Trianthema portulacastrum: Desert horse purslane

Family: Aizoaceae
Common name: Desert horse purslane, Horse purslane, Black pigweed, Giant pigweed, Carpetweed, Desert purslane, Lowland purslane, Purslane, Trianthema, Hog weed, Itcit, Santha

A weed that’s very commonly seen on hillsides, open plots, disturbed areas and even growing between cement blocks on footpaths, Desert horse purslane plants have many medicinal uses. A single plant can spread over a meter with succulent stems that grow horizontal to the ground.

They spread well but rises very little vertically to a height of 50 cms. The stem is smooth and green, with a reddish tint around the nodes. Hairs are also present near the nodes, and very sparse.

Leaves are almost oval, green in color with a red border and about 4 cms long. Petioles that connect the leaves to the stem are about 2 cms long. Small, solitary, stalkless purple or pink flowers grow on the axils of the leaves.

Desert horse purslane flowers have 5 distinct petals, with prominent stamens and style. Fruits are small cylindrical capsules, about 5mm long containing 2-8 seeds. These capsules can split open and also act as a boat for the seeds to travel long distances in water. Seeds are small, kidney-shaped, and black, with small wavy ribs.

Desert horse purslane plants are native to Africa, South America, and Asia; and are considered noxious weeds in most parts of the world since they can choke seedlings in agricultural land. But they have great medical significance in Indian Ayurveda, Unani, Siddha, and traditional herbal medicine.

Young leaves are eaten raw or cooked, and also used in salads. Roots of Desert horse purslane is used to treat stomach ailments, asthma, reproductive organ disorders, and liver ailments. Leaves are used to treat throat pain, anemia, edema, wounds, jaundice, dropsy, gonorrhea, rheumatism, alcoholic poisoning, hypertension, fungal infections, and worms.

Older leaves and stems have some toxicity, causing diarrhea and paralysis on excessive consumption. It’s the same with pets and cattle as well, and so they keep away from this plant, thus helping the plant spread even more.

Each plant produces over 50,000 seeds in its lifetime making it dangerously invasive. Manual, chemical, and biological methods are used to get rid of Desert horse purslane, but with limited success.

There are two variants of this plant in India, the red biotype and green biotype characterized by reddish stems with long internodes in one, and green stems with shorted internodes in the other.

Propagation is through seeds and stem cuttings.