Growing South Sea Salad Tree
A few weeks ago I told you that my world of spinach had just expanded to include an edible green called Okinawa Spinach, which wasn’t a spinach at all but a spinach-like plant with the botanical name Gynura crepioides. My world of salad greens has also just opened up immensely, going from items that grow shine high to now including “trees,” or the South Sea Salad Tree.
The South Sea Salad Tree, known by the latin name of Abelmoschus manihot, isn’t a tree at all. In fact, it’s in the botanical family Malvaceae, same as okra and the woody-stemmed hibiscus. It may have the growth of a shrubby tree due to its tropical nature, as it is native to tropical portions of Asia and also northern Queensland and can grow up to 9 feet tall when given the right conditions. Tree-sized, indeed!
The South Sea Salad Tree has been a traditional green vegetable in Fiji for some time. Searching online for this plant, I see that it’s been sold in the U.S. as an tender ornamental perennial in Hardiness Zones 8-10. It does have a beautiful flower, but lesser known is the fact that both its flowers and leaves are delicious as well as nutritious! According to Wikipedia, its leaves are high in Vitamins A and C and Iron, and have 12% protein by dry weight. Leaves and flowers can be eaten raw as salad items, and the leaves can also be lightly cooked similarly to spinach. Delicious, nutritious and a beautiful flower? Talk about a perfect edible plant for tropical/subtropical landscapes and temperate annual gardens and patios.
There are at least three available varieties. These include:
‘Kiko’s Crump’: A large-leaved variety with prominent sunken venation, red stems and beautiful yellow flowers.
‘Chief Kubo’s Prize’: A palmately compound leaf with a finer landscape texture. More yellow flowers!
‘Auntie Lilli’s’: Maple-shaped leaves with tri-colored variegation and very high antioxidant content. Its flower color varies from lavender, white to white and lavender striped.