Tropical Edibles Area

Click for a diagram of the Herb Circle, Potager, and Tropical Vegetable Area.


This U-shaped area surrounds the Herb Circle and holds mainly perennials whose roots, flowers or leaves are edible as well as some fruits and ornamentals.  The lines are established but the softscape is not fully determined as yet.  The area is bounded by a high fence on the south and west sides and the house on the east, so nothing in it gets full sun all day, except for the plants that are taller than the fence.  This arrangement is actually pretty good for many perennials, since there are several levels of cooling shade to choose from.  There will eventually be a bench (painted blue) in the center of the south fence, shaded by an arbor (painted purple).  I have the bench but have yet to paint it, and the arbor is, as yet, merely a glimmer in my eye.

Edibles I grow mostly in this area include:

Banana (Musa spp.) -- These are so popular that there are many varieties available.  Fruits are tasty raw or fried and leaves can be used to wrap foods like fish or tamales for steaming.  Flowers can be boiled or steamed and eaten like a vegetable.  Rootstalks and leaf sheaths of many species can be cooked and eaten.  The center or heart of the plant is edible year-round, cooked or raw.  The plant is not a tree, actually, but an herb.  Once a stalk flowers and fruits, it will die, so it is best cut to the ground.  New suckers will come up from the base for next year.  Plant in good soil in full sun - in shade, no fruit will be produced.  Leaves will shred in our high winds, so plant in a protected area if you want to use them for steaming.Plantains are firm-fleshed cooking types of banana - ripe ones are sweet and can be eaten raw or cooked, whereas green ones should be cooked. 

Blackberry -- Mine are 'Brazos', a bush type developed by Texas A&M University for heat and humidity.  It took them two years from their original planting to begin bearing fruit, but they are already bearing this year (June - July) after being moved last fall.  These are very invasive if not contained - they will travel all over the yard, suckering off far-ranging roots.  I have allowed some suckers to remain in convenient spots in the Herb Circle as well.  Once the plants begin to bear, they start looking bad afterward.  It is best to cut them back hard after harvest to allow clean new foliage to develop.  This does not keep fruit from coming next year if you do it early enough.  With cane types, you have to remember to cut only canes that have borne fruit the previous year, as each cane needs two years to fruit.  They also require a trellis, which is not the case with bush types.  I have moved most of these to a corner of the Succulent Beds to free room for other things here.

Calabaza (Cuban Squash, Cucurbita moschata) -- Grows best during the hot summer months, proving how important choosing varieties for this climate is.  Select a squash at a Cuban market (sometimes the regular supermarket will have them - I got one at Publix) and bring home.  Cook the fruit and plant the seeds.  Mature fruit is very hard-shelled and may need to be cut with a saw.  They will keep almost a year.  The deep orange pulp can be steamed or baked. Flowers can be batter-dipped or stuffed with cheese and fried.  Tender green and white immature fruits can be peeled and used like summer squash. 

Chayote (Cho Cho, Choko, Mango Squash, Merliton, Pepinello, Vegetable Pear, Sechium edule) -- Perennial squash vine.  Fruits look like bright green pears with a texture like very hard apples.  Buy two at the supermarket in fall and set them on the kitchen counter until a curly tendril begins to grow from the top center of each.  Bury to the shoulders in the ground or lay horizontally in rich soil in large containers if you have nematodes.  If grown in the ground, they should be mulched thickly.  Grow on a strong support like an arbor.  Chayote vines must be grown in pairs to produce fruit. If desired, feed at planting time, mid-summer, and when fruits are small.  Young, tender fruits may be eaten raw (try grating into salad or slaw or tuna salad, or pickle it), while mature ones can be prepared like squash (baked, boiled, steamed, mashed, fried, stuffed).  The taste is very mild, so it will take up the flavor of anything it is cooked with.  (I recommend garlic.)  Look for recipes in Cuban and Indian cookbooks and on the Internet.  The root is also edible.  An extremely prickly form is grown in the western states - it is purported to be more flavorful than the smooth form but I have never seen one here and the prickly fruit is very hard to handle! (I tried it in California - ouch!)  I actually grow this on the center Arbor in the Herb Circle.

False Roselle -- A small shrub with red leaves which are pleasingly sour and good in salads or stir-fry.  The flowers are good in drinks. ECHO carries seeds.

Fig (Ficus spp.) -- Figs are unusual in that the flowers are inside the fruit.  Figs are unusual in that the flowers are inside the fruit. Plants are susceptible to nematodes, but still better grown in the ground, preferably near the foundation on the south or west side of a building to protect the leaves from wind and supply extra lime. Spring is the best time to plant. Mulch the area around the tree to keep the roots cool, and apply composted manure three times a year. The plants usually suffer from rust or anthracnose in the cool season and may drop leaves, but will recover when the weather warms. Pick up fallen leaves to lessen the spread of infection. Dwarf varieties can be grown in tubs 2' in diameter and 15" deep in very rich soil. No pollinators are needed, so figs could be grown on a very sunny screened porch like mine under the overhang to protect from most pests and excessive rain. Some growers apply extra lime to the top of the soil - where I live, there is plenty in the ground, but I would add some to a container. Water frequently during our dry winter to help the plants grow steadily and bear good quality fruit. In the summer, the rain may be too much, but potted plants under an overhang may not get enough water, so monitor them carefully. Prune suckers from the base in spring or separate and plant them. Fig trees are easily propagated from cuttings as well. Italians smear a drop of good olive oil on the bottom of each fruit to help it ripen faster. Plants should be cut back hard - to around 1-2' high - each year after bearing. Popular varieties here are'Brown Turkey' and 'Celeste.'  I have a 'Magnolia' in a large pot and only just learned how to take care of it, so next year will be a season of proof.  Despite my ignorance, it is fruiting for the first time right now!

Grape (Vitis spp.) -- Bunch and Muscadine types are grown in Florida'Blue Lake' and 'Emerald Lake' are goodBunch Grapes for the home garden - both mature in July. Muscadines are better adapted but not as tasty. 'Willard' and 'Tarheel' are self-pollinating and can be used to pollinate varieties that do not produce pollen, so if you want only one or two vines, plant these.  Other recommended varieties are 'Scuppernong','Hunt' and'Yuga'.  I plan for one Bunch Grape vine on one side of the center Arbor in the Herb Circle to replace an unnamed (and poorly performing) seedling growing there now. 

Jaboticaba (Myrciaria cauliflora) -- This is a very ornamental small tree or shrub with pretty peeling bark and fruits like large purple grapes with white interiors.  The fruits are borne directly on the trunk and larger branches after the plant is about ten years old.  It is easily transplanted at any age - I have seen 10' fruiting trees in large nursery pots for sale for about $400.  Because it is so slow to fruit, these are relatively expensive and cost more the older they get.  I recommend buying a young one for a tenth of the price and waiting - it will be lovely in the meantime and you'll save money.  The fruit will be all the more special when it does come!  Plant in full sun or partial shade in deep, rich soil. 

Malanga (Xanthosoma caracu) -- This is an Elephant Ear with edible roots, and almost indistinguishable from Dasheen or Taro, which is grown and used in the same way.  Find a tuber in the market and plant it horizontally in a small hill.  You will soon have a pretty plant, and In several months you can dig the plant up and harvest several tubers, which can be cooked like potatoes to remove a mildly poisonous compound.  Replant some to keep your patch growing.  Leaves can be cooked as greens, but preferably boiled twice, discarding the first batch of water to reduce the amount of oxalic acid.  Warning:  Never eat raw, as this can cause serious inflammation of the mouth and throat.

Malva moscheutos (or Hibiscus moscheutos) -- This Hibiscus has 5" single dark pink flowers.  They are especially nice shredded onto salads or as an edible garnish on the side of a plate.  All Hibiscus flowers can be eaten and taste somewhat like Lettuce.  Sometimes they are included in teas. 

Papaya (Carica papaya) -- There are sweet and not-so-sweet varieties of Papaya.  The sweet ones are usually small.  Find one you like in the market and plant fresh seed cleaned of pulp directly in open soil in full sun.  Cover only lightly.  Damping off is a problem.  A taproot will form quickly, making transplanting difficult, so it's best to plant in a cluster and thin after plants are up.  When plants flower, you can determine their sex - some have both male and female flowers, some just one type.  Female flowers are large and borne singly, while male flowers are small and grow in clusters - all have a wonderful fragrance.  You can cull out all but one male tree in a patch to ensure pollination and maximum room for fruit-bearing trees.  Remove and replant when trees die - expect a planting to last about a year, but some individuals may live as long as three years.  Dwarf varieties are available, but if a tree grows too tall for comfortable harvest, it can be topped off, causing shoots to sprout from the sides, though it may not look as elegant as before.  The height of a male tree shouldn't matter.  Fruit flies and wasps tend to lay eggs in the fruit during the off-season.  Some people bag the fruit to prevent this, but others don't bother.  Green fruit can be cooked as a vegetable or grated and used for an unusual slaw.  Fresh seeds have a peppery taste - hot, like a radish - and can be sprinkled over salads or cooked dishes.  Mature fruit has a sweet, musky flavor (you'll either love it or hate it) and such a high water content that the flesh seems to melt in your mouth.  Papaya fruit and juice will tenderize meat and aid in digestion. 

Passionflower (Passiflora spp.) -- Many of these gorgeous vines have edible fruit, which may be lemon yellow to purple.  Most passionflowers can be eaten and come in combinations of blue, purple, pink, white or red - some have a  wonderful spicy fragrance.  There is also a Florida native with small flowers and fruits that attracts butterflies, as do all passionflowers.  Gulf Fritillaries are particularly fond of them - I often find and carefully move the black-spined orange caterpillars from my plants when pruning (to other, safer parts of the same plants), but no significant damage seems to be done by them. Logee's carries several varieties.  I recommend starting from plants or cuttings.  One type I grow suckers all over the yard.  The flowers are so pretty and the fruit so delicious - slightly acidic with varying degrees of sweetness - that this is a most welcome plant wherever it can be grown.  Just be careful not to let them swamp the garden!  I actually grow these in the Succulent Beds and Butterfly and Hummingbird Border.

Peanut (Arachis hypogaea) -- A legume.  The nuts are produced underground along the roots, so it is best to plant them in small mounds of soil.  This is the first year I am growing these, but so far so good.  I got 'Valencia Tennessee Red' from Park Seed and planted 6 hills.  After the first 3 came up, I got impatient and planted more in the empty spots, thinking the others were blind.  I was wrong - they put out roots long before top growth and now there are too many!  Peanuts take about 4 months from seed to harvest, so I will report my results soon.

Pepper, Perennial Hot (Capsicum spp.) -- There are a few varieties of hot peppers that are perennial here and often grown by people from Hispanic and Island cultures.  The best way to obtain seeds is usually to ask someone that grows them to give you a ripe pepper or two.  Let the pepper begin to rot, separate the seeds from flesh and plant in a seed flat.  Most will germinate.  Transplant seedlings into good soil in full sun.  The type I grow gets to 2'h x 2'w and bears yellow fruits, but I have seen much taller bushes.  Not technically an herb, but used sparingly to spice things up, so it qualifies.  Because plantings are always changing in the Potager and there is less sun for a short plant here in the Tropical Edibles Area, I grow this in the Herb Circle

Prickly Pear Cactus (Opuntia spp.) -- This edible cactus has oval green paddles, 3" yellow or orange flowers and up to fist-size purple-red, yellow or orange fruits.  These can be dipped in boiling water for one minute to loosen the skins, which will come off along with the stickers.  Or you can cut the fruit in half and squeeze out the pulp.  The pulp can be pressed through a sieve to remove the numerous seeds.  Jelly, fruit leather, ice cream, pies and sauce can be made from it or it can be added to bread.  Pads can be skinned with a potato peeler and cooked in olive oil - this dish is called Nopales.  Try adding tomatoes, mushrooms, garlic or olives.  Or add chopped pads to bread, casseroles or egg dishes.  Handle all parts with gloves and use tongs when cooking.  Propagation is simple - break off a pad, let it heal for a few days lying out of direct sun, then set it upright on the ground where you want it to grow.  According to their website, ECHO offers a thornless variety in their nursery (they do not mailorder plants - only seeds).  My prickly one was given to me by a friend. 

Pineapple (Ananas cosmosus) -- These are easy to grow.  You can buy a plant from a nursery or start your own from a fruit at the supermarket.  Select one with a healthy looking top on it.  Lay it on the counter with the top hanging over the edge.  Hold the fruit with one hand and push down the top with the other until it breaks off.  Pull off leaves from the bottom until about one inch of stem is exposed, careful not to damage the small roots forming along it.  Let it sit out of direct sun a few days to heal, then set on the ground where you want it to grow.  A little manure compost will enrich the soil.  It may take several months, but eventually a fruit will begin to rise out of the center.  Some people tie the plant in a bag with a ripe apple to hasten fruiting.  Be sure the plant is large and healthy first.  I have learned to outsmart raccoons by picking the fruit after it has sized up but before it is fully ripe.  They have an uncanny way of knowing which day you would harvest and stealing your produce the night before!  They will devour the entire fruit, leaving only the core on a bereft plant.  I bring the fruit in and let it ripen on the kitchen counter.  When we begin to smell its sweet aroma, we know it's ready.  Pineapples are Bromeliads, by the way, and several varieties are available by mail order.  Once a plant fruits, it will die, so pull it out and replant the top from your fruit.

Roselle (Red Sorrel, Indian Sorrel, Florida Cranberry, Hibiscus sabdariffa) -- Annual Hibiscus with red foliage and edible flowers. The leaves are cooked as greens, while the calyxes surrounding the seed bolls in the flowers are used like Cranberries for a tart drink. The variety 'Victor' is recommended for our area. Can be started from seed or cuttings in April or late August and takes about 4 months to mature. Gather calyxes before they develop any woody tissue.  Only let a few seeds mature for propagating and pick them all, since this plant can become invasive.

Strawberry (Fragaria spp.) -- Everbearing (day-neutral) types, planted in a flower bag and hanging from the arbor.  This prevents diseases from being on the ground and keeps fruits away from pests like raccoons.  I hang bird netting over them for extra insurance.  This growing bag I got already planted at Home Depot (from a company in Sebring). The only problem I have encountered with these grow bags is that they can dry out very quickly and be hard to water evenly - sometimes it would be easier if one could take them down and lay them in a trough of water for a while.  To circumvent this, I have also bought a Flower Tower with 36 planting holes and a reservoir at the bottom for self-watering, which I will test next cool season.  Alternatively, you could try growing them vertically in a tower made from poultry wire and lined in plastic, and caging them to protect them from pests. Alpine Strawberries are perennial and grow more upright, with smaller leaves and fruits, which are more intensely flavored than standard types.  If you get a chance grow them!  I plant them in pots and place them around the paths.  They are good edgers as well, and come in red or yellow-fruited forms - yellow seems to thwart the birds.  In December of 1999, I planted the red variety'Reugen' from seed and oversummered them in their pots on the screened patio. Seeds should be pre-chilled seeds for five weeks before planting.  I rolled them in a damp paper towel, bagged them in a freezer bag and left them in the freezer for several weeks, then took the bag out and laid it on top of the refrigerator to pre-sprout.  It worked - a couple of days after sowing in a flat, small green leaves appeared.  The plants were transplanted three times and began fruiting in April.  The potted ones that survived my going away for a month and leaving them in various shady (but unfortunately also dry) places in the garden (hoping to catch the sprinklers) are still about 6-8" mounds that are bearing fruit again this year.)  I was happy enough with them that I grew more this season, along with a lot of 'Yellow Wonder' alpines.  Standard strawberries can now be grown from seed as well, though most people start with plants from the garden center.  I tried some from seed this season and was disappointed with the results, as they grew much slower than the Alpines.  The problem with getting the plants via northern mailorder companies is they often don't get shipped until spring, which is really too late for us, so garden centers and seeds are a better bet.   I filled a Flower Tower with plants from Home Depot this year and they are doing well.  Strawberries are also supposed to be happy planted with bush beans and marigolds.

Sugarcane (Saccharum officinarum) -- A giant grass.  Stalks look a lot like Bamboo and are segmented.  The edges of segments have small nodules that will develop roots if given the chance.  Pieces in the grocery store have been waxed to keep moisture in.  They may or may not root.  Try to get a piece with firm nodules and cover these with sandy loam in a container or directly in the ground.  Water until established, then transplant to a garden bed.  Individual canes are ready to harvest when they turn purple and should then be cut out, since they will die.  Plants will quickly form clumps, so you will always have more.  Sometimes new shoots will form on mature canes.  Only harvest what you will eat or wax immediately, since Sugarcane dries out very quickly.  Saw off a mature cane and saw into sections.  Peel back the hard outer part and chew the flesh to extract the sweet juice.  Juice is expressed from stalks and boiled to produce sugar and molasses.  Sugarcane is popular among Spanish and Island cultures. 

Sweet Potatoes (Ipomoea batatas) -- The recommendation is to plant certified disease-free slips obtained via mail order, which should ideally also be pest and disease resistant - if you put them among your other sweet potatoes, they should help protect the entire planting.'Sumer' is a recommended variety for this purpose.  I have some originally from my grandmother's garden in Kentucky and others from the grocery store and haven't had any disease problems yet.  If starting with a whole potato, let it sit on the kitchen counter until stems begin to grow from it.  Plant in good, well-drained soil in small mounds 1' apart.  If cramped for space, trellis the vines, but you will have to attach them, since they won't climb on their own.  This should also result in larger roots.  In 4 months, carefully fork the mounds for potatoes.  Replant any too small to eat.  If allowed to sprawl, the decorative vines will root in many places along their length, but then you won't get so many good-sized potatoes because too much energy will be going to growing all those new smaller roots.  Ornamental sweet potatoes grown specifically for their foliage are discussed elsewhere, but these will also produce edible roots.  Just remember they were not bred for flavor.  The redder the flesh, generally the sweeter the taste.  (My 'Blackie' plants produced cream-colored roots that were delicious baked, though I would not recommend them for raw eating, as they had a lot of very sticky sap in them.)  Several white-, yellow- and orange-fleshed varieties are available by mail order.  Roots can be eaten raw (preferably sliced thinly, they taste somewhat like uncooked carrots), baked, microwaved or boiled and mashed.  If boiling, be careful not to overdo it - there is a point, right after they are perfectly done, when the roots will turn into a useless, watery mush.  I circumvent this by microwaving them, cutting them in half, placing them between sheets of wax paper, and rolling them out of their skins with a rolling pin, then I proceed with the mashing.)  Prepared roots can be used any way one would use cooked winter squash or pumpkins, including in breads, muffins, dips, sauces, soups or stews.  Sweet potato pie is very popular in the South.  Leaves can also be stir-fried or otherwise cooked as greens.  Sweet potatoes are low in fat, high in fiber, and rich in vitamins C, E  and B6, as well as potassium.  They also contain useful levels of folic acid and iron and have the most Vitamin E of any low-fat food.  Regular consumption of this vegetable is proven to lower high blood pressure, cure anemia, and lower incidences of some cancers.  Sometimes, morning glory-like flowers will appear, which should not be eaten. Boniato (Cuban Sweet Potato) has white flesh that is not really sweet.  Buy tubers at the grocery store and plant in full sun in good, well-drained soil.  Grow and use like other Sweet Potatoes.

Swiss Cheese Plant (Ceriman, Monstera delicosa) -- Perennial climber.  This beauty looks like a Philodendron with holes in the leaves and has a similar habit, as it begins like a shrub but will climb a fence, wall or tree with its aerial roots.  Once it climbs a bit or reaches some maturity, it begins bearing fruits that resemble bananas with thick scales.  (Mine fruited after 4 years and the second crop is on its way, the first having just been harvested.) The fruit takes 14 months to ripen and is caustic until then.  Wait to harvest until the scales at the bottom begin to separate.  Place in a brown paper bag for even ripening.  You may have trouble with raccoons unless fruits are out of their reach.  Or you can try to cage them with wire.  The plant will produce offsets from its thick trunks along the ground - these can be potted up once established.  It likes partial shade and can get very high if the support allows. 

Violets (Viola spp.) -- I have Australian (V. hederacea)Florida Sweet and a wild blue one found growing in a friend's yard.  They are related to Pansies.  All viola flowers and greens are edible and young ones are good in salad.  The greens are especially rich in Vitamin C, having five times the amount as in the same measure of orange juice, and three times the amount of Vitamin A as in spinach.  Some are also fragrant.  Violet flowers are rich in sugar and pectin and good in syrup.  They are also especially nice as garnishes or candied (little violas and Johnny Jump-Ups are ideal for this - use an artist's paintbrush to thinly coat flowers with a mixture of egg white and water, carefully dip the flowers in and sprinkle them with superfine sugar, then lay them on waxed paper to dry) and used to decorate desserts.  Whole flowers or petals can also garnish desserts, salads and tea sandwiches.  Pick flowers with as much stem as possible and put them in water, then pinch them from their stems when you're ready to use them.  Plant in shade or part shade in rich soil.  This means they can be used as an underplanting under taller perennials.  They will spread by above-ground runners, much like Strawberry plants do.

Water Leaves -- Perennial 2'h x 1'w with 2-3" leaves and pretty 1" pink flowers.  The succulent leaves can be eaten fresh in salad or cooked like Spinach.  Cuttings root easily in water or sand and are much easier and faster than seed.  Plant in full sun or partial shade in good soil.  I got mine from a professor who grew them in his home country of Nigeria

Others to try:

Amaranth (Tampala, Chinese Spinach, Amaranthus spp.) -- Some varieties are grown for greens, others for grain, but the leaves of both can be eaten raw or cooked and taste a bit like spinach.  These greens will grow well in the hot summer months when many other food plants fail, and do fine in poor soil after it has been depleted by heavier feeders.  Takes 5-6 weeks from seed to harvest.  I intend to grow tall grain varieties in this area and shorter ones for colorful greens in the Potager. Southern Exposure has some interesting varieties, as does Johnny's Selected Seeds.  There are others grown for ornamental value as well, sush as the well-known Love Lies Bleeding (Amaranthus caudatus), which attracts butterflies.

Bamboo (Bambusa spp.) -- A tall, woody grass with segmented stalks.  Find one that is not too invasive.  Young shoots of almost all species are edible cooked or raw.  Any bitter taste is removed by boiling.  To prepare, remove the tough protective sheath, which is covered with red or brownish hairs.  If the plant flowers, it will produce seeds, which can be boiled like rice or pulverized, mixed with water and made into cakes.  Bamboo is also useful as building material, containers, cooking utensils and poles for plant supports. ECHO lists many useful varieties on their website as being available at their nursery. 

Cassava (Yuca, Manioc, Tapioca, Manihot esculenta) -- Buy tubers at the grocery store and plant in full sun in good soil.  These need a long warm season in full sun to produce.  The plant is actually shallow-rooted, producing underground tubers radiating out from its center.  For commercial production, stem cuttings are planted, all tubers are harvested at once, and the process is begun again from scratch.  For subsistence (or perennial) growing, harvest one or two tubers from around each plant and let it keep growing.  (If you cut more, the plant may topple for lack of support.) The plants reach 4'h x 2'w with ornamental variegated foliage.  Tubers must be cooked to destroy cyanide-like compounds.  The ones in the grocery store should be "sweet" because baking is sufficient.  Some varieties are called "bitter" because they have a higher poison content and require extensive processing in order to be safely eaten.  The starchy tubers taste somewhat like potatoes and are popular among the Cuban population.  This is the Yuca served fried at Pollo Tropical and the starch in Tapioca pudding.  It is also good in stews.  Cassava is one of the most important food sources in tropical countries.  The variegated version, 'Variegata', is particularly attractive and is often grown as an ornamental foliage plant. 

Chaya (Cnidoscolus chaymansa) -- A succulent plant of the spurge family native from Mexico to Brazil.  The papaya-like leaves are poisonous when raw, but edible and nutritious when cooked.  ECHO carries this plant in their nursery and may also ship seeds.

Chocolate (Theobroma cacao) -- A small tree which prefers some shade. It produces a yellow fruit that looks similar to a small Papaya but is filled with cocoa beans. These were ground by many South American Indians for chocolate. Today, we separate the fat (known as Cocoa Butter) and the rest is used for unsweetened cocoa powder. Chocolate candy is made with varying amounts of cocoa powder, cocoa butter, sugar, and often milk as well. Try adding cocoa powder to Mexican dishes, along with Cinnamon, for a complex and interesting flavor that most people will not recognize without the sugar. I've been told the plant will grow here, but is rather messy. However, since chocolate is one of my favorite foods, I am determined to give it a try! 

Coconut (Cocos nucifera) -- The milk of the young fruit is rich in sugar and vitamins.  Nut meat is nutritious and rich in oil.  You can render the oil by putting nut meat in the sun, heating over a slow fire or boiling it in a pot of water.  It is good for sunburn and dry skin and can be used for cooking in a survival situation. 

Dasheen (Cocoyam, Eddo, Elephant Ear, Taro, Colocasia esculenta) -- Practically indistinguishable from Malanga and cultivated and used in the same way.  Tubers can be bought in the grocery store.  All parts are edible when boiled and leaves are best cooked in two changes of water.  Warning:  Never eat raw, as this can cause serious inflammation of the mouth and throat.

Elderberry (Sambucus nigra) -- Large shrub often found in damp areas such as canal banks.  It prefers rich, moist soil. Fruit is used for juice, wine, and jam or jelly.  Flowers are good in tea, fritters and baked goods.  Warning: Eat only black fruits, never red, as some red ones may be poisonous.  It is also better to cook the fruits than to eat them raw.  All other parts of the plant are poisonous and should not be ingested. A good friend has just given me a rooted cutting, so I hope to be able to report more next year.

Horseradish Tree (Drumstick Tree, Benzolive Tree, Moringa oleifera) -- Fast-growing tree.  Leaves are good as greens (simmer for 10 minutes) and very nutritious, tender young pods supposedly taste like asparagus, flowers can be sauteed and roots can be used like Horseradish.  Mature seeds are edible and contain an oil that keeps well.  Large branches and cuttings root quickly and seeds are easy to start.  Grows to 30' and is drought-tolerant.  ECHO carries this tree in their nursery.

Jicama -- These vining plants produce edible roots the size of turnips, but they take several months to do so and the results taste nothing like cabbage - in fact they don't have a strong taste at all, which makes them quite versatile.  Some people say they taste like sweet apples.  They are very crisp, like water chestnuts, and are eaten raw, often in salads, cut up or shaved into long strings, and flavored with things like chili powder and lime juice.  Soak the large seeds overnight, then direct-sow 1" deep and 15" apart in well-dug sandy soil and keep the area moist until the seeds germinate.  Trellis the vines, which can get 20' long if planted in the ground.  Alternatively, one plant will grow in a 3-5 gallon container, three in a 10 gallon.  Keep the soil evenly moist, feed every 4-6 weeks, and pinch off flowers to develop the roots.  Tubers can be eaten at any size - very large ones take 8-9 months to form, but you can start digging smaller ones at 4 months.   Leaves, flowers and seedpods are all poisonous.  Jicama grows well here all year, making it a good crop for the summer months if one has limited space. 

Kaffir Lime (Bai Magrood, Citrus hystrix) -- A perennial citrus grown for its leaves, which are used in Asian cuisine for flavoring soups, stews, sautes, cold punches and hot teas.

Kiwi (Actinidia sinensis) -- Perennial vine.  Some sources say this plant will not fruit here, others claim it will.  I have read it needs 400 chilling hours, which we would not often get here.  For the adventurous gardener, here are instructions, courtesy of Tom MacCubbin (I have yet to attempt this one):  Pick seeds out of a storebought fruit and dry them on paper, then sow in a flat.  Cover with vermiculite, as they are susceptible to damping off.  Seeds take 8 weeks to germinate.  If this doesn't work, try mixing dry seeds with sphagnum moss in a plastic bag and placing it in the refrigerator for 40 days, then replanting the seeds in containers.  They should take 3 weeks to sprout this way.  Transplant young vines when they are a few inches high, planting them in full sun.  Give them lots of water.  And let me know if it works for you!

Naranjillo (Solanum quitoense) -- A very unusual fruit that is related to eggplant.  The plant grows as a 2-3' tall mound with large leaves and wicked spines on the stems and leaf bottoms.  Fruits are orange and filled with gelatin.  They are tart and used for tropical drinks and sauces.  One of those things that's cool to grow just because it looks so neat!

Pigeon Pea (Congo Pea, No-Eye Pea, Red Gram, Arhur, Urhur, Grandul, Dhal, Toor, Gunds Pea, Alverja, Cajanus cajan) -- An annual or short-lived perennial legume growing 3-10' tall. Flowers are yellow or yellow and red and pea pods are mottled with red. They are grown and eaten mainly by the Cuban population - try buying dried beans at a Cuban market and planting some. They are usually grown in rows 3-4' apart with 12-18" between plants, but you can site them however your space allows. Can be eaten as fresh shell beans or as dry beans. ECHO will ship seeds via mailorder.

Sorghum (Sorghum bicolor) -- A tall grass. Some are used like Sugarcane for their sweet syrup, others for grain, some for pasture and still others for making brooms (these are called Broom Corn).  Plant with legumes like Leucaena or Clover - they benefit the sorghum by producing nitrogen in the soil.  Southern Exposure Seed Exchange carries a few varieties. 

Ornamentals (some of which may eventually be moved):

Bougainvillea (Bougainvillea spp.) -- Beautiful shrub with clusters of flowers surrounded by showy bracts.  Some are bushier and more floriferous than others, most notably the common purple variety.  Those are better grown as shrubs, while lankier ones are more like a shrubby vine.  I have seen them trained over arbors or garage doors or up the sides of outdoor staircases.  Some have dwarf leaves and bracts and some have variegated foliage.  Bougainvilleas do best in full sun.  They are sometimes attacked by a caterpillar but damage will be negligible if the plant is healthy.  Flowering is sporadic but mostly comes in the cool dry season of winter and spring.  If you can control moisture and feeding, you will get the most flowers from a plant that is a little hungry and thirsty.  I kept one on my porch under the overhang but with sun most of the day, watered it once every two weeks and fed it once or twice a year and it flowered all year long.  No wonder they're so often used in California!  The one here was given to me as a pot of sticks which looked dead, but my friend assured me looks are deceiving.  I took it home, watered it and pruned it very hard.  Within a week, it had new shoots.  It is one of the lanky types and flowers at the branch tips up where it's sunny.  Each bract ranges from carmine to orange all at the same time - gorgeous!  It is growing against the south fence, ready to be trained over the future arbor over the future bench... 

Clerodendrum quadriloculare -- This striking perennial is a large shrub but I grow it like a small tree by limbing it up.  This way, it provides shade, and the purple undersides of the large dark green leaves are more visible.  Long cream flowers tinged with maroon are borne in 8" clusters, making a nice centerpiece for a tropical bouquet. 

Giant Milkweed (Crown Flower, Mudar, Calatropis gigantea) -- Perennial shrub.  Very strange-looking.  Leaves are 6" oblongs and covered with a silvery fuzz when young.  Flowers are borne in clusters - each is a 1" star of blue-purple and looks similar to a single milkweed or hoya flower.  Rather awkward, but interesting.

Queen's Wreath (Petrea volubilis) -- Perennial vine.  This shrubby vine has sprays of blue flowers that vaguely resemble those of Wisteria but are not fragrant.  A lovely specimen can be seen growing in the Society of the Four Arts garden in Palm Beach.  I have it on the west fence.  Flowers are beautiful in arrangements. 

Salvia vahnouteii -- described in the Rose and Perennial Court section. 

Wandering Jew (Tradescantia zebrina - was Zebrina pendula) -- A relative of Purple Heart with similar growing habits.  It spreads very quickly and has frosted green leaves with silver stripes and purple undersides.  It is a colorful and useful groundcover for sun or shade but will swamp everything if not kept under control.  Fortunately, it is very easy to pull out by hand.  There is a form, T. fluminensis 'Albovittata', with white variegation (no hint of purple) and white flowers.  It would be lovely in a shady spot. 

Maintenance here is easier than in most parts of the garden, because it is designed with Permaculture principles in mind.  Most of the plants are perennials and they are sited for maximum performance.  I add composted manure and mulch to these beds once or twice a year and keep the fruits and vegetables picked and the plants pruned if they get out of bounds. 


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