(Portulaca comes from Latin for little door, which is the pop-open lid on the fruit revealed below. Pilosa refers to the wool woven into today’s story.)
Portulacaceae, Purslane Family
The Haney Creek Natural Area by Jensen Beach, Florida, was today’s warm trudge. Ninety four degrees? John’s and I focused more on arthropods than on flowers, but natural areas never disappoint botanically. Loving the carcinogenic sun and being all pretty was Kiss Me Quick, a native Portulaca, a genus familiar to most gardeners for vibrant colorful flowers. KMQ fits the bill with shocking purplish dayglo blossoms on succulent foliage. It looks like a desert plant, all showy-blossomed and succulent, and it sort of is, at least around here, on the blazing bare sand where little else dares to root.
The name Kiss Me Quick comes from the activist flowers open early in the day and withering as the shadows lengthen. Another name is Chisme, Spanish for gossip presumably because the species spreads like salacious secrets in the garden club. Or it seems to.
Spreading is certainly facilitated by tiny seeds that get around and the ability to grow anew from busted stem fragments. But when you see the species scattered around hither and yon, is recent dispersal the full truth? Probably not. If you denude an area and expose bare sand, our species may rise from the grit spontaneously. The light-activated seeds reportedly can lie dormant in the dirt awaiting their moment in the sun. Sometimes the habitat comes to the plant that waits.
Did I say native? Probably accurate, but “native” is hard to define with intercontinental weeds. This species is widespread globally, and graces many U.S. states. It is variable and looks different at different ages, in different habitats, and in different regions. Hints in botanical writings suggest drier habitats may spawn more wool.
Long woolly hairs occur up and down the plant, forming a dense nest immediately under and around the delicate fruits. The dry hollow fruits can nestle in the nest like Easter eggs set in that shredded green grassy cellophane confetti in Easter baskets. And probably for essentially the same protective reason: the plants “puts all its eggs in one basket,” that is, its delicate fruits held aloft in the terrible places this species tolerates. Heat! Sun! UV! Wind! Bugs! The wool seems to protect the fruit from some combo of those scary perils.
Let’s extend the basket of eggs analogy further. What if your basket contained pop-open plastic eggs? The ones where the top half comes off to expose yummy candies within. That’s is exactly how the Kiss Me Quick fruit works, like a plastic egg. Its top dome pops off to reveal the “candies,” which are the seeds inside.