Moss Rose, By Any Other Name . . .


Unplanned Portulaca crowds out the planned Geranium.

A few posts ago, I wrote about gardening as a natural surprise party and my belief that my plants actually get together and come up with creative ways to entertain me and, well, surprise me — popping up in places where they had not been planted, blooming in different colors than were purchased or planned. But if I had to pick one plant as the organizer of all this guerilla gardening, it would have to be Moss Rose, or as I love to say, Portulaca.

It’s actually a fun name to say, like Dahlia or Liriope. Pour-tchew-lack-uh. Sometimes I think it could be the name of a Native American guide leading early explorers westward or a wife of Caesar. Maybe it’s a resort, kind of like, “We’re taking a ride up to Lake Portulaca for the weekend.” Or maybe it’s the closest I come to referring to any of my plants by its proper Latin name.

No matter what it’s called, though, Portulaca has been very, very good to me.

Portulaca and I first met when I was boy. My memory of it is that it was easy to grow, not too fussy, and had lots of splashy colors. When Joe and I purchased our home, I thought it would be fun to become reacquainted with Portulaca. I must admit, my early seed starting efforts were not successful. Few of the plants germinated, and those that did were rather leggy. Clearly, my mother had purchased plants all those years ago, and I needed more sunlight.

Once Joe built the greenhouse, I tried again. I placed each Portulaca seed in one of those expandable seed-starting cells, the kind where you add water and the cell grows. This time, I had success and I planted Portulaca in any sunny, dry area of the yard, as well as in clay pots. At the end of that first growing season, I dumped all of the dirt in the clay pots onto a tarp, cleaned them, and put them away. I then folded the tarp over, covering the dirt and thinking whatever plants were alive would die over the winter, and rot away, helping out the soil for next year’s planting.

Winter came, temperatures plunged, snow fell. In the spring, I refilled the clay pots and planted — and slowly but surely, Portulaca began to sprout in all of the pots. It amazes me that as everything lay covered in snow and ice, these small seeds managed to stay warm and viable, so much so that they were able to grow. In fact, the second generation — and all of the generations since then — appear to be even healthier than their early ancestors.

By the time summer rolls around, Portulaca is everywhere. As other plants are wilting away, Portulaca stands lush and tall, splashing its colors all over the yard, like tiny exclamation points. In a few months, I will resume the autumn clean-up, all the time wondering what Portulaca will have planned for me next year.

8 thoughts on “Moss Rose, By Any Other Name . . .

    • All hail Lady Portulaca. Hmmmm. I’m truly not sure what the secret is — especially since I had no idea that I was “sowing the seeds” of a Portulaca factory. What I lean toward is that they like to root where they are to grow, and whatever happens under that tarp must be working. Thanks for commenting!

  1. Now, after reading your post I am asking myself why don’t I have portulaca in my garden? My Mom always had it in her garden. If it returns year after year, then it’s a plant for me! Thanks for reminding me about this lovely plant.

    • Glad the post brought back memories. Portulaca is not a perennial everywhere. Here on Long Island it should be an annual. I just happened to stumble upon — through laziness and/or carelessness — a way to keep it going. I’m not sure how it would behave in your zone in the northwest. Thanks for visiting!

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