Back to the light and fluffy blog day, this time I come bearing fruit!
To continue on with my few short segments on the strange things I have found growing in my garden….. Hopefully you’ll find a few surprises amongst them and learn a little too! Thanks go (yet again) to the guru who has planted many strange things over the years and found, by trial and error, which are the “fittest” for our climate and soil!
Exhibit C: St Mary’s Thistle (Silybum marianum)
Exhibit D: The Slipper Gourd (Cyclanthera pedata)
This handsome chap and his siblings will hold the limelight (from the salad bowl) for many dinner parties to come…. at least until we get around to making cocktails from the African Cucumber – a blog to look forward to!
Yes, with my sheltered up-bringing, I too had to ask if we had gone a step too far by growing something illegal, even for medicinal purposes (and doing so in our verge garden)! But no under those disconcerting leaves was hanging this fabulous fruit which I’m keen to learn more about today. Extra keen in fact because as I start my journey towards edible gardening, I pilfered some seeds from the Guru’s collection and started populating the pots in my make shift nursery. As I walked him through the range of seeds I had planted, I saw a wry smile come across his face when I mentioned I was testing the viability of his old versus new Slipper Gourd seeds. I’m guessing my timing of planting is well out, but we’ll find out together and I’ll keep you updated as to my success or lack there of. Onto the facts:
NAMES: Like all plants it goes by several names including caigua (pronounced kai-wa), or achocha, caygua, caihua, cayua, achojcha, achokcha, achogcha (in Ecuador), lady’s slipper, sparrow gourd (Chinese: 小雀瓜; pinyin: xiǎoquè guā), pepino in Colombia, stuffing cucumber in English, korila in the Philippines, and olochoto and kichipoktho in Bhutan. In most searches you’ll find more information if you use caigua, but the term Slipper Gourd was the one it was introduced to me as and, being relatively accurate in its description, helps me to recognise it in the garden. (Reference)
ORIGIN: “Domesticated in the Andes and traditionally distributed from Colombia to Bolivia, the caigua is now grown in many parts of Central America and also in parts of the Eastern Hemisphere tropics. For example, caiguas are very popular in northeastern India, Nepal and Bhutan.” (Reference)
SCIENTIFIC CLASSIFICATION: Now I know how tiring these classifications are, but as I learnt in the Permaculture Design Course, diversity is the key to avoid competition in a garden – competition for sun light; for soil nutrients and minerals; for water; for growing space; for bees and other pollinators (including wind); for predators; etc. So by understanding some new terms and looking at the families especially we can understand whose needs are similar (and so will compete) and whose are not. Some call this companion planting – where someone has done the hard work for you and provided a small list of good buddies – while others call it guilding – where characteristics are companioned and then the specific plant can be selected from a range with those characteristics…. but I digress.
So for the Slipper Gourd (Cyclanthera pedata) we at looking at the Cucurbitales Order of the Rosid subclass which is one of the two dominant groups of the Eudicots. (Reference) The Astrids which we met in our investigations of the Bergamot (Monarda Citriodora), is the other dominant group.
(As mentioned in that blog – Dicotyledonous (normally shorted to Dicots) refers to the group of plants which flower and whose seed has two embryonic leaves or cotyledons…. The Eudicot clade which contains most of the common food plants, trees and ornamentals within the Dicotyledonous . (Reference))
Slipper Gourd Order – Cucurbitales – “The order consists of roughly 2600 species in eight families…. The Cucurbitales comprise the families: Apodanthaceae, Anisophylleaceae, Begoniaceae, Coriariaceae, Corynocarpaceae, Cucurbitaceae, Tetramelaceae, and Datiscaceae….. The largest families are Begoniaceae (begonia family) with 1400 species and Cucurbitaceae (gourd family) with 825 species…. Some of the synapomorphies (shared characteristics) of the order are: leaves in spiral, secondary veins palmated, calyx or perianth valvate, elevated stomatal calyx/perianth with separate styles. The two whorls are similar in texture.” (Reference) (Remember our learning about whorls in the Bergamot (Monarda Citriodora) blog – a term used to describe the “attachment of sepals, petals, leaves, or branches at a single point”. (Reference))
Slipper Gourd Family – Cucurbitaceae – often called the gourd family, and contains “the most species used as human food” of any family. (Reference) This family contains some big guns:
- “Cucurbita – squash, pumpkin, zucchini, some gourds
- Lagenaria – mostly inedible gourds
- Citrullus – watermelon (Citrullus lanatus)(Citrullus colocynthis) and others
- Cucumis – cucumber (Cucumis sativus), various melons
- Luffa – common name also luffa” (Reference)
- But also…Cyclanthera
Slipper Gourd Genus – Cyclanthera – contains our Cyclanthera pedata as well as other crazy specimens like Cyclanthera explodens ( otherwise known as the Exploding Cucumber, it “is a vigorous vine bearing strange, spiny green fruits that “explode” (actually burst open) when ripe, expelling their seeds several feet away” (Reference)). (Interestingly enough new species appear to be being names all the time and the fact that they are described as being found in X location, makes me think it might be humans noting nature’s evolution rather then humans guiding
Interestingly, it features in Peruvian art dating back to around 100 AD…. (Reference)
Now to the good bit – Growing and Eating Slipper Gourd (Cyclanthera pedata)
Growing – The official word…. “Cyclanthera pedata is a ANNUAL growing to 4.5 m (14ft 9in).
It is hardy to zone (UK) 10 and is frost tender….. The flowers are monoecious (individual flowers are either male or female, but both sexes can be found on the same plant) and are pollinated by Insects.…Suitable for: light (sandy), medium (loamy) and heavy (clay) soils and prefers well-drained soil. Suitable pH: acid, neutral and basic (alkaline) soils. It can grow in semi-shade (light woodland). It prefers moist soil.…The fruit is about 6 – 15cm long and 6cm wide.” (Reference) Some references mention vines growing to 40 feet.
” Unlike a cucumber, the inside of the ripe fruit is hollow … with several black seeds attached to a placenta.” (References)
“They are heat tolerant (but need regular irrigation to prevent interrupted growth) as well as cold (but not frost) tolerant. A long growing season is required (90 – 110 days) for fruit production,” (Reference)
Our experience – Whilst not keen on being exposed to Perth’s harsh summer sun, the plant survived until early January. Plus without frost, we can plant them much earlier in the winter/spring and capitalise on early fruiting. It has a natural resistance to pests and disease which saw it unaffected by the kale loving chompers and suckers. And the hoverflies love the flowers, so with multiple Hoverfly attracting plants placed around the garden, pollination is covered and fruiting is enthusiastic.
Its also become obvious to me that, even when planted in the wrong season, with a little love, they germinate, grow and transplant easily (a novice has managed it!). We’ll see in this next hot spell how they fair in the ground. Due to their climbing nature, its advisable to plant them under a tree (that is happy for climbing) or with a support structure available, if you wish to see a rambling vine with fruit. If you choose a tree, then there should be (by definition) a degree of protection from that harsh sun.
As you’ll see from the below string of photos I successfully planted one seed in the ground (there were a couple more planted in the ground, but I suspect they came off second best in an “impromptu free-range chook episode”!) and four in pots. This was supposed to be a test of the viability of two different ages of seeds, but its turned out to be a test of their quest for life too. They forgave periods of dry and over wetting at the hands of their beginner gardener and still have progressed nicely.
The starting point – The fruit and its seeds.
And here’s a friend caught in the act of laying her eggs and, whilst we’ll meet her in a future blog, I can assure you that her larvae which live in moist soil had no adverse effects. All four seeds planted (2 of the 2013 and 2 of the 2014 generations) came up and are thriving.
(Don’t worry about the brown/yellow sticks you can see coming out of the pot – they were my failed first attempt at doing Pepino propogation…..I am noting this as some feedback was from folks wanting to see my failures too! There have been a lot of these failures let me assure you, but I’m keen to only talk about failures once I have figured out why it went wrong as, apart from solidarity (brother), it’s not going to help anyone hearing how many times I have tripped over hurdles in the last 6 months!
I was told it was easy to propogate Pepinos, but I think there was far too much love involved. Lots of water makes them rot it turns out. I’m onto my second attempt, where the “green sticks” (lengths of branch cut to about 10cm lengths are just stuck in a pot) are allowed the same amount of water as the more established plants – 2x per week unless we have a stinker – is going far better. I’ve got 5 out of 7 to take instead of 1 out of 7 the first round. Interestingly, it was the end 10cm of the branch (i.e. with the new shoots), not the thicker older branch sections, that survived the first planting episode. So if you’re a beginner, make sure you’ve got one of these sections to improve your chances – they are far more forgiving. Back to the topic at hand…)
An out of focus (sorry) – close up of the first true leaves of the plant:
After a while once there were a few true leaves out, the stem began to lean and the plants started sending out tendrils which wrapped into the shade cloth of their seedling enclosure. It was obviously time to replant before they became permanently intrenched. Various locations were chosen to see how they would go.
One has been set the task of trying to climb the bamboo which is within the larger seedling area and planted directly into the ground. This section is under fruit fly netting to protect it from the extremes of the sun and to minimise (its not fully enclosed) the flying creatures whose larva and caterpillars are the worst nibblers. He’s made a strong start.
This second one (below left), has been assigned to the role of facing the elements – wind mainly! Its job is to climb a seedling pecan. Again, this one has been planted directly into the soil. There is a large box gum way over head which prevents it getting too much sun, but slightly more than our friend above. Unfortunately this is a pretty windy spot at the moment as a bit of “chop and drop” mulching has occurred. Its tendrils had better be up to it, or we might find out what happens when there is no successful climbing achieved! So far he’s wrapped a tendril around and held the tree for a couple of days, but then he lost grip and is feebly grabbing at a hapless plant growing past.
The Third and Fourth (above right) have been planted in a wicking barrel. They are again under the fruit fly netting, but have been given the task of climbing up an old birdcage (which is currently my seedling shelving) and providing shade plus encouragement to future tormented flora souls. I chose not to separate these two as they are two generations of seeds and I am interested in understanding how they’ll differ when planted in a similar location. (And I was scared I would damage them too much!) They share the barrel with the remains of what was a forest of Ice-cream Bean seedlings. Most are in earth pots now, but I have left some in the center, again to see how they go in pots. Now these can become massive trees (and even those who were a 5cm high already had roots down into the wicking barrel reservoir!) so there may be a degree of “bonzai -ing”.
Finally we have our brave soul who started his life in the garden bed. With Olive Trees plus the Gum overhead he will be protected in the heat of the day and with an opening in the canopy to the east he will thrive on the morning sun. Wind is possibly an issue, but with his wire climbing frame and stabilising bamboo rods, he has heaps to hold onto.
Finally a little detailed look at the older leaves, new leaves and tendrils (just because I always like the photo montage!):
I have had to borrow a few photos of the other parts of the lifecycle:
Whilst I hate to redirect you to an alternate blogger, there are some terrific photos of the developing fruit on this Link, and the fact she too noted the illegal species similarity, means she’s a kindred spirit as well as an entertaining, informative read.
Finally I have put in the full grown plant from late last year to demonstrate the mature and fruiting plant:
Recently we’ve discovered that in the hotter months, keeping the vines lower and protected from the hot winds as much as possible gives them a better chance of surviving Perth’s nasty season. If not, then they will require frequent watering to recover from those extreme easterlies. So I guess it all comes back to what you’re planting them for and when.
We’ve planted them mid winter, but ensured that we put them in a sunny place within our “winter garden” – faces north, limited winter shade, aka the sun trap. Here they can be trellised (initially it was to the detriment of another plant which became an impromptu trellis as we underestimated its growing power when we went on holiday!) and grow as per the photos you see – up and airy.
I’ve now started my seedlings (mid summer – not too smart!) and planted them in our “summer garden”. The back yard has a huge gum to protect it during the heat of the day and (to summarise the above) I have planted 2 out of wind and under probably 50% shade all day and 2 in the wind. Of the two in the wind, one is strongly trellising up, the other seems to be tracking across the easier-to-hold grown covers. I’ll let you know how we go in a future blog.
Perhaps, in our climate and with a little attention to our garden’s micro-climates, we can have these gorgeous fruits all year round?!
Eating – “Young fruits are eaten raw or cooked and have a similar taste to cucumbers though they are not crisp. Older fruits are cooked, they can be stuffed in much the same way as marrows. Leaves and tender young shoots – cooked and used as greens.” (Reference)
Our experience – The tender young shoots never get cooked. They are pruned by continuously by grazing humans of all ages and consumed on the spot. They’re crisp and cucumbery. The great thing is that the plant loves tip pruning (assuming the plant is well established!) and will send out multiple shoots from the pruning point…. more tips for us! We use the fruit chopped into lengths like capsicum within our salads for that cucumber flavour and there is not need to worry about removing spikes as these are soft and fleshy – not the bougainvillea kind!
Other – Medicinally, it is reported that “a tea made from the seeds is used in the treatment of high blood pressure.” 1 gram doses (!) of the seeds are also used to “treat intestinal parasites once dried and crushed, whilst many parts of the plant are recommended for general gastrointestinal tract disorders. The leaves are “considered hypoglycemic and prepared in a decoction for diabetes. The fruits are boiled in milk and gargled for tonsilitis. The fruit juice is also recommended for high cholesterol, hypertension, tonsilitis, arteriosclerosis, circulatory problems, diabetes and as a diuretic. The fruit and/or leaves are boiled in olive oil and used externally as a topical anti-inflammatory and analgesic. The roots are used to clean the teeth” (Reference1; References2)
In short, it seems to have pretty strong properties – be that good or bad. We’ve only eaten the fruit, shoots and leaves in their “native form” for taste and diet variety. As usual I have not had the time to investigate all these claims, so please make sure you do your research before consuming any concentrated products – there are references to research within the links …. BUT 1 gram of seed to kill intestinal parasites suggests to me treading very carefully is required.
Interestingly this slipper gourd had its seeds also planted in Pemberton and grew beautifully down there too, although some did so without the fleshy spikes!?!? Curious – it seems because they are still a “wild” (undomesticated) fruit, that there can be significant genetic diversity. (Photo Reference)
So if you’re worried about (or very keen to have) the spiky chaps, then perhaps look at planting a few seeds in each of a variety of locations and increase your odds either way in the game of Cucurbit Roulette.
Just because I love the fauna too, I’d like to introduce you to our latest pet…. the Golden Orb weaver.
She “gets her name from the beautiful golden, orb-shaped web that she makes. This web is the largest and strongest in the world. The tiny males live on the edge of her web feeding on small insects. They are so small that they can sneak in for a quickie without the female noticing. But if they are caught they may get eaten.” (Reference) One little boy spotted, see below….Good Luck!
Luckily, whilst she has set up camp with her web straddling one of our main paths, she’s well above head height. In fact she is just above the location of our Mite Experiment – just think what might have happened to her if we had chosen a more chemical approach.
Exhibit E: The Lion’s Tail or Lion’s Ear or Klip Dagga
Exhibit F: The New Guinea Bean
Exhibit G: Wild Passionfruit
Exhibit H: African Cucumber
Apologies for the change in order, if you’d been eagerly awaiting the Klip Dagga (like me!), however when someone requests information about any one of these crazy plants, who am I to make them wait. (Well, wait too long! Thanks heaps for your interest, Kim, hope you’ve got the answers you need.)
Klip Dagga will be the next crazy plant we learn about, but for now, we’d better get back to our poor Permaculture Design client who has been left part way through their interview and might like a design delivered before next Christmas!
Until then, enjoy.