Defeat weeding by eating – Part 2: Plant adaptations

Struggling to get the kids to weed the garden? Turn it into a science lesson and snack by learning about plant adaption and why edible plants look the way they do and grow where they are.

Common purslane
Common purslane. Photo by Joseph M. DiTomaso, University of California - Davis,

Almost no one likes to weed. By turning the activity into a science lesson and a snack, weeding can become fun for your group of young people. The weed we are going to look at in this article is common purslane (Potulaca oleracea). Some pictures and a description can be found at University of California’s key to turf weeds.

After you see purslane once, it is fairly easy to identify, but why does purslane look the way it does? Why does any plant look and grow the way it does? Encourage youth to learn about adaptation by asking questions about a plant and making guesses as to why it grows where it does. Adaptation is what allows a plant or animal to survive better than others in a particular place.

Here are a few questions to ask about purslane. Ask the questions first and give youth time to respond before adding your thoughts.

  • Why does it have the waxy looking skin? Perhaps because it helps the plant retain moisture in a dry environment.
  • Why does it tend to grow on bare ground? Perhaps because it is a fast growing plant and one of the first to show up in bare soil.
  • Why does it grow low to the ground? It might be to help it spread out and grow under other plants. It might help it block out weeds that could grow around it.
  • Why are the stems so brittle?
  • Why are the stems reddish?
  • What would make this plant grow better in this place than other plants?

Purslane is eaten around the globe. In Hispanic grocery stores, you might find it called verdolagas. Mahatma Gandhi ate it and called it Luni. While in the United States it is considered a weed, in other parts of the planet it is cultivated as a vegetable. The plant is slightly sour and has a good crunch to it. The stems and leaves can be eaten raw on its own or in a salad, pickled, or used in soups and stews where it can work as a thickener.

For more information about purslane, read “Purslane: India's gift to the world” from The Economic Times.

A word of caution: Whenever trying a new food, it is best to try only a small amount and wait for a few days to test for allergic reactions before trying more.

Happy weeding!

This is Part 2 in a series of Michigan State University Extension articles on edible weeds in the garden and using them to teach science lessons. These activities can be done in a family, in a daycare or school activities, or with any group working with children and gardens. See Parts 1 and 3:

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