Friday, December 19, 2014

Billbergia amoena var. striata

Billbergia amoena var. striata generally blooms in late fall or winter, but it looks good even when not in bloom. The flower spike features bright pinkish-red bracts with contrasting pale green flowers tipped in vivid blue.

It has one of the most open rosettes of any of the Billbergias, and when not in bloom could even be mistaken for Neoregelia! Mature plants can have a spread of about 18 inches.

This striata form has leaves that are nicely striped with fine bands of varying shades of green.
New growth has a rosy tint.

In higher light the coloration endures throughout the foliage.

This is a stoloniferous species so they make large clumps quickly. If container-grown, they need repotting or dividing on an annual basis.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Papalo (Porophyllum ruderale ssp. macrocephalum)

Papalo (Porophyllum ruderale ssp. macrocephalum) is a traditional Mexican herb commonly used fresh with salads, sandwiches, soups, stews, meats or beans. It is only used fresh, or added to cooked foods at the end of cooking. It is never dried.

Many restaurants in Mexico keep a vase of this cut herb on the table so patrons may pull off some leaves and add it to their meal as desired.

In the garden it's a fast-growing annual that can reach 7 feet tall in a season, if not cut back. If you're using it regularly in the kitchen, you'll have no problem keeping it trimmed down to size. In fact, it's better if you do cut it regularly; tall slender plants are more prone to being blown over or simply bending under their own weight.

The leaves are rounded and about 2 inches in diameter. It grows best in full sun, but will tolerate partial shade.

Also known as papaloquelite, yerba porosa, or poreleaf (the undersides of the leaves have large visible pores).

As the days shorten in the fall, the plant ceases leaf production and starts to bloom. At first the buds point downward, but as they get ready to open they point up.

The flowers look like brushy stubble on the end of an elongated bud.

The blooms are pollinated by bees and are prolific seed producers. After a couple of months, the seedhead splits open to reveal a buff-colored fluff-ball that releases seed onto the wind, floating to new growing locations.

Papalo is native to Mexico, but can be found growing wild in the Southwestern U.S. Many websites list various health benefits associated with this herb, but I am unable to find any scientific documentation to support these claims. Eat it because it's good, and maybe it's good for you!

Read about the closely related subspecies, Quilquina.

Buy Papalo seeds

Friday, December 5, 2014

Molokhia (Egyptian spinach)

Molokhia is a highly nutritious ancient super-green from the Middle-East. It's also known as Egyptian spinach, jute mallow or Jew's mallow. Botanically, it's Corchorus olitorius. The leaves can be eaten raw or cooked; use them fresh in salads, cooked as a side vegetable, or made into soup. The cooked leaves are mucilaginous, and dried leaves can be used as a thickener in soups or brewed as a tea.

The nutritious leaves are high in vitamins A, C, E, K, potassium, calcium and magnesium, and also contain beta carotene, iron, and more than 32 vitamins, minerals and trace elements. It’s said to aid digestion, improve vision, lower stress, and increase libido among other health benefits. The leaves also contain 6 different anti-oxidants.

Seed should be sown in spring when the soil is warm. Plants grow quickly and are ready for a first cutting in about 60-70 days.
Harvest by cutting the upper 6-8 inches of growth. The tender stems from this region are also edible if finely cut up along with the leaves. Repeat cuttings can be made from each flush of new growth until you run out of summer. Alternatively, you can sow seeds in succession and harvest the entire young plant at once.

Plants have a strongly upright growth habit, but each successive harvest of  the newer growth forces more branching. Individual leaves are 2-3 inches in length. If left uncut, molokhia can reach 6 feet tall.

In fall, as the days shorten, the plant ceases leafy growth and starts to flower. For this reason, molokhia is not a good choice for a fall garden where temperatures permit; the plant just wants to bloom and you'll get nothing leafy to harvest.

The flowers are bright yellow and emerge from the leaf axils.

Soon after blooming the seedpods start to develop. They grow to about the same length as the leaves.
The plant declines as the seedpods reach maturity and dry to a tan or black color.
The pods are a 5-sectioned capsule filled with many angular, greenish-tinted seeds.

The stems of the plant are the source of jute fiber, and that is its primary reason for cultivation in India.

Although Corchorus olitorius likely originated in Africa, it is now pan-tropical and in some countries it is considered a weed (perhaps testament to its ease of cultivation). As a garden vegetable it can be successfully cropped anywhere the growing season exceeds 70 days.

Buy Molokhia seeds