It can be hard to tell the difference between spurge and purslane at first. However, purslane has thick, smooth leaves that grow in groups of four. Spurge has flat, serrated leaves that grow in pairs. Purslane sap is clear, while poisonous spurge has white sap. Purslane produces thick, smooth stems that attempt to grow upright. Spurge stems are thin, woody, and sprawl on the ground. Most purslane plants produce small yellow or violet flowers, while spurge grows white flowers.
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What are the Similarities Between Spurge and Purslane?
Spurge and purslane both have reddish stems and oval-shaped leaves. Both plants are also small, fast-growing annuals, that are prone to invading gardens. Since there are many regions where both spurge and purslane thrive, it’s common to find both these plants in the same flower bed.
- Red stems.
- Oval leaves.
- Both are annual weeds.
- Spurge and purslane grow in the same environments.
Although purslane and spurge have some features in common, a close inspection will make it easy for you to tell these two plants apart. Once you know the signs to look for, you’ll be able to tell edible purslane apart from poisonous spurge in seconds. Read on to find out how.
Is Spurge Poisonous?
Spurge sap is poisonous. Skin contact with spurge sap can cause skin irritation. If the sap makes contact with your eye it can be extremely painful. These toxic properties make spurge dangerous to eat, so you should never ingest it. Even if spurge is dead and dry, it still contains toxins.
Is Purslane Safe to Eat?
Purslane is safe to eat and even has beneficial nutrients. The leaves of the purslane plant contain more omega-3 fatty acids than almost any other green, which makes them an excellent health food. Purslane can be used in salads and other dishes. However, if you wish to eat purslane, start with a small amount. It may still be possible to have an allergic reaction to purslane, even though it is an edible plant.
6 Ways to Tell Spurge and Purslane Apart
Before you begin harvesting purslane for your dinner table, it’s essential to make sure you’re not picking any toxic spurge by mistake. Use these tips to make identification easy:
Leaf Thickness and Serration
To tell spurge and purslane apart, start by feeling the leaves along the stem of the plant. Spurge leaves are flat ovals. Purslane leaves will feel thick and plump, like the leaves of some succulents.
- Spurge leaves are thin and flat.
- Purslane has slightly plump leaves.
- There are small serrations on the edges of spurge leaves.
- Purslane leaves have smooth edges.
Feel the edges of the leaves carefully. If you have found spurge, you are likely to notice small serrations or “teeth” along the edge of the leaves. Additionally, spurge leaves feel thin and “dry” to the touch. Purslane does not have any serrations along the leaves. If you have found purslane, the leaves will feel smooth and slightly waxy.
Number of Leaves
Spurge leaves grow in sets of 2, with one leaf on either side of the stem. In contrast, purslane leaves grow in groups of 4. Purslane leaves will spread out in a cross pattern with equal spacing between the leaves. So, purslane often appears to have more leaves per stem compared to spurge.
- Look for spurge leaves growing in pairs on either side of the stem.
- Purslane leaves grow in groups of 4 with leaves sticking out in a cross pattern.
- Spurge and purslane leaves vary in size and shape.
It is a good idea to identify spurge and purslane by the number of leaves instead of the size and shape of the leaves. Some purslane has very rounded leaves, while other varieties of purslane will have longer leaves. Spurge leaves can also vary in shape. By checking the growth pattern, you will be able to tell these two plants apart much more easily.
Break a stem off the mystery plant in your garden. If the sap is milky white, you can be certain it is spurge. This white spurge sap is called “latex.” It contains the toxins found in spurge. Purslane, on the other hand, produces clear sap, similar to that of an aloe plant.
- Spurge sap is milky white.
- Purslane has clear sap.
- The white sap from spurge is toxic.
- Sap from purslane is not harmful.
Because spurge sap is a skin irritant, wear gloves when you are identifying these plants. Make sure not to wipe your face or eyes if you have handled spurge—the sap can be a painful eye irritant. Purslane sap is completely harmless, so the plant is safe to handle.
Stem Thickness and Texture
Purslane has much thicker stems than spurge. Although both plants have stems with a reddish hue, spurge stems are far thinner and woodier than purslane. Gently feel the stem of the plant. If there are small hairs on the stem, it is definitely spurge. If the stem is smooth, it is most likely purslane.
- The stems of a purslane plant are commonly pencil-thick.
- Spurge stems are thin and tough.
- You may feel hairs on spurge stems.
- Purslane stems are hairless.
It is important to note that most—but not all—spurge has hairs growing on the stems. The absence of hairs is a good sign, but some spurge can have hairless stems. Combine this identification tip with the others on this list so you can be certain you know which plant you’ve found.
Spurge is a low-growing annual weed that spreads out along the ground from a central point. If there is a plant with thin, reddish stems sprawling out from sidewalk cracks, you’ve probably found spurge. Purslane is far more likely to grow upright than spurge.
- Spurge always grows low to the ground.
- Some varieties of purslane grow slightly upright.
- Be careful during identification since some purslane plants may grow low to the ground.
Purslane has far more ability to support its own weight than spurge, due to its thicker stalks. However, depending on shade conditions and whether or not it is growing in a high-traffic area, purslane can sprawl along the ground. Do not base your entire identification on this sign.
If you are lucky enough to come across spurge and purslane in bloom, their flowers can help you tell them apart. Spurge grows small, white flowers. Purslane flowers are most commonly yellow. In some cases, purslane will produce beautiful violet flowers.
- Spurge produces tiny, white flowers.
- Yellow and violet flowers are common for purslane.
- You will see five heart-shaped petals on purslane flowers.
- Spurge flowers are so small it can be hard to see individual petals.
Take a closer look at the flowers for further identification signs. Purslane flowers have five heart-shaped petals, no matter what color they are. Spurge flowers are usually so small that they look like tiny cups. You may see a reddish tint to the edges of spurge flowers.
Are Purslane and Spurge the Same?
Purslane and spurge are completely different plants, but they are easy to mistake for one another. In actuality, purslane (Portulaca oleracea) is related to cacti, succulents, and beets. Many of the plants in the purslane family (including purslane) are edible. Spurge, on the other hand, is part of the poisonous Euphorbia family.
- Spurge and purslane are different plants.
- The two plants may look similar at first glance.
- Purslane is edible and beneficial.
- Spurge is poisonous.
Purslane and spurge grow in the same environment, so you can find spurge growing right next to purslane in your garden. Since these plants share some similar traits at first glance, it can be hard for gardeners to tell them both apart. However, it is essential because one is a beneficial plant, while the other can be extremely harmful.
How Can You Tell the Difference Between Purslane and Spurge?
To tell the difference between purslane and spurge, look for these signs:
- Purslane has thick leaves with smooth edges. Spurge has thin leaves with slightly serrated edges.
- Spurge leaves grow in pairs of two, while purslane leaves grow in sets of four.
- White sap from a broken stem means the plant is spurge. Purslane has clear sap.
- Purslane stems are thick and smooth. Spurge has thin stems with hairs growing along them.
- Purslane may grow upright while spurge always crawls on the ground.
- Spurge flowers are very small and white. Purslane typically has violet or yellow flowers.
By combining all the identification tips above, you’ll be able to tell common weeds like spurge apart from edible purslane. Make sure to check for succulent leaves and clear sap, so you can be certain you’ve found purslane.