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‘A rose by any other name would smell as sweet’

June 16, 2017
By JOYCE COMINGORE - Garden Club of Cape Coral ( , Cape Coral Daily Breeze

As I sat in the hospital waiting room awaiting my prognosis, a charming young lady, also awaiting her prognosis, spoke about her new interest in growing seeds and plants, and the pleasure that it gives her. Her little pots of seedlings gave her such pride in accomplishment and joy in her ability to grow them to bigger plants. A high form of nurturing. She was particularly drawn to the moss rose growing in her hanging baskets, a beautiful shade of rose-red. A strand had broken off hanging over the edge and she just placed it back on top of the soil. It rooted there and took off, growing to twice its length in no time, blooming as it went. She was struck with joy at this miracle.

Shakespeare's Juliet said, "A rose by any other name would smell as sweet;" explained, you could call a rose any other name, but it still smells the same; but rose added to another name, still wouldn't change its fragrance. Just because it contains the name "rose" doesn't mean it will have a fragrance.

Moss rose is a low growing succulent plant with colorful, small, rose-shaped flowers. They come in many colors and as it cascades down your charming colorful hanging baskets or as ground covers. Portulaca grandiflora as well as its cousin, Portulaca oleracea, are noted for blooming and flourishing in the summer heat, but susceptible to frost. Both are drought tolerant and heat-loving succulents, that have no fragrance that I know about. Coming in many colors, shapes and varieties, however moss rose's blooms look like tiny roses and purslane's blossoms resemble tiny yellow teacups. Their leaf shapes differ also. Moss rose leaves are succulent, needle-like, rounded, spiny shapes like small evergreens; while the purslane leaves are flat, succulent and paddle shapes, reminding you of a small trailing jade plant.

Moss rose is native to Brazil, Argentina and Uruguay, while purslane first came from Persia and India. It is now grown world-wide. Records show purslane has been used as a culinary and medicinal herb for over 2,000 years. Europeans brought it to America where they found the American Indian tribes using it for food and medicine. Today, we know it as a source of omega-3 fatty acids and anti-oxidants, as well as vitamins A, C and some Bs, magnesium, calcium, potassium and iron, with high levels of pectin to thicken soups and stews. It beats supplements and is called a health boosting "Wonder Plant."

All of which, reminds me of the time my husband and I visited a man with his citrus trees for sale. They were planted in the ground, rows of small trees divided by swales that held the water that might drown the plants. On these swales were clumps of flat-leafed purslane that he used to reduce weeds. He pulled up several clumps, put them in a bag and handed it to me. Said to clean and cook it. Said it tasted like spinach. I like spinach, so I cooked it, not knowing how long or at what temperature. That was not wise. Had a slimy, mushy mess. I did taste it, needed a lot of lemon juice to have it taste like my idea of spinach. I have since gone online and found a myriad of recipes, but not tried any of them.

All this time I pulled them as weeds. Both are annuals and reseed to propagate. When they reseed in the wild, moss rose may not come true to their original color or even have any blooms, but they are pest and disease free. purslane starts from cuttings easily, but it's not a plant you find in nursery or plant store. All you need to grow it is a patch of soil. If you find seeds, they need full sun and that patch of ground. Sow them lightly on top of the soil, don't cover or disturb, they must stay on top of the soil. Laying cuttings on the ground and watering them in takes a few days for them to take root. No need to care for it, no fertilizing or weeding, it is a weed, or was a weed before people have found it to be an herb.

The U.S. Department of Connecticut reports that they are cultivating purslane as part of its effort to bring about a modification in the western diet with fresh herbs, fruits and vegetables. purslane is considered the top most nutritious food on the planet. I admire people who can knowledgeably forage and eat weeds, but I wonder if Ewell Gibbons would have brought it home. Some people consider it a culinary delight but I need to find the right recipes.

They say that to preserve the juiciness of those succulent stems, harvest them early in the morning or evening so that there is no competition from sunlight. Use raw in salads, eat it raw as a snack or saute it as a side dish. In addition to its crispy crunchiness, it has a tangy peppery taste, like watercress. You may not find it locally in the store or on any salad bars, it is however being served at some very upscale restaurants.

Remember, if weeding it from your lawn, before eating it, make sure your lawn has not been treated with herbicides and pesticides. It has a two-month growing period. Don't let it reseed if you are trying to eliminate it, and if pulling it up, be sure to get all the pieces that might root again, they say that running a tiller through purslane is called purslane multiplication.

Portulaca is also its scientific family name.

"Bon appetit," as Julia might say, if you decide to try it. But always remember to thank a tree, for giving us all fresh air.

Joyce Comingore is a Master Gardener, hibiscus enthusiast and member of the Garden Club of Cape Coral.



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