Wild Flowers of Pittsburgh

Portulacaceae

Purslane (Portulaca oleracea)

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This tiny prostrate weed is a close relative of the colorful Moss Roses we grow in gardens—the thick, fleshy red stems and succulent leaves show the relationship clearly. The little yellow flowers open only in the morning, and only in bright sunlight; we shaded the plants momentarily to take these pictures at midday without the harsh glare. Purslanes can grow almost anywhere they get a foothold, and can survive being pulled up and thrown away to root elsewhere. In the city they are very common crack-in-the-sidewalk weeds. The plant above was growing from a crack on the top of a low concrete wall; the one below (magnified many times—the boulders in the picture are ordinary gravel) was growing in a gravel parking lot. Both were a little west of Cranberry, blooming in early September. Purslane was once commonly used as a salad green, valued for its texture rather than its famously bland taste.

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We are experimenting with a camera we bought used for $20 that claims to be able to focus as close as an inch from the subject. So far, we are pleased with the results.

Gray describes the genus and the species:

PORTULACA [Tourn.] L.  PURSLANE. Calyx 2-cleft; the tube cohering with the ovary below. Petals 5, rarely 6, inserted on the calyx with the 7-20 stamens, fugacious. Style mostly 3-8-parted. Pod 1-celled, globular, many-seeded, opening transversely, the upper part (with the upper part of the calyx) separating as a lid. — Fleshy annuals, with mostly scattered leaves. (An old Latin name, of unknown meaning.)

P. olerácea L. (COMMON P.) Prostrate, very smooth; leaves obovate or wedge-form ; flowers sessile (opening only in sunny mornings); sepals keeled; petals pale yellow; stamens 7-12 ; style deeply 5-6-parted; flower-bud flat and acute. — Cultivated and waste grounds; common.—Seemingly indigenous westw. and southwestw. (Nat. from Eu.)


Spring Beauty (Claytonia virginica)

These charming flowers certainly live up to their name. They can be very abundant in moist woods or shady lawns; this luxuriant patch grew along the Trillium Trail in Fox Chapel, where it was blooming in late April. Another picture is here.

Gray describes the genus and the species:

CLAYTONIA [Gronov.] L. SPRING BEAUTY. Sepals 2, ovate, free, persistent. Stamens 6, adhering to the short claws of the petals. Style 3-cleft at the apex. Pod l-celled, 3-valved, 3-6-seeded. — Perennials, our two species sending up simple stems in early spring from a small deep tuber, bearing a pair of opposite leaves, and a loose raceme of pretty flowers. Corolla rose-color with deeper veins, opening for more than one day. (Named in honor of Dr. John Clayton, one of our earliest botanists, who contributed to Gronovius the materials for the Flora Virginica.)

C. virginica L. Leaves linear-lanceolate, elongated (7-16 cm. long).— Moist open woods, N. S. to Sask., and southw.; common, especially westw. and southw.


Spring Beauty (Claytonia virginica)

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In spring these charming little flowers pop up in open woodlands and shady areas. These grew near the Trillium Trail in Fox Chapel.


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