Friday, March 30, 2007

Trees of Interest

mental_floss magazine's blog outlines some favorite trees from round the world, including the Bodhi tree (pictured below), planted in 288 BC and moved from India to Sri Lanka in the 3rd century. Check it out!

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Kadyos for Dinner

As a follow up to my kadyos post, here's a dish we recently had at home, with kadyos and camote (sweet potato) tops from the garden, tofu, and kinchay (Chinese celery):

Shooting Star (Clerodendrum quadriloculare)

This beauty of a tall shrub was one of the reasons why I started gardening just about a month ago. I never bothered about our home garden, until one day, I saw its cluster of flowers and realized how pretty and interesting they were. It stood out in the garden amongst all the shades of green because of its clusters of white flowers, each having a narrow pink tube.

I probably inherited the green genes from my dad. He's fond of plants and gardening, and apparently his sister gave him a cutting of this shrub to grow in our garden. Neither my dad nor my aunt had the right information on its name, but my dad was as curious as I was, and I was determined to find out.

My challenging pursuit to acquire knowledge of this plant, most especially its name, searching through the only clues I had - its physical properties, finally bore some fruit (no pun intended).

Belonging to the family Verbenaceae, the Clerodendrum is one of about 400 species of shrubs, lianas, and small trees that are said to have originated from the tropical regions of Africa and Asia. The Clerodendrum Quadriloculare, though, originated from the warm, sunny islands of our own beautiful Philippines. Its common names are Shooting Star and Philippine Glorybower.

It is a low maintenance plant (except for training), and thrives in warm climates. They require lots of sun and moist soil. The flowers are nectar-bearing so I am soon hoping to find colorful butterflies in the garden. The other day I spotted a bee hanging around one of the flower clusters. I've never been stung by one and hope my love for flowers now won't get me stings :P

Every morning now, I look forward to my garden visit as part of my newly-established ritual. Since my baby plants are still growing, I spend a few minutes checking each of my pots and then the Shooting Stars, of course. Between my mom and dad's plants, and now my own, I have to soon establish some sort of ownership in the garden! These are my dad's plants, really... But I always, always enjoy looking at the Shooting Stars. It's no wonder they are usually cultivated for ornamental purposes. It especially amuses me when they are still buds... And I mean literally buds! They remind me of cotton buds.

Look at their gorgeous leaves! They have rich green oval leaves which are dark purple underneath.

They propagate very easily because of its dense suckering habit. Because of this characteristic, the Clerodendrum Quadriloculare has been considered an invasive plant in some countries such as Palau, Pohnpei Islands in Micronesia, and some islands of Samoa. Thus it is advisable to keep them in pots. Severe pruning will result in outbursts of shoots and suckers. Right now our garden has 2 beautiful, tall- growing shrubs of these and are not causing any problems so far.

It is known as Ganalem to the Maranaos, the 6th largest Filipino ethnic group, who use this plant to treat boils and tuberculosis. Its methodology and other medicinal purposes are still unknown, forwarded information would be appreciated :)

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Eggplant (Solanum melongena)

Though I don't usually eat it, I find the talong or eggplant to be thoroughly engaging and comical. The long shiny versions always reminded me of policemen's batutas in old Pinoy comedy sitcoms, or long cartoon noses. The short ones are just really cute, and, well... eggish (hence the name).

The area of origin of eggplant is debated (most say India), but it definitely found its way to Southeast Asia through China. As for the rest of the world, Arab and Persian traders took it to the Middle East and Mediterranean regions during the Middle Ages. The Moors probably then lugged it to Spain, from where it spread throughout Europe.

The pre-domesticated version was probably a spiny plant, with small bitter fruit (yes, it's one of those veggies which is really a fruit). It is, like the tomato, part of the largely poisonous nightshade family. No worries, though, the only sign of poison that eggplants exhibit is, as far as I know, the itchy tongue.

My adventure with eggplant had several futile beginnings throughout a few years, when I would take ready-looking seeds from particularly mature ones we were serving at home. I was never successful in growing them. So I took the easy way by buying three organic seedlings at the TESDA market one weekend. After a few months, it bore surprise fruit-- not the Filipino slender purple ones, but short green-and-white Thai ones! How adorable.

Being quite a dolt and unfamiliar with the non-purple varieties, I first waited for them to "ripen" into a wonderful yellow, only to find out that they were too tough to eat by then. The rest of my paltry yield was harvested appropriately, placed on the kitchen counter and probably mixed in some dish I didn't get to eat.

Start eggplants in a pot or in the ground, with compost-rich soil. Remember to cut your harvest instead of pulling, as it is quite difficult. Also they say that snipping eggplants before they are at their peak invites more fruiting. Get your little brothers to pee on your plant once in awhile for some nitrogen-- just at the base a.

About that overly mature yellow one, it didn't go to waste... Here are the seedlings I've just started up:

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Kadyos (Cajanus Cajan)

Two summers ago, a family in Bukidnon served me a kadyos dish so fresh and unforgettable that I was motivated to swipe seeds when they toured me around their farm. Remember, it's not stealing! It's facilitating plant reproduction.

Anyhow, the savory/sour soup had langka (jackfruit), sampaloc (tamarind) leaves, a strange souring fruit, and of course the little kadyos beans, all swimming in a dark purple broth. The non-vegetarian portion had chicken in it. I understand this sort of dish is popular in Negros. Unfortunately, it has yet to reach any kind of mainstream status in Metro Manila.

But back to the seeds: I found them stashed away last year, and planted them in our new (then extremely dry) garden. One lucky seedling made it through the heat, and proceeded to grow way taller than me. It then sprung a bevy of pretty yellow flowers, which then attracted all sorts of bees and butterflies.

Of course, its flowers gave way to pods that began at green then turned purply at the edges. The seeds go from light green to reddish to dark purple to a nice black (when dried). I think people eat them at all stages, but I prefer them when they get darker, and dried.

Some background then. Kadyos, or pigeon pea, scholars have decided, was probably born in Asia, and made its way to Africa and the Americas. Today, it is grown in most tropical (and sub-tropical) parts of the world. It travels well and grows in otherwise damning conditions. Globally, the largest producer is legume-crazy India, where they are made into the delicious toor dal. It is also used as a food crop all over, and is high in protein and certain amino acids. Among other medical uses, a tea made from its leaves can relieve cough, abdominal pain, and diarrhea.

The plant is a nitrogen fixer, which makes it ideal for barren land, like mine. In some countries, woody parts are used as thatching. You also might want to keep in mind that flogging someone with kadyos stems is, in Haiti, the most effective (and cheap, I guess) way of ending an evil dead spirit possession. And probably equally interesting is that the plant's leaves are used to host a sort of insect that produces violin varnish!

This plant is easy as sin to grow, although ours needed support to keep from falling over. I suppose under better soil conditions, this would be completely unnecessary.

Thursday, March 8, 2007

Gardening and Happiness

I've made an odd discovery. Every time I talk to a savant I feel quite sure that happiness is no longer a possibility. Yet when I talk with my gardener, I'm convinced of the opposite.

(Bertrand Russell)