Monday, July 29, 2013

Bananas vs Plantians

The starchy, cooking varieties of bananas are known as plantains and are not the same as the typical fresh eating variety of bananas. The distinction between the two is based purely on how the fruits are consumed: cooked or eaten fresh out of hand.  

The common banana is sweet, easily digested and ready to eat when the skin is yellow. Plantains, on the other hand, are thick skinned and must be boiled, steamed, roasted, baked or deep fried to make them soft and palatable. When the peel is green to yellow, the flesh has a starchy texture with a bland flavor.  As the peel changes to brown or black, the plantain losses some of its starch and becomes slightly sweet.  At this stage plantains have more of a banana aroma but are still unsuitable until cooked. The interior color of the fruit is creamy, yellowish or lightly pink.

Plantains are native to India and are popularly grown in tropical climates, especially in Western Africa and the Caribbean countries.  They are often used in soups and stews or simply mashed.

There are over 500 different types of bananas.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Control of Maile Pilau, a Weedy Vine

The weedy vine, Paederia foetida, or in Hawaiian maile piau, is able to grow 30 feet in length, climbing up into tree canopies or crawling along the ground. The vines can engulf and cover trees and shrubs. The weight of the vine climbing over vegetation can cause branches or entire trees to break or collapse. Crawling vines can form a dense layer of vegetation that smothers other plants. This leafy vine is pervasive in vacant lots and forests on the Hawaiian Islands.

Since broken stems of maile pilau are able to root readily in soil, care must be taken when disposing of the plant. When crushed, the leaves release a foul odor. The species, foetida, is Latin for stinky.

Chemical control is one of the most effective means for controlling maile pilau.  Yet, because of resprouting, single applications usually do not provide complete control; follow-up applications are necessary.  The herbicide recommended is one with the active ingredient, triclopyr, sold as Crossbow, Garlon, Pathfinder; unfortunately, they are rather expensive. Along with the herbicide, a non-ionic surfactant at 2 teaspoons per gallon of spray solution is suggested.  A 2% to 3% solution of glyphosate (Roundup, etc.) may also be effective, although some report it is not.  If you have Roundup, you may want to try it first before purchasing triclopyr.  

Presently biological control agents are being collected in Japan and Nepal.  It is hoped that these  ‘good guys’ which include a leaf and root feeding chrysomelid beetle will be able to help control the spread of this weed pest.

Photos by Forest and Kim Starr 

Monday, July 1, 2013

Pomegranates In Hawaii

There are indeed pomegranate trees growing throughout the tropical Hawaiian Islands. Pomegranates are rather small trees growing 15 – 20 feet tall.  What they lack in height they make up in longevity; some are reported to be 200 years old.  

The trees seem to tolerate a wide range of conditions. They do well in hot and dry conditions with high alkaline soils, as well as growing in deep, acidic loam soils.  Pomegranate trees also tolerate wet, heavy (clay) soils but produce better in soils that are well-drained. Trees do not come true from seed, and therefore, good quality fruit trees are propagated from cuttings.  Air layering is possible; grafting is seldom successful.

Pomegranates have been around for eons.  Over the centuries, their depiction has appeared in artwork, literature, coinage, jewelry and coat of arms. Believed to have originated around Persia and the Himalayas in Northern India, the pomegranate has been used as a symbol for many civilizations and sometimes viewed as a symbol of fertility in Asia.

The Spanish missionaries brought pomegranates to California, Mexico and Texas.  And recently, from 2006 to 2009, pomegranate acreage in California doubled from 15,000 to about 30,000 acres.

Pomegranate juice is rich in three types of antioxidants which are recognized in neutralizing free radicals and other unstable molecules in the body.  Besides eating the fruit or making a delicious beverage, the fruits can also be dried and used in wreaths and other decorations.  Pomegranate juice is being added to such products as jelly, ice cream bars, truffles and chewing gum. Ink can be made by steeping the leaves in vinegar. In Japan, an insecticide is derived from the bark.