Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Tindora (Coccinia grandis)

Coccinia grandis is a perennial cucurbit commonly known as tindora or ivy gourd. The striped fruits are about 2 inches long and are edible raw or cooked. When approaching maturity, they start turning red from the inside out, and from the distal end of the fruit to the stem.

They are edible while still green and have a crunchy texture. As they turn red, the fruit becomes sweeter and very soft.

They make a very attractive addition to a vegetable tray. Young leaves and stems are also edible after cooking.

Even the thick roots are edible after cooking, and have a delicious flavor.

Tindora is a climbing vine which attaches itself by tendrils. The leaves are palmate and about 3 to 4 inches across. Vines can grow up to 9 feet in length, branching at any point along the stem, and rooting if they touch the ground.

Flowers are white, open for a single day, and are about the same size as the leaves. Flowering and fruiting can occur nearly year-round in frost-free climates, but it is most productive during the warm months when the plant is in active growth. Male and female flowers occur on separate plants. The time from flower to harvest is about 2-3 weeks.

Coccinia grandis is native to tropical Asia and Africa, and is recommended for USDA Zones 8-11 (perennial in the coldest zones and evergreen in frost-free areas). It will grow in nearly any soil type, and needs full sun to be most productive.

Unharvested fruits drop seeds, and over time the offspring can become invasive. It has naturalized in tropical regions around the world, and is listed as a noxious weed in Hawaii and Western Australia.

There is a sterile cultivar that is preferred for home gardeners, and this is the variety that I grow. It produces parthenocarpic fruit, so no male plant is required. The seeds you see in the photo of the cut fruit above never develop fully, and are not viable.

According to WebMD, research suggests tindora might improve blood sugar control in patients with type 2 diabetes. Studies have also shown Coccinia grandis has anti-cholesterol, anti-inflammatory, anti-ulcer and anti-oxidant properties.

The dormant bare-root crowns are available for purchase during the winter months. The potted plants are available at my local markets year-round.
Buy tindora crowns here!

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Tithonia diversifolia (Bolivian sunflower)

Bolivian sunflower is sometimes known as Mexican sunflower, but that common name also applies to another Tithonia species, so to be completely accurate, just call it Tithonia diversifolia! Some sources also list tree marigold as a common name.

This species grows fast and large, so give it plenty of space in the landscape. Plants can easily grow to 12 feet tall and wide in a single year.

The bright yellow, 6-inch diameter flowers can appear anytime there is active growth, but bloom production peaks in late summer and fall. There is a slight, pleasant fragrance if you put your nose right up to the flower. They need a full sun location for best flower production, but the plants will also tolerate some shade.
The leaves are large, hairy and deeply lobed. They can reach up to a foot in length.

Stems are rough and covered with prominent lenticels.

Stems often form aerial roots. If they bend over and touch the ground, they'll start a new plant.

The inside of the stem is filled with a lightweight, spongy xylem.
This quality makes the cut stems decompose quickly and is why Tithonia diversifolia is frequently used as a "chop and drop" plant; the chopped leaves and stems can be used as a nutrient-rich mulch or compost. In poor soils, the chopped leaves and stems can be used as an alternative to commercial N-P-K fertilizers. Inter-cropping with Tithonia has a positive effect on crop yields, provided you prevent it from taking over the other crops.

The base of the plant becomes trunk-like with age.

This species is native to Central America and Mexico, but has spread throughout tropical and subtropical regions world-wide. It is recommended for USDA Zones 9-11, but can be grown as a perennial in Zone 8.

The leaves are suitable fodder for cows and goats, and deer also love to browse on the nutrient-rich leaves.
Propagation is by seed or cuttings. The variety I grow is a sterile cultivar, so there's no worry about it spreading out of control.

An infusion of Tithonia diversifolia leaves has been used in some folk medicines as a treatment for a wide range of maladies, including diabetes, cholesterol, sore throat and measles. Lab studies indicate both positive and negative results. Another study shows promising results as an anti-inflammatory and analgesic. Still other studies have indicated a potential treatment for malaria and also use as a topical mosquito repellent.