By JOYCE COMINGORE
Special to The Breeze
Monica Brandies was the featured speaker for the herb conference at the Lee County Extension in April. She is a particularly favorite author of mine with her many gardening books for Florida (11 or now 12). The newest book out was featured at Herb Day, "CITRUS: How to Grow and Use Citrus Fruits, Flowers and Foliage." All the samples were citrusy. This is more than just a book on growing citrus, it has ways to use citrus besides eating it and growing it, such as making a good citrus oil cleaning solution. I am going up to Bartow for our Garden Club's Federated District meeting Tuesday the second to hear her again. But that isn't what I want to talk about.
What I came away with from the conference was her theme plant of "leaf-a-day," meaning eat a leaf of this plant a day for good health. Talinum paniculata is a succulent herb called Jewels of Opar. In the Portulaca family, it is native to the West Indies and Central America and also has the common name of Fameflower. I bought one years ago, only it is variegated. I was going to say "was," but I went out and pulled it up and found it was getting ready to send out new starts. Must replant it. The variegated plant is not as invasive as the regular green Jewels of Opar, and I'm reading that there is a new one called limon talinum, a shocking lime green in the garden, and also golden ones. I once considered a lime green plant as one that lacked iron, but there now are several legitimately lime green plants. I do digress ...
You may not be old enough to have heard of the book, "Tarzan and the Jewels of Opar," the fifth in the series of Tarzan books. It was written in 1916 by Edgar Rice Burroughs, but he first mentioned it in his second, 1913, book. The town of Opar was buried when Atlantis sank along with it piles of gold and jewels. Tarzan is in need of money and he goes back to find it. Again, I digress.
Now a plant with the name of an ancient city full of riches gives you an idea of how highly this plant was thought of. All Talinum paniculata are succulent upright plants that shoot out arching panicles of blooms (resembling babies breath) that are pink and these turn into sprays of burgundy to red berries, both of which look amazing in floral designs, bouquets and arrangements. These flowers bloom repeatedly over a long period of time. A tender perennial in zones 8b through 11, with a Ph of 6.5 to 8.5, it grows in clumps as wide as it grows high, basically 1 feet to 3 feet, in moderately rich, well drained sandy or sandy loam soil and highly filtered light to full sun. The variegated, lime and gold leaved plants need more filtered light; with too much shade they become leggy, or they will turn green if put in full sun. Having long fibrous roots, a lot like a carrot, that hold moisture to help when times are dry, it survives some drought. Only in sitting water or soggy areas, does this plant not do well. For two years this root is OK, but the third year it can take over your garden and be a real pill to dig or pull up.
Those lovely waving clouds of small, airy flowers that stand out about 1 1/2 to 2 feet above the leaves, then the "bejeweled" berries that sparkled, eventually turn grey and are ready to drop seeds. You can prevent reseeding by clipping them off. They reseed so readily and multiply that they have been called invasive. I read a gentleman's blog that said enjoy the plants, they are no more invasive than periwinkles. Lots of plants are invasive with this criteria. I can't get over our state tree, cabbage palms. If I let the seedlings get bigger than a foot tall, I can't dig or pull them out, and they really reseed. I know people that don't mind plucking the seedlings from the ground or sharing them with others, or replanting more beds of Jewel-of-Opar. They make a nice edging. Propagating from cuttings is also easy.
What I'm mainly trying to talk about is, eating one leaf a day for good health. It is said to be rich in iron and good for anemia. Thinking Popeye anyone? I read where this plant is considered Florida spinach in Central Florida. I have never heard it called that, but I am assured that it is edible raw or par-boiled. Since it can't hurt me, I'm willing to try it.
Ate my first leaf today. I am thinking that I better have lots of leaves to continue this, as I intend to be a long liver. Interesting flavor, not bitter, just right, pleasant. I like to wash the leaves off first, but Monica does recommend grazing while gardening, so no pesticides should be put out on plants or in the soil.
At one time I was into eating purslane, a relative of Jewel of Opar. Purslane is better known as the Dolly Parton of flowers because it blooms from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Another leaf-a-day plant is Costus igneus or insulin plant from India. It claims to build up insulin in humans. I know nothing about this plant.
Stay healthy and thank a tree.
Joyce Comingore is a master gardener, national director of the American Hibiscus Society, a board member of the Fort Myers/Lee County Garden Council and a member of the Garden Club of Cape Coral.