Purslane’s EVIL Twin

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You should recognize the young plant on the right as purslane. But what’s that oddly similar plant right next to it?

That’s spurge. If you break it (I didn’t) it will ooze a milky white sap. If you break purslane, there’s no sap at all. That’s the quickest and easiest way to tell the difference, although when the plants get bigger (only takes a day, if that) they’re more easily told apart.

Spurge has been confused with purslane so many times that some have given it the nickname “milky purslane.” Which is just wrong. That’s like calling a cat a “meowing dog.” The two may appear similar to people who haven’t been taught the difference, or who have terrible eyesight, but they aren’t at all the same.

I really have nothing to write about spurge. It is a weed and should be pulled out the instant you see it, as it grows quickly and spreads it’s seeds even quicker. Fortunately, it is said to be a non-competitive plant, so it won’t harm your garden plants (it won’t help them either) and planting ground cover should discourage it from growing a lot. You can also kill it with weed killer, as I’m sure you already guessed.

That’s pretty much all I know about it, because the internet only contains information on how to get rid of it. I recall an article on some things it could actually be good for — something about containing ingredients that could help us find a cure for skin cancers, or something like that — but I can’t find it anymore so I can’t write that kind of information legitimately.

So I guess instead, I’ll just post a few pictures of spotted spurge to help you identify it, get rid of it, and avoid eating it while foraging for purslane.

Here you can easily identify this as spurge, and definitely not purslane. The leaves are thinner than purslane leaves, the stems are thinner than purslane stems, and it also has a kind of bluish tint going on, it seems. There's also the spots on the leaves because it's called "spotted spurge." Although, those spots don't always appear, so they shouldn't be used as an identifier.
Here you can easily identify this as spurge, and definitely not purslane. The leaves are thinner than purslane leaves, the stems are thinner than purslane stems, and it also has a kind of bluish tint going on, it seems. There’s also the spots on the leaves because it’s called “spotted spurge.” Although, those spots don’t always appear, so they shouldn’t be used as an identifier.
Here you can see that when spurge is broken, it emits a milky white sap. This sap is an aggressive skin irritant and should be avoided at all costs. If you do get some on your hands, wash them for fifteen minutes. If your hands start to break out, I advise you to contact a medical professional immediately. You can also see from this close-up shot that the stem of spurge is awfully hairy. This is another way to tell spurge and purslane apart -- purslane's stems are smooth and have no hairs (at least not that I've ever seen).
Here you can see that when spurge is broken, it emits a milky white sap. This sap is an aggressive skin irritant and should be avoided at all costs. If you do get some on your hands, wash them for fifteen minutes. If your hands start to break out, I advise you to contact a medical professional immediately.
You can also see from this close-up shot that the stem of spurge is awfully hairy. This is another way to tell spurge and purslane apart — purslane’s stems are smooth and have no hairs (at least not that I’ve ever seen).
Spotted spurge doesn't always have spots on it. I don't know why this is. I find it particularly easy to identify it just by it's egg-shaped thin leaves and the way it grows. It prefers to lay low, although on rare occasion it will stand upright in a few places.
Spotted spurge doesn’t always have spots on it. I don’t know why this is. I find it particularly easy to identify it just by it’s egg-shaped thin leaves and the way it grows. It prefers to lay low, although on rare occasion it will stand upright in a few places.
I somehow managed to get spurge out of the ground without touching it, just by using a rock. The weed isn't hard at all to pull out as it doesn't have very deep roots. This is the underside of the plant.
I somehow managed to get spurge out of the ground without touching it, just by using a rock. The weed isn’t hard at all to pull out as it doesn’t have very deep roots. This is the underside of the plant.
Spurge, like it's good twin purslane, can grow pretty much anywhere it wants to grow.
Spurge, like it’s good twin purslane, can grow pretty much anywhere it wants to grow.

 

Once again, the photos in this post are of spurge. It is highly toxic and spreads quickly. If you decide to start believing me about how healthy purslane is, please make sure you’re picking purslane and not spurge or some other weed!

There are a few more weeds that can be misidentified for purslane, but not too easily. One of these is called matweed, which is a type of amaranth plant. It’s scientific name is Amaranthus blitoides.

Amaranth, unlike spurge, is an edible twin to purslane. According to Wikipedia (so I’m not sure how much I believe this), several Native American tribes would eat the seeds of matweed as food. A tribe called Zuni, based in New Mexico, mix the seeds of matweed with black corn meal to make balls. I imagine they’re quite bready.

Amaranth is also recognized by Google as an edible weed, as a search for it will actually turn up nutritional facts:

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Do you have something to add or ask about spurge? Post it in the comments below!

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