Sunday, May 25, 2014

Muscadine Grape in the Tropics

                                                                                                 Clemson Extension

The Muscadine grape (Vitis rotundifolia) is an interesting fruit, native to the Southeastern United States. These grapes were discovered by the early colonists and have been cultivated ever since. The Native Americans preserved muscadines as dried fruit long before the Europeans came to the continent. As early as 1565, Captain John Hawkins reported that the Spanish settlements in Florida made large quantities of muscadine wine. 

Muscadines are vigorous, deciduous vines growing 60-100 ft. in the wild. As with all grapes, muscadines need full sun with good air circulation. They will grow satisfactorily in California and the warmer regions of Oregon and Washington.

Compared to other grapes, they are relatively tolerant to diseases, and therefore, a favorite of backyard growers since minimal spraying is required.  Fresh Muscadine grapes are good to eat but are seedy with a somewhat tough skin. They are best when made into jellies, jams and juices. The grapes also make an excellent dessert wine with a flavor reminiscent of muscat wines. 

The muscadine grape has a low chilling requirement, 200 to 600 hours. Even so, fruit production in tropical regions, except perhaps at higher elevations, will be low. 

Note: the chilling requirement is the number of hours below 45 degrees Fahrenheit; this is the number that must be met in order to produce a reasonable crop.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Edible Ornamentals

In frontier times, people foraged the  nearby hills and fields for edible plants. Since the early 1900’s, however, Americans began the great migration to the cities and  eventually lost their foraging ability. Perhaps the time has now come to learn which ornamentals and common weeds can be a  good source of nutritious food.

Here is a short list of some well-known edibles. Many university websites have a more comprehensive list of ornamental edibles.

A. Weeds - If you can’t beat them, eat them!
 1. Dandelions, Taraxacum officinale -Fresh dandelion leaves can be eaten raw, in salads, added to a stir fry, or boiled and steamed like spinach. They have a bitter taste, but boiling will help take that out. Dandelions also make a great addition to soups and stew. They are high in carotenes, iron, calcium and vitamins A and C. As a detoxifying agent, dandelions aid with liver, urinary and gall bladder disorders, diabetes and high blood pressure. Dandelion root tea is sold in local health food stores. 

2. Lamb’s quarters (Chenopodium album) is also called wild spinach with similar nutritional value to spinach. 

3. Burdock (Arctium Lappa) is a weed rich in potassium, iron and calcium. 

4. Common mallow (Malva neglecta) the leaves, stems, and immature seeds are eaten raw or cooked. Mallow is reported to be rich in calcium, magnesium, potassium, iron, selenium, and vitamins A and C.

 5. Purslane (Portulaca oleracea) is a succulent; the leaves, stems and flowers can be eaten either fresh or cooked. The leaves contain more omega-3 fatty acids than any other leafy vegetable plant.
Other edible weeds include chickweed, white and red clovers and plantain.

B. Edible Flowers
1. Marigolds are one of the most commonly grown ornamental annuals. When dried and crumbled, the petals of marigolds can substitute for the most expensive spice in the world: saffron. 

2. Roses, both the petals and the rosehips (fruit), are edible. Rose water is often used in scones, cakes, sherbets, salads and icings.  

 3. Sunflowers – in addition to the commonly eaten seeds, the petals can be added to soups and stir-fry dishes. The sunflower buds can be steamed and eaten like an artichoke.

4. Daylilies (Hemerocallis sp.) - Some species (especially H. fulva) are cultivated in Asia for their edible flowers. The petals can be eaten raw or more commonly dried and used as a flavoring in soups. The young shoots should be cooked and have a pleasant sweet flavor. Even the roots are edible.

Nasturtium, violas, borage and calendula flowers are also edible and frequently used in salads.  Bon Appetit! 

Caution: Before collecting, research the plant to verify it is edible, and most importantly, make sure it is properly identified. Eating the wrong plant can be disastrous.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Hyacinth Flowers in Hawaii

Hyacinths, Hyacinthus orientalis and its hybrids, are in the lily family, planted as bulbs and known for their beautiful, fragrant flowers.They do well in cold climates; they are not a tropical plant. Even garden books note that they can be grown in all zones except Hawaii.  In areas of the country with distinct cold winters, bulbs can be left in the ground and with proper chilling, will bloom the next year.The Roman or French hyacinth is native to Southern France and can remain in the ground year after year in areas of little or no winter chill.

Here’s one thing to try if living in a tropical climate: after the bloom has died, put the bulb with its leaves in the ground.  The leaves should eventually yellow and dieback. At this point, dig up the bulb, set it in a small pot with potting soil, cover to keep dark, also keep soil moist. Place in the refrigerator; it must be below 45 degrees Fahrenheit and remain there for at least 10 weeks. Roots will grow and eventually a shoot tip will emerge. At this point, it can be removed from the refrigerator. 

This is a lot of effort with no guarantee it will work. Hyacinths may just be one of those plants that needs to be purchased each year.

Monday, May 5, 2014

Toxic Plants for Dogs

I don’t know how many times dogs are rushed to the vet because they ingested a poisonous plant, but it is certainly worthwhile to know the worst offenders and then, keep them out of the yard!

There are many common garden plants that are toxic to dogs, cats and other animals. Some are more potent than others, and it will depend on how much is ingested. Symptoms can range from irritation of the mouth to lethargy, vomiting, diarrhea, convulsions and even death.

Here is a list of some of the more common toxic plants: Azaleas and rhododendrons, cycads, cyclamen, daylily, foxglove, heavenly bamboo, lily, and yews.

 For a more comprehensive list and more information, go to the ASPCA’s Poison Control Center at