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Ask Mr. Smarty Plants

Ask Mr. Smarty Plants is a free service provided by the staff and volunteers at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.

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Monday - July 23, 2007

From: Indianapolis, IN
Region: Midwest
Topic: Plant Identification, Cacti and Succulents
Title: Identification of
Answered by: Barbara Medford

QUESTION:

I'm trying to identify a plant and I'm having trouble doing so. The plant was called moss by my mother,but it looks like a succulent. It grows on the ground and looks like small vines with pink stems,plump green leaves,and little yellow flowers in the spring. Also, if the parts are torn or cut off they will grow if replanted better than any plant I have ever seen. What is this?

ANSWER:

If it had not been for a sweet mother-in-law who always had "moss" blooming in two big pots by her porch in East Texas, I would have been mystified as you. They certainly didn't look like any moss I had ever seen, especially with the bright, multicolored flowers. I later learned it was frequently called "moss rose" and then that it was actually a portulaca. The plant your mother called "moss", with its yellow flowers, is probably Portulaca oleracea, also referred to as common purslane or little hogweed. It grows virtually worldwide in warm and temperate climates, and is usually considered a weed. It has long been used in North America as a potherb and medicinal plant, probably since before the arrival of the first Europeans.

The plant my mother-in-law grew was, I believe, Portulaca grandiflora. This is the cultivated species more often referred to as a "moss rose." Unlike Portulaca oleracea, Portulaca grandiflora is not a native, but is the one most seen in cultivation. It blooms only when the sun is shining, in many bright colors.

If this still doesn't appear to be the flower you are trying to identify, please follow the directions to send us a picture on the first page of "Ask Mr. Smarty Plants."

 

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