current breeding efforts have worked to keep the blooms openthroughout the daylight hours; however, older selections may begin to close inthe early afternoon. For consumers, the attraction to these flowers is thatthey are succulent and reflective, as well as tolerant of abuse in thelandscape. The colors, which are basically available in all hues except blue,have a translucent intensity, and retailers need to market the plants in fullsun for best effect.

Crop Essentials

Portulaca is essentially a seed-produced crop, and isavailable in a wide range of colors and textures — from semi double to fullydouble flowers and a full line of strong, solid colors to complement thebicolor or two tones. Seed is available in both mixes (of solid and bicolor aswell as mixed solid colors) and single colors, but pay special attention to theavailable mixes. In many cases, mixes sell better than solid colors becausethey offer consumers a selection of plants to choose from. Plus, there are somereally good color blends out there. I saw PanAmerican Seed’s ‘Margarita PastelMix’ at the 2003 Pack Trials and was really impressed with it. Designer mixesare becoming more popular in a variety of seed crops, and I think it’s a goodtrend.

The most notable difference between series is growth habit.There are mounding and prostrate forms of both portulaca and purslane. Themounding types are an advantage in the container as they fill a pot upwardsrather than spreading out and filling a pot with less canopy. Prostrate typeswould be better for the basket market and for mixed containers where you need alow-water-requiring trailing flower. The Sunseeker series from Sakata SeedAmerica and the Margarita series from PanAmerican are both mounding types. TheSundial series from Bodger Seed is a vigorous mounding variety with a stronggarden performance.

In the vegetative market the selection is huge in this crop,with both patented and non-patented varieties available. A few years ago, thesingle-flowered Yubi series from Sakata really bumped up the quality and theflowering duration of this crop. Since then, Sakata has released a series ofDouble Yubi types, and there have been some significant improvements from otherbreeding companies as well. The neatest introductions are the double forms thathave been emerging over the last couple of years. These series offer bigimprovements in vigor and flowering, as well as some advances in colors. So indoubles look for Sakata’s Double Yubi series and the new FairyTales series fromBall FloraPlant. I think the showstopper in the FairyTales series is Cinderella(cerise and yellow bicolor), but the other two colors (solids in yellow andwhite) are also strong and received really strong ratings from Allan Armitage’strial garden in Athens, Ga., and Bob Lyons’ trial at the JC Raulston Arboretumat N.C. State University, Raleigh, N.C. I think the unique qualities of thesedoubles will be a great addition to most grower’s bedding plant palate. Thedoubles are a little bit heavier feeders and have a little bit slower finishtime than their single counterparts. In Á some cases, a pinch may behelpful to get good early branching as well.

In the single-flowered purslane, the Yubi types are stillmajor players, but there are some new introductions here as well that youshould check out. The Hot Shots series from Bodger Botanicals has been a reallystrong performer here in our trial gardens at the University of Florida lastyear, and Duet from Sakata has some really nice color breaks and unique markings.These are usually a bit more vigorous than double types, but use drought stressas a control for that; they respond really well to it and pop back into flowerquickly.

If you are a retailer, be thinking of using these two crops insome of your toughest low water display areas. The plants are heat tolerant andrequire high light (with a preference for reflected light) and dry conditionsonce established. You can use this information to motivate sales as wellbecause most gardeners want to be successful with very little input. That meansportulaca and purslane were custom made for that portion of our buyingpublic.

Rick Schoellhorn

Rick Schoellhorn is extension specialist at the University of Florida, Gainesville, Fla. He can be reached by phone at (352) 392-1831 x364 or E-mail at [email protected]

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