Portulaca and Purslane

January 22, 2004 - 14:37

A drought-tolerant combo for spring and summer sales.

We talked about succulents last month, and these crops are
two groups there wasn't space for in that column. With all the emphasis on low
water use and the constant demand for color, these two crops should be a
mainstay for growers. Incorporating drought-tolerant crops into your portfolio
not only saves on inputs but also shows that, as an industry, we can supply
plants to create beautiful landscapes and work within reasonable water
guidelines.

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

Crop Essentials

Portulaca is essentially a seed-produced crop, and is
available in a wide range of colors and textures -- from semi double to fully
double flowers and a full line of strong, solid colors to complement the
bicolor or two tones. Seed is available in both mixes (of solid and bicolor as
well as mixed solid colors) and single colors, but pay special attention to the
available mixes. In many cases, mixes sell better than solid colors because
they offer consumers a selection of plants to choose from. Plus, there are some
really good color blends out there. I saw PanAmerican Seed's 'Margarita Pastel
Mix' at the 2003 Pack Trials and was really impressed with it. Designer mixes
are becoming more popular in a variety of seed crops, and I think it's a good
trend.

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

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

In the single-flowered purslane, the Yubi types are still
major players, but there are some new introductions here as well that you
should check out. The Hot Shots series from Bodger Botanicals has been a really
strong performer here in our trial gardens at the University of Florida last
year, 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 stress
as a control for that; they respond really well to it and pop back into flower
quickly.

If you are a retailer, be thinking of using these two crops in
some of your toughest low water display areas. The plants are heat tolerant and
require high light (with a preference for reflected light) and dry conditions
once established. You can use this information to motivate sales as well
because most gardeners want to be successful with very little input. That means
portulaca and purslane were custom made for that portion of our buying
public. 

About The Author

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 rksch@mail.ifas.ufl.edu.

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