Trianthema triquetra

red spinach


Trianthema triquetra

Rottler & Willd. 1803

pronounced: try-an-THEE-muh try-KWET-ruh

(Aizoaceae — the fig-marigold family)

common names: red spinach, black horsepurslane

native 4Trianthema is derived from the Greek τρι– (tri-), three times, thrice, and ανθεμον (anthemon), a blossom, flower; triquetra is Latin, triquetrus, with three corners, triangular.

This is an annual more-or-less succulent procumbent, prostrate or sometimes ascending herb to 60 cm high, much branched from the base, that grows in clay or sandy clay in semisaline disturbed areas, alluvial and saline flats, and arid regions, from a strong, even woody, taproot. It spreads into a loose mat. It is found in Africa, Arabia, India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Burma, Malaysia and Australia. In Australia it is found almost everywhere on the continent, and the plants pictured were growing on the margin of the dried-up bed of the Horseshoe Bay wetlands, in the dry season.

The stem is diffuse, and papillose; the leaves are up to 30 mm long, less than 4 mm broad, ovate-elliptic to oblanceolate, mucronate at the apex, the leaf-base sheathing, membranous.

The white to pink flowers occur single or in small groups (usually 2 o 3, but up to 6) at the nodes. They are basally free from one another, sessile or shortly stalked, 2 – 4 mm long. There are 5 calyx segments, triangular, each with a sub-apical dorsal thickening. There are 5 very short stamens with purplish anthers.

The fruit is a capsule, truncate; the operculum thick-walled, rounded with an impressed membranous cover. There are two or occasionally more brownish black plano-convex seeds faintly ribbed, one in the operculum and the others in the base.

In drought times the plant can be used as a fodder for goats and cattle.


Photographs taken in the Horseshoe Bay wetlands, 2013
Page last updated 23rd April