Excerpts from Jim Conrad's
Naturalist Newsletter


from the March 20, 2011 Newsletter issued from Hacienda Chichen Resort beside Chichén Itzá Ruins, central Yucatán, MÉXICO

Especially along shadowy forest trails you notice knee-high, slender stems arching over the path, bearing a few tiny flowers that tend to be closed in the mornings but open in the afternoons -- something unusual for such delicate-looking flowers, which you'd expect to be morning-bloomers. The plant is shown above. A flower, its pink petals about 3/16-inch long (4 mm) is seen below:


That flower is unexpectedly pretty in its simplicity. It's almost like the "Standard Blossom" I use to teach flower anatomy -- the most average, unspecialized flower imaginable. Note its five pink petals, its several stamens with their slender, pink filaments and yellow, pollen-packed anthers, and then the spherical, green ovary in the center, topped by a slender, pink, neck-like style three-parted at the top, each of the three parts bearing a rough, sticky stigmatic surface where pollen from other flowers is deposited and germinates.

Despite this plant's fragile appearance it's a robust species inhabiting a wide variety of habitats over a very large distribution area.It's native from the southern US states through Mexico and most of tropical America, plus it's been introduced into southern Africa and southern Asia. As such it goes by several English names, including Pink baby-breath and Jewels of Opar. Both of these names are so fanciful that I prefer just the genus name, Talinum. It's TALINUM PANICULATUM, a member of the Portulaca or Purslane Family, a family whose flowers often are especially bright and pretty.

Standley reports that the leaves of this species make a good substitute for spinach. The leaves of our plants are so small and tough that not many folks nowadays would want to eat them, but maybe the time will come when people again will be happy for a pot of Talinum greens.