Carnegiea gigantea, Giant Saguaro

Southwest Desert Flora

Home to the plants of the Sonoran, Chihuahuan and Mojave Deserts

Cirsium ochrocentrum, Yellowspine Thistle

Portulacaceae, Purslane Family

Portulacaceae or Purslane Family has undergone recent taxonomic changes reducing the family to 1 species, the Portulaca. Purslanes are also known as Moss Roses.

Portulacaceae is a very small family of flowering plants as note above with only 1 genus, Portulaca. Portulaca has 19 species. Classification structures were revised after recent molecular based plant taxonomy research ([1] APGIII, 2009). However, many botanical floral authorities have not yet reflected the changes from this current research. At this time, until our next revision Southwest Desert Flora includes 10 genera with over 250 species in Portulacaceae.

Members of Portulacaceae include tropical and subtropical (temperate) soft shrubs (sub-shrubs) and forbs or herbs. Species may be annual, biennial or perennial. This family is cosmopolitan in distribution with high densities in semiarid Africa, Australia and North and South America. 10 genera with more than 160 accepted taxa are found throughout North America with high densities in the northwest United States.

Common characteristics or North and South American species include; succulent or fleshy leaves and stems; leaves opposite or alternate, margins entire; inflorescences axillary or terminal, cymose, racemose, paniculate or umbellate; flowers usually radially symmetrical; no true petals, 2 to 6 or 9 sepals resembling petals, the sepals enclosed by 2 green bracteoles that look like sepals; fruits are capsular.

Species of economic importance; some species are grown for their flowers, (Portulaca and Claytonia virginica –Spring Beauty); other species are popular in rock gardens such as Lewisia, Talinum and Calandrinia. Common Purslane (Portulaca oleracea is an edible succulent plant that is also an invasive weed in some areas. Other Portulaca species are used as food plants by the larvae of some Lepidoptera (Moths & Butterflies) species.

Portulaca molokiniensis is a non-woody spreading purslane endemic to Hawaii and federally listed as an endangered species.

In North America, USDA also lists 10 genera with 168 accepted for Portulacaceae. The Plant List includes 10 plant genera with 258 are accepted species names.

In North America the largest genera with approximate number of species are; Claytonia 28 species, Lewisia 20 species, Portulaca 19 species, Phemeranthus 17 species and Cictanthe 11 species.

  • Calandrinia ciliata, Fringed Redmaids
  • Cistanthe ambigua, Desert Pussypaws
  • Claytonia parviflora, Streambank Springbeauty
  • Claytonia perfoliata, Miner's Lettuce
  • Portulaca oleracea, Common Purslane
  • Portulaca suffrutescens, Shrubby Purslane

  • [1] (The APG III system is the third version of a modern, mostly molecular-based, system of plant taxonomy being developed by the Angiosperm Phylogeny Group (APG), published in 2009, 6 years after its predecessor the APG II system was published in 2003, and 11 years after the initial APG system was published in 1998.)

    Date Family Profile Completed:05/30/2016
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    [ʻIhi, Hawaiian Names,
    Wikipedia contributors, 'APG III system', Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 28 February 2016, 11:11 UTC, [accessed 11 June 2016])
    James F. Matthews, FNA| Family List | FNA Vol. 4 | Portulacaceae, 7. Portulaca Linnaeus, Sp. Pl. 1: 445. 1753; Gen. Pl. ed. 5, 204. 1754; Flora of North America Editorial Committee, eds. 1993+. Flora of North America North of Mexico. 16+ vols. New York and Oxford. (accessed 06/12/2016).
    John G. Packer, FNA | Family List |FNA Vol. 4 Page 11, 457, 505, FNA Vol. 4, 40. Portulacaceae Adanson, Purslane Family; Flora of North America Editorial Committee, eds. 1993+. Flora of North America North of Mexico. 16+ vols. New York and Oxford. (accessed 06/12/2016).
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