Basella alba, or Malabar Spinach, is a very fast growing vine native to Tropical Africa to Asia. Vines will reach 30 feet (9.1 m) long in one growing season. Dark green, fleshy leaves are broadly ovate to 5 inches (12.7 cm) long. Malabar Spinach is planted in the tropics as a potherb or substitute for spinach. It has an agreeable flavor and can be eaten raw or cooked. I like to use the leaves on sandwiches. They are interesting plants to grow, are of easy culture, and make a great tropical looking vine in the landscape. Plants are hardy in USDA zones 10-11.
Blooming: Plants in the greenhouse bloom almost non-stop. The inflorescence is a simple spike in the axils of leaves. The small pinkish white flowers are followed by hard black seeds.
Culture: Basella alba will grow in full sun to partial shade and prefer a rich moist soil mix. In the greenhouse, we use a soil mix consisting of 2 parts peat moss to 2 parts loam to 1 part sand or perlite. We add 1 cup of 14-14-14 Osmocote to the soil mix for every 0.01 cu yards of mix. The soil should be slightly acid with a pH of 6.5-6.1. The plants are well watered and allowed to dry slightly before watering again. We fertilize the plants monthly with a balanced fertilizer diluted to ½ the strength recommended on the label. In containers, the plants can get out of hand fairly fast; we cut the vines back twice a year. During the winter months, fertilizer is withheld and watering is reduced but not to the point of causing leaf dieback.
Propagation: Basella alba is propagated by cutting and from seed. The hard black seeds germinate best if soaked in water overnight and sown. Seed germinate quickly in 7-14 days after sowing.
Basella alba was featured as Plant of the Week February 1-6, 2008.
Guide to Past Plants-of-the-Week:
Cal's Plant of the Week was provided as a service by the University of Oklahoma Department of Microbiology & Plant Biology and specifically the late Cal Lemke, who used to be OU's botany greenhouse grower and an avid gardener at home as well. If the above links don't work, then try the overview site. You may also like to look at the thumbnail index. ©1998-2012 All rights reserved.