Friday, January 10, 2014

Sea Purslane - Sesuvium portulacastrum

Sea purslane (Sesuvium portulacastraum) is a common occurrence in coastal dunes and the upper edges of salt marshes throughout Florida and other southeastern states from Texas to North Carolina.  It also has been reported in the Caribbean, Hawaii, and on most shorelines in tropical and subtropical areas worldwide.  A disjunct population is reportedly present in Pennsylvania as well.  Sea purslane is exceedingly tolerant of high salt levels and vagaries in soil moisture.  Its Latin name is derived from its outward resemblance to the garden purslanes (Portulaca spp.), so widely used in home landscapes.
Sea purslane, however, is a prostrate perennial designed for life in the harsh conditions found along the coast.  Its stems and leaves are especially waxy to reduce water loss and the leaves are succulent-like.  Both the stems and leaves often are reddish in color - especially in areas where they receive high light and salt.  This foliage scrambles along the ground, rooting periodically, and forming large mats.  The leaves are high in vitamin C and are salty in taste, therefore, it has been used to treat scurvy and is often added to salads. In some locations, the pulverized leaves are also used to soothe wounds caused by the spines of venomous fish.
The soft-pink 5-petaled flowers are produced year-round in warm areas.  They form along the stems, but open for only a brief period in mid-day.  Do not look for the blooms first thing in the morning.
Sea purslane is an excellent coastal plant to help stabilize dunes, but it is not a very good candidate for home wildflower gardens. It is widely propagated by native plant nurseries affiliated with FANN (Florida Association of Native Nurseries) - primarily for coastal restoration projects. Look for it along the coast, and taste a leaf as you walk by.

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