Month: May 2019


Annona squamosa x A. cherimola

Contributed by Dr. Martin Price, ECHO’s founding CEO

The atemoya is an exceptional “dessert quality” fruit.   I count it as one of my favorite tropical fruits.  There is a difference between many kinds of fruit that taste good, for example an apple or banana, and a dessert fruit. I don’t consider apples or bananas as being in the dessert category.  The atemoya on the other hand can be scooped out with a spoon, leaving several black seeds behind, and has the smell, flavor, sweetness and texture that make it more in the category of ice cream and a delicious ending to top off a great meal.

Atemoya is a cross between a sugar apple (A. squamosa, native to the tropical lowlands) and the cherimoya (A. cherimola, native to the cooler Andean highlands).  The result is that the atemoya has a little more cold tolerance than the sugar apple and thrives in the cooler subtropical climate of SW Florida.

The fruit has fairly thin skin and black seeds. The pulp is white, creamy, yet soft, sweet, and delicious. Atemoya fruit are usually eaten fresh, but also make a great milk shake and tasty sherbet. Be sure to remove all the seeds before putting the pulp into a blender as the seeds contain several toxic alkaloids.

The trees produce as early as August and as late as January. Atemoya trees can potentially reach a height of 25-30 ft. but can be kept lower by pruning.  It is not a particularly attractive tree, so you may not want to put it in a highly visible spot.  The tree has an irregular, low spreading habit, and is largely deciduous, losing most of its leaves in the winter. Pruning is recommended on young trees to develop a desirable shape and to control excessively long shoots. As trees age, a March pruning (while the tree is still without leaves) is recommended for further shaping and size control.

Though the flowers are self-fertile, hand-pollination will enhance the fruit set. A June pruning will result in additional flowering and later fruit development. Prune long terminal branches back to 5 or 6 nodes and remove the last two leaves closest to the pruning cut. Flowering should occur on new growth. We have several trees planted in 1996 growing in our arboretum.

It seems that atemoya is difficult to graft.   Few wholesale nurseries have grafted atemoya for sale and we are not very successful in grafting it ourselves at ECHO.  As of March 2017 ECHO had been able to purchase six grafted plants from a wholesale nursery, the first in a number of years.  We suspect that planting seed from a quality grafted tree might well produce a quite acceptable fruit, but it might or might not be like the fruit of the parent.  Seedling fruit trees often require more years to reach maturity.  “An extended dry period several months prior to the spring flowering period enhances fruit set” (IFAS Univ. of FL bulletin,  The same bulletin states that it is recommended atemoya trees be grafted onto either sugar apple or seedling atemoya and be planted only in well-drained soils.  It is possible to do a triple graft onto pond apple to get more tolerance to flooding, but that is a very complicated method and requires more time in the nursery to get a sellable tree.

Varieties (Note: As of this writing, March 2017, ECHO is seldom successful in locating grafted atemoya trees.  Phone before coming if that is the sole purpose of your visit.)

‘Gefner’ is a productive, well-known variety. It is probably the best for our area and the one we recommend most to customers. Our ‘Gefner’ froze almost to the ground one year, but grew back and produced about a dozen large fruit the second summer. It has good fruit production without hand-pollination.

‘Bradley’ is less firm than ‘Gefner’, but the flavor and texture are of exceptional quality. ECHO staff preferred ‘Bradley’ over ‘Gefner’ in a 2001 taste test. ‘Bradley’ reportedly does not produce as much fruit as some varieties, but this can be increased with hand pollination.

‘Elly’ is very productive like ‘Gefner’ but produces earlier. It has a creamy pear texture, softer than ‘Gefner’s’ firmer texture.

‘Priestly’ is another very large fruited cultivar. Production does not seem to be as high as ‘Elly’ or ‘Gefner.’ The fruit is of good quality, but does have a slightly grainy texture.

‘Rosendo Perez’ bears later than most other varieties of atemoya. The fruit is elongated and of good quality. This variety has historical importance in being one of the first atemoya cultivars released by the USDA in the early 1900’s.


Persea americana, Persea nubigena

Contributed by Dr. Martin Price, ECHO’s founding CEO

Avocados are native to Central America and Mexico. From these regions, three distinct races have been recognized: West Indian (WI), Guatemalan (G) and Mexican (M).  These races have been crossed to create innumerable hybrids.  The ancestry determines cold hardiness, skin texture, and time of fruiting, among other things. The West Indian race is the least hardy (24-28 ºF). The Mexican strains are the hardiest (16-24 ºF), but do not always fruit well in Florida’s humid climate.  See Table 1 for a comparison of other features of these three avocado races.

Choosing an appropriate planting location for avocados is extremely important. The first priority is a location that is high and has no history of saturated or flooded soils. Avocados demand well-drained soils, as flooding for 24-48 hours can kill them. They are especially susceptible to Phytophthera, a common soil- borne fungus that causes root rot in avocado, papaya, citrus, and other susceptible plants. Phytophthera and flooding are a deadly combination for avocado. The second priority is choosing a location with full sun.

Much energy from the sun is needed to produce the high numbers of large-seeded and oil-rich fruits. They also typically exchange their leaves each year in the spring, resulting in a bare appearance until new growth appears. The third consideration is space. Remember that avocado trees can become huge, easily reaching 40’.  They can be pruned to control size (immediately after fruit is fully harvested) but their habit is to become large.

ECHO has also encountered problems from the Avocado Lace Bug (Acysta perseae) that feeds on the underside of leaves, causing brown blotches and premature leaf drop. Populations are especially high in late fall and, if possible, they should be controlled to prevent spread to newly emerging spring growth.

Avocados are of two flower types, A and B, depending on when they are shedding pollen.  A-type flowers shed pollen in the afternoon; B-type flowers shed pollen in the morning. There are different theories about avocado pollination, but recent research seems to demonstrate that self-pollination is the norm, meaning that only one tree is necessary for fruit production. The home fruit enthusiast might want to read this short article to understand what s/he is observing as the tree(s) flower.


Perspective: If you are a seasonal resident, be sure to select varieties that will bear when you are in Florida.  If you have room for several varieties, you can extend the harvest season considerably by selecting suitable varieties.

Manager’s Choice: If you prefer small California/Mexican types as found in grocery stores (Hass-type avocados) you might consider Brogdon (Summer bearing) and Lula (Fall bearing). If you prefer the large fruited avocados typically grown in Florida (a.k.a Florida Pears or Alligator Pears) two good options are Monroe (Fall/Winter bearing) and Choquette (Fall/Winter).

Fruiting Seasons for Selected Avocado Varieties in Southwest Florida


‘Brogdon’ (A and B type), a M x WI cross, is productive and hardy to 22º F. It is the most cold-hardy variety we commonly stock in our nursery. It bears small, smooth, black-skinned fruits (8-14 oz.) with high quality green flesh. For Floridians looking for a ‘California’ or Mexican type similar to ones found in the grocery store, Brogdon is a good choice. Its strength is its cold hardiness and excellent, rich flavor. Drawbacks include a large seed and paper thin skin that makes fruit difficult to peel.  (It is so easy to scoop the soft flesh from the half-shell—does anyone really peel an avocado?) Brogdon ripens July-Sept.

‘Choquette’ (A type), a G x WI cross, is oval-shaped and large (24-40 oz.). Skin is glossy, smooth, and slightly leathery. The smooth flesh is of an excellent quality with 13% oil and a mild nutty flavor. Choquette is similar to Monroe in fruit size and quality; both are excellent choices for those interested in a very good- tasting, large ‘Florida pear’ shape. The Choquette has an open, spreading growth habit. Freeze damage in established trees occurs around 26º F.  Season is Nov-Jan. with heavy bearing in alternate years.

‘Day’ (A type) is a G x WI cross. Fruit is small (8-16 oz.), pear-shaped with an excellent rich, nutty taste. Skin is green and dull. The tree is very productive and cold hardy; Dr. Price’s tree in North Ft. Myers, FL survived the terrible freeze in 1989 with little damage while a nearby avocado was killed. Bears Aug-Sept.

‘Donnie’ (A type), a WI type, is cold sensitive. It is the earliest commercial variety (May – June) and bears large fruit (greater than 1 lb). They are extremely mild, to the point of being bland. Its popularity is due to its early season.

‘Expedition’ (Unknown flower type) likely has Guatemalan heritage. The round fruit is medium to large (bigger than Lula), with dull, dark green skin and contains a large seed. David Fairchild selected this high quality cultivar but much remains unknown about it. The ‘Expedition’ in our arboretum sustained only minor damage during the January freeze of 2009, which severely damaged many West Indian cultivars. Expedition bears Nov-Jan., but the fruit can hang on the tree through February.

‘Fuerte’ (B type) is a M x G cross commercially grown in many regions of the world. The fruit is small (12-14 oz.) with dark green bumpy skin. This cultivar is better suited to drier climates— a wet summer can cause the fruit to rot. This variety is not recommended for Florida.  Bears Nov-Dec.

‘Kampong’ (B type) is a Guatemalan race with high cold tolerance, but low yields. It bears a green fruit (14-24 oz) from Dec 1 to March 31.

‘Lula’ (A type), a G x WI cross, produces medium (14-24 oz.), pear-shaped fruit with nearly smooth skin. Lula has a large seed and is slightly sweet with good flavor. Formerly grown commercially, it is a good producer, but very susceptible to scab (a disease which only harms the appearance). Lula is hardy to central Florida most years, freezing at about 25º F. Bears Nov-Jan.

‘Marcus Pumpkin’ has very high cold tolerance, a moderate yield and a huge fruit – the fruits can weigh over 3 lbs. The flavor is very mild and is often described as watery. Its main appeal is its very large fruits. It bears Oct 15 to Nov 30.

‘Miguel’ bears 1 ½ – 2 pound fruits ripening August to September Fruits are large, productive and of excellent eating quality.

‘Monroe’ is a G x WI cross grown commercially in the Miami/Homestead area. This variety is prolific, consistently bearing large fruits that mature in the fall. Flesh is of very good quality lacking the watery texture often found in other large fruited types. Monroe’s growth habit is upright, rather than spreading and is cold hardy to 26ºF.  Monroe bears Nov-Dec.

‘Russell’ (A type) a West Indies avocado, is fairly frost sensitive. The fruit is 12-18 inches long, club- shaped, often weighing between 16-24 oz. Fruits have a smooth, glossy, green skin and a small seed. This cultivar yields well and is of high eating quality. Russell bears July-Aug.

‘Tonnage’ (B type) belongs to the Guatemalan race. Fruit is medium sized (14-24 oz.), green, and has thick, rough skin. Production is good, but flavor is very mild and inferior to many other varieties. Freeze damage in established trees occurs around 26º F. The tree is tall, upright, and in SW Florida bears Sep-Oct.

Read ECHO’s Guide to Summer Vegetables >


Winged BeansPsophocarpus tetragonolobus are grown principally for their edible “winged” pods.  Pick them when you can bend the pod without breaking it or it will become too tough to eat.  The leaves and flowers are also edible and quite appealing.  The plants thrive in the hot humid summers of southern Florida with few disease or insect problems, though nematodes can be a problem.  Most varieties of this jungle plant from Borneo only bloom and set fruit when the days become very short, so they are planted in early fall. The variety ‘chimbu’ produces longer pods than most and is a striking deep red color. For pods in a summer garden in Florida or “up north,” be sure to purchase a “day neutral” or “long day” variety.  Seed available at ECHO Nursery

“For pods in a summer garden in Florida or “up north,” be sure to purchase a “day neutral” or “long day” variety [of winged bean]. ”

Adzuki Bean, Vigna angularis (a.k.a. azuki bean) and Southern Pea (a.k.a. black-eyed pea, cowpea, crowder pea) Vigna unguiculata subsp. unguiculata.  In southern Florida during the summer months Phaseolus (green beans or common beans) do not grow well due to the heat, moisture and diseases.  However, the Vigna beans usually thrive.  Here we feature two types, with a third in the following entry, all of which will do well in the summer Florida garden.  There are similarities, but differences in their uses as well.  Southern pea and adzuki have the same bushy growth habits, although the adzuki bean itself is a bit smaller than the pea.  Whereas southern pea is prepared more as a shell pea, the adzuki is prepared more as a dried bean or pulse.  At ECHO we have also noticed that adzuki bean is consistently more insect tolerant than the southern peas.

Yardlong BeanVigna unguiculata

Yardlong BeanVigna unguiculata subsp. sesquipedalis, (a.k.a. asparagus bean) produces pods similar to climbing green beans of temperate regions except that they really can be up to a yard long.  The yard-long bean is eaten as one would eat fresh or green “string” beans, either cooked or uncooked.  There is a purple “yard long” bean that is visually quite striking in the garden.  The yard-long bean is an annual propagated by seed.  Seed available at ECHO Nursery

Read about Avocados >

Tubers & Corms

Cassava (a.k.a. Tapioca, yucca, manioc), Manihot esculenta, is an important root crop that is grown as a staple food in many parts of the tropical and subtropical world.  Tapioca is made from processed cassava tubers.  Cassava is tolerant of drought and poor soil, but needs good drainage. It is a perennial shrub harvested for its roots about 8-12 months after planting. Our cultivated varieties grow to about 8 ft. and tend to sprawl. The young, fully expanded leaves can be eaten after boiling.  They contain 11-39% protein on a dry weight basis. Cassava is propagated by stem cuttings

Both the leaves and roots contain a cyanide compound, so both should be cooked and the water drained. Cassava should only be eaten in moderation. This reduces cyanide to a very low level.  Check the web or ask a friend from the tropics for more details. Only eat cassava that is known to have more moderate amounts of cyanide. Cassava is frost sensitive but can re-sprout from the underground part of the stem if a freeze kills it to the ground.  Keep in mind that your liver can detoxify modest amounts of cyanide and has almost certainly done that for you.  Compounds that turn into cyanide when exposed to acid or chewed by an insect are one of the common ways nature has of helping plants survive.    Plant available at ECHO Nursery

JicamaPachyrhizus erosus

JicamaPachyrhizus erosus, a.k.a. yam bean is a bean plant, the seeds of which must not be eaten.  It is grown for its edible underground tuber.  The tubers begin to form when days are short around December and are harvested in January or February, though they need to be planted in the summer to take advantage of the rains and long days to develop the massive vines which pour energy into forming the tubers.  Tubers will be the size of a grapefruit or larger if planted in May or June and the size of an apple if planted in August. You will find jicama in most grocery stores.  The shredded, raw, white crunchy item that you see on fancier salad bars is jicama.  It remains crunchy when cooked in a stir fry or soup, so can be used as an inexpensive substitute for water chestnut.  Jícama is an annual propagated by seed. Jicama seeds are available in the ECHO Bookstore.


Taro, Dasheen, Colocasia esculenta

Taro, Dasheen, Colocasia esculenta (a.k.a. eddo, cocoyam) and Tanier, Xanthosoma spp. (a.k.a. tannia, yautia, malanga) are two types of root crops that will grow well in the summer.  Taro and dasheen are grown principally for their large, edible starchy corms (underground root and stem structure).  Taro is grown in wet, paddy-like surroundings, is fibrous and has a spongy texture.  It is usually beaten to extract the starch which is made into poi.  Dasheen is grown in a drier, upland environment and the corms are crisp, easily cut and are eaten as a boiled or fried vegetable.  Colocasia has peltate (petiole attached to the leaf inside the leaf margins) shaped leaves to distinguish it from the Xanthosoma leaves which are sagittate (arrow head) shaped.

Xanthosoma species are also grown principally for their starchy corms, but many also have leaves that when cooked make excellent greens.  It is recommended to use the leaves that are freshly unrolling, although different species and different cultures will treat this differently.  Often the petioles are peeled and cut into sections revealing their spongy insides for use in soups.  These crops have varying quantities of oxalates and oxalic acid, and so it is recommended to boil them and discard the water to remove the acrid taste that may cause the sensation of pins and needles on your tongue.

You can find the corms of these crops in the grocery store and this will be your best source of propagation stock.  They can be cut and allowed to heal over or dry before planting them.  Make sure each piece has at least 1 bud or eye to sprout.

Sweet PotatoIpomoea batatas

Sweet PotatoIpomoea batatas, of most varieties will grow well in the summer and beyond in SW Florida.  ECHO has several varieties. They need very warm growing conditions so should be planted during spring and summer and harvested four to five months after planting. Propagation is by cuttings stuck directly in the ground or by small fleshy root pieces. These can be planted almost any time of the year, provided there is sufficient soil moisture.

Vine tips are high in protein; they may be cooked and eaten. The fleshy roots are a good energy food, and the roots with orange-colored flesh indicate high quantities of vitamin A.

Water ChestnutEleocharis dulcis, (a.k.a. Chinese water chestnut) is a popular ingredient of Chinese cooking that can be easily grown in an inexpensive plastic wading pool. The best planting time in south Florida is March through June. Start plants by placing corms in a large styrofoam coffee cup with soil and some standing water. After a good root mass has developed, place 6-10 plants on the bottom of the pool, stuff pine needles tightly around them and periodically add some fertilizer. Keep flooded with water. When the tops die down in November, you should find dozens of “chestnuts” on the bottom. You can also just grow in regular soil, but then the corms will be more difficult to harvest because they will likely be spread throughout the soil. Corms can be stored in moist mud or refrigerated at 50 to 55º F. They should not be allowed to dry out.

You can find chestnut corms in fresh markets where Asian vegetables are sold.

YamDioscorea alata

YamDioscorea alata, (a.k.a. greater yam) is often confused with sweet potato, which is sometimes called ‘yam’ in the United States. Those who know the tropical yam, however, will not mistake it with sweet potato. Yam is a tuber crop that is well known throughout the humid tropics of Tropical America, the Caribbean, Africa, and Asia. In Florida you will see it sold in the supermarkets under the Spanish name, ‘ñame’ (pronounced: nyah-may).

The yam is an important carbohydrate food that is relatively easy to grow. Yams have a very specific life cycle. Unlike the sweet potato, which can be planted by vine cuttings almost year-round, the yam is planted once-a-year, when the stored tuber begins sprouting. At ECHO, this usually begins in February or March. As the tuber breaks dormancy, the energy is transferred from the tuber into stem and leaf growth. This vegetative stage, lasting 6 to 8 months, occurs during the warm and humid summer months. A new root system with multiple tubers develops with most of the tuber development occurring toward the end of the rainy season and into fall. When the vine dies back, the tubers are ready for harvest. At ECHO this usually occurs in late November.

Yams do well in sun or partial shade and prosper with ample rainfall. They require good drainage, and therefore, are often planted on mounds or ridges. They are most commonly staked but can be planted on a trellis or at the base of a sufficiently strong tree. At ECHO it has worked well to stake them with bamboo, not more than 1 inch in diameter as the vines have some difficulty twining up the large bamboo’s slick exterior. Growth is lush and very vigorous once the rains begin. Remember the vines die back in the fall. They then get a number of leaf diseases and look sickly; however, this has little effect on the tuber.

When harvesting, be careful as the tuber skin is thin and easily damaged. The tubers are often large, several lbs. a piece, often as great as 15 lbs. or more. The yam is consumed much like a potato – peeled, then boiled or baked. Peel or cut away any discolored areas. Yams reportedly make good French fries and chips. The storage life of the yam tuber is short, averaging maybe 2 to 3 months, due to the high moisture content. One recommendation is to harvest them as needed when they are in the dormant stage. If unused, the tuber will begin to sprout in the spring.

For propagating, yam sprouts first at the top, which is the most desirable planting piece next to a whole ‘seed’ tuber. Cut off a section about the size of an adult’s fist and cure it a few days in the shade before planting. Yam is a wonderful food and is generally an easy, dependable crop to grow.

Note: Planting should be done in February or March to allow for the greatest amount of sunlight and heat units for growth and tuber development.  Yam is then harvested in November to January.  You may purchase yams in the supermarket (generally found under the Spanish name, ‘ñame’) and these may be sprouted and planted in your garden.

Word of Caution:  A wild form of Dioscorea alata called “winged yam” is a noxious, class I invasive weed species in Southern Florida.  It is not the same as D. bulbifera the “air potato,” also a class I invasive, but care must be taken when planting this crop.


Fruiting Vegetables

OkraAbelmoschus esculentus (a.k.a. gumbo), and EggplantSolanum melongena, well-known vegetables to most Americans, will grow well planted spring or summer in SW Florida.  Both can be harmed by root knot nematodes.  The pods of two okra varieties, ‘Borneo’ and ‘African’, can be eaten at a much larger size than most standard okra varieties. These two varieties both out-produce most other okra varieties in the late summer planting at ECHO while other varieties do better in earlier plantings

Eggplants come in many colors, shapes and sizes, from large, melon-sized to those that are egg-sized to those that are pea-sized.  Their cheerful color variations make an appetizing addition to a fresh vegetable platter, soups, stir-fries, casseroles and other dishes.

Both okra and eggplant are propagated by seed.  Seed available at ECHO Nursery

Ethiopian KaleBrassica carinata

Ethiopian KaleBrassica carinata (a.k.a. Abyssinian cabbage) is an annual cole crop which originates in the East African Plateau. It tolerates high temperatures and high humidity, setting seed where other kale varieties will not.  Young tender leaves and stem tips of Ethiopian kale may be eaten fresh in salads or cooked. Older leaves and stems may be cooked and eaten like collards. Flower stalks may be cooked and eaten like broccoli. It can also be used as a fodder crop species for animals.  Ethiopian kale is reproduced by seed and it is easy to designate an area in the garden for constant production of this prolific, nutritious leafy vegetable. Seed available at ECHO Nursery

Cherry TomatoesLycopersicon esculentum

Cherry TomatoesLycopersicon esculentum var. cerasiforme, can produce during summer months, however, only varieties that are resistant to nematodes should be tried at any time.  The package or at least a catalog description should indicate which diseases the variety is resistant to by using letters (V=verticilium wilt; N=nematode; F=Fusarium wilt; T=tobacco mosaic virus, among others).  Even tomato vines that do well may not set fruit because of pollination problems during the warm season. Daytime temperatures must be under 90 F and nighttime temperatures under 70 to set fruit.  Other than cherry tomatoes, romas, grape and salad tomatoes will also produce during the summer months.  Tomatoes are propagated mainly by seed, but some have successfully propagated them by cuttings.  Seed available at ECHO Nursery

Hot peppers, Capsicum annuum

Hot peppers, Capsicum annuum, C. frutescens, C. chinense, and C. pubescens, can be grown as annuals, but they are actually perennials, and in countries where it does not freeze they can grow for several years.  The variety ‘Indian firecracker’ is particularly striking when used in a container garden. The small red and green peppers make the plant look like it is decorated for Christmas.  The larger “sweet peppers” are annuals and usually do not do well in the summer.  Plant and seed available at ECHO Nursery

Bunching onionsAllium fistulosum

Bunching onionsAllium fistulosum, (a.k.a. Welsh onions) keep dividing, forming bunches that can be cut and used like green salad onions.  These perennials may be propagated by divisions or by seed.


Garlic ChivesAllium tuberosum


Garlic ChivesAllium tuberosum (a.k.a. Chinese chives) make a great grass-like border or container plant, thriving through all seasons here in Florida. They are a great addition to an herb garden or as a border. Growing best in moist soils, they are also drought resistant.  They grow well in sun or partial shade. The white stems and green leaves are used like green onions or chives to add flavor to salads, sour cream, stir fries, omelets and soups. They also make delicious herb butter and are popular in Asian cooking. They are perennial and should live for years, with clumps growing larger each year. Garlic Chives do not form a bulb.  Most varieties have a bad reputation of producing a lot of seeds that can spread into the lawn.  But ECHO was given a start of a variety being grown by a Japanese lady in the local rare fruit club.  It almost never blooms in southwest Florida and hence does not become weedy.   Harvest by cutting off at ground level. DO NOT DIG UP THE ROOTS WHEN YOU HARVEST!  If you leave the roots they become very dense and the edible part will grow back in 3-4 weeks.  Garlic chives are perennial and are propagated by seed or division.  Plants propagated by seed will themselves produce seed and may become weedy.

“Garlic Chives make a great grass-like border or container plant, thriving through all seasons here in Florida. ”

If you want color, a plant with similar looking leaves called society garlic produces attractive purple flowers (and seeds).  It also has a garlicy taste, but not nearly as subtle a taste as garlic chives. Plant available at ECHO Nursery

Wax gourdBenincasa hispida

Wax gourdBenincasa hispida, will grow best in the hot but dry late spring, but might produce into the summer months.  It is sometimes called “Chinese winter melon,” and is popular in Asian markets and cuisine.  The white flesh of the melon-like fruit is cooked in soups.  The fruit is covered with an attractive white waxy “bloom” that protects it from microbial and insect attack and from drying out.  Consequently, it stores exceptionally well.  As with other plants in the cucurbit or cucumber family, the young shoots and flowers of the wax gourd may also be eaten in soups, in stir-fries or cooked and eaten as greens.

Tropical pumpkinsCucurbita moschata

Tropical pumpkinsCucurbita moschata, are one of the same species of squash grown in temperate climates although these have been selected for production in the tropics.  Latin markets will likely have ‘Calabaza,’ which is the same species.  They can be very productive any time except during the coldest weather. Tropical pumpkins can be used the same as the temperate pumpkin, but it can also be baked just like a winter squash or cooked when it is small and green and used like a summer squash.  Additionally, the flowers and young shoots may be cooked and eaten as greens or stir-fry.

The pumpkin leaves can be damaged severely and quickly by a small caterpillar.  See “vegetable amaranth” for a discussion of how to control it.  The vigorous vines will grow along the ground and send out new roots, so planting near an area where it can sprawl is ideal.  A few months later you might find the vine dead where you planted it but the new portion thriving many feet away. This may help the roots avoid nematodes. Seed available at ECHO Nursery


Edible Leaves and Shoots

Basket VineTrichostigma octandrum, a.k.a. Haitian basket vine, hoop vine, liann panye (in Haiti) grows as a large perennial, sprawling bush. It is considered a native species in South Florida and on many of the Caribbean islands.  It has long pliable stems that are used in making baskets. The young leaves, eaten after cooking, are an outstanding green vegetable. They are reported to be extremely nutritious. Discard the cooking water. Some boil the leaves a second time in fresh water to remove traces of bitterness.  (Note that the opposite of sour is bitter, so some vinegar or vinegar-based salad dressing might make it a better match for the taste buds of some.) There have been a few times where it has been killed to the ground in a freeze at ECHO, but will grow back.  Although basket vine has a beautiful purple flower, it is propagated principally by cuttings.

“There have been a few times where it [basket vine] has been killed to the ground in a freeze at ECHO, but will grow back. ”

Cassava ,  Manihot esculenta

CassavaManihot esculenta

Cassava (a.k.a. Tapioca, yucca, manioc), Manihot esculenta, is an important root crop that is grown as a staple food in many parts of the tropical and subtropical world.  Tapioca is made from processed cassava tubers.  Cassava is tolerant of drought and poor soil, but needs good drainage. It is a perennial shrub harvested for its roots about 8-12 months after planting. Our cultivated varieties grow to about 8 ft. and tend to sprawl. The young, fully expanded leaves can be eaten after boiling.  They contain 11-39% protein on a dry weight basis. Cassava is propagated by stem cuttings

Both the leaves and roots contain a cyanide compound, so both should be cooked and the water drained. Cassava should only be eaten in moderation. This reduces cyanide to a very low level.  Check the web or ask a friend from the tropics for more details. Only eat cassava that is known to have more moderate amounts of cyanide. Cassava is frost sensitive but can re-sprout from the underground part of the stem if a freeze kills it to the ground.  Keep in mind that your liver can detoxify modest amounts of cyanide and has almost certainly done that for you.  Compounds that turn into cyanide when exposed to acid or chewed by an insect are one of the common ways nature has of helping plants survive.    Plant available at ECHO Nursery

ChayaCnidoscolus aconitifolius

ChayaCnidoscolus aconitifolius, is sometimes called “tree spinach.” Its large leaves are boiled and eaten, especially in Mexico. It is also used to wrap tamales. The plant becomes a shrub about the height of a person and is quite attractive. Occasional pruning will make a more compact, bushy plant.  Only if left unattended for a few years will it even resemble a tree here in Florida. The stems break so easily that you can easily prune them

As with its cousin, cassava, the leaves of chaya must be cooked around 10 minutes or more in boiling water or cooked as a stir fry or baked in a casserole to remove the small amount of cyanide they contain. Do not use them fresh in salads.  The texture of the chaya leaf is firmer than many cooked greens.  They remind me of collard greens.  Most varieties of chaya have small stinging hairs that are harmless after cooking, but the variety ECHO sells is free of these hairs. A USDA study in Puerto Rico reported that one can get higher yields of greens per unit area with chaya than any other vegetable they have studied.

Chaya is unique in that it is exceptionally resistant to the hot humid weather of a Florida summer and to extreme dry weather (that is the climate in Central America where the plant is native).  Insects have not bothered chaya at ECHO.  If the plant blows over in a tropical storm or the above-ground part is killed by a freeze, don’t worry. This often makes for a prettier, more unique plant, as the main stem sends up additional branches and a bushier plant results.  Chaya plants almost never produce seeds, but propagate easily by cuttings. Plant available at ECHO Nursery

KatukSauropus androgynus, (a.k.a. sweet leaf) is one of the staple vegetables in the rainforest climate of Borneo. It has become one of the favorite salad greens of the staff at ECHO, and is eaten either cooked or fresh for its nutritious leaves and shoots. The unique flavor of these leaves is most similar to raw peas when eaten raw. It grows exceptionally well in Florida, going dormant in the winter.

Katuk is disease and pest resistant, tolerates most soils, and grows in sun or shade. For the best tender shoots and leaves, grow katuk in at least half shade and fertilize frequently. This shrub should be occasionally pruned to 3-5 feet since it tends to grow straight up until it falls over. In SW Florida it can be killed back by hard freeze but grows back from the ground and may re-grow bushier than before.  In Asia, katuk is propagated by seed as well as cuttings, but in SW Florida we have not been very successful with seed propagation.  Plant available at ECHO Nursery


KatukSauropus androgynus

MoringaMoringa oleifera

MoringaMoringa oleifera, (a.k.a. horseradish tree) is a tree grown for food and seed at ECHO.  It is one of the most requested seeds in ECHO’s seed bank. This is due to its many edible parts and its ability to survive in arid parts of the world. It is an exceptionally nutritious leafy vegetable. The large frilly leaves can be broken off easily at the stem and carried inside. The tiny leaflets can then be quickly pulled off between the fingers. Tender growing tips can be cooked stem and all. At ECHO, leaves are boiled as any green or added to soups or rice. In the southern portions of the United States the tree will probably survive a hard freeze but may be killed to the ground. Even where no freeze damage occurs, some people cut it back to about 4 feet each year.  This causes the leaves to be closer to the ground for ease of harvesting. If not forced to branch by pruning, the tree becomes tall, spindly and in most cases not very attractive. We do not recommend it as a prominent shade tree or landscape specimen.

Moringa might have potential as an annual vegetable farther north.  We are told that as far north as Gainesville Florida it is grown as a “cut and come again” perennial.  We were sent a photo of a tree that was started in a greenhouse, transplanted out, and grew to the height of eight feet in Wisconsin before winter killed it. Aside from eating the leaves, very young pods can be cooked and eaten like asparagus or green beans. Pod production is variable and seems to be increased by stress. Some trees bloom at less than a year old and others take longer.

Along with the moringa leaves and pods, the blossoms are also edible.  All parts have a taste similar to mild horseradish. When trees are about 3‑4 feet tall, they can be pulled out of the ground and the roots grated and used like horseradish. The root bark is toxic and should be peeled off before grating. Eat the roots in moderation only.  Personally I just buy horseradish if that is the flavor I want and don’t risk the potentially harmful chemicals in the roots.  Crushed raw leaves may irritate the skin and, if eaten in quantity, can be purgative. Under good conditions the tree can easily reach 15 feet the first year. The wood is very soft and does not make good fuel wood.  Moringa may be propagated either by seed (available in ECHO’s bookstore) or cuttings. Trees from cuttings tend to be more susceptible to blowing over in the wind because the roots tend to be more shallow.   Plant and seed available at ECHO Nursery

Amaranth (vegetable type), Amaranthus tricolor

Amaranth (vegetable type), Amaranthus tricolor (a.k.a. tampala) is attractive (especially the variety ‘tiger leaf’) and produces leaves that taste much like spinach when cooked.  Though it will grow well in the summer, stay alert to the likely arrival of small caterpillars that can devastate it within a few days.  The natural insecticide called B.t.® or Dipel ® can be bought at your garden center and will control the insect if used in time.  Vegetable amaranth or tampala is an annual and is propagated by seed.  Seed available at ECHO Nursery

Lagos spinachCelosia argentea

Lagos spinachCelosia argentea (a.k.a. quail grass), is a cousin to vegetable amaranth but much less prone to insect damage.  It is quite popular in SE Asia as well as West Africa where it originates (presumably named for Lagos, Nigeria).  As a young plant before it flowers, it makes a tasty cooked green.  Harvest it when it reaches 8-12 inches in height (before it flowers), cut up the whole plant except for the roots and put it into the pot.  Boil it for at least a minute or two and discard the dark water.  It is very much like cooked spinach in taste, color and texture.

We found out the hard way not to steam cook it because boiling in water is needed to remove oxalates that otherwise leave a burning sensation on the tongue.  It also has a beautiful flower later in the year; though at that stage the leaves become narrow and are not useful in cooking.  Lagos spinach is an annual and is propagated by seed.  There is a red- and a green-leafed variety.    Seed available at ECHO Nursery

Cranberry HibiscusHibiscus acetosella,

Cranberry HibiscusHibiscus acetosella, a.k.a. false roselle or red-leaf hibiscus has striking red leaves and is similar to Japanese maple, in both leaf shape and color. It can be planted in the spring and kept pruned for an attractive annual shrub and may be grown as a temporary hedge. Cranberry hibiscus is nematode and insect resistant and does well in sandy soil.

The young tender red leaves have a tart flavor and are an attractive addition to fruit and tossed salads, slaws, or stir fries. In the fall it has pink blossoms. About thirty blossoms can be picked at dusk after they have folded, and blended with lime juice and sugar to make a beautiful and tasty drink. The petals add a bright red color rather than any special flavor.  Pinch the tips of stems as it grows to make it bushy, otherwise it will grow several feet tall and fall over.  Cranberry hibiscus may act as a long-term annual or as a short-term perennial and can be propagated by seed or by cuttings.  Plant and seed available at ECHO Nursery 

“The young tender red leaves [of cranberry hibiscus] have a tart flavor and are an attractive addition to fruit and tossed salads, slaws, or stir fries.”

RoselleHibiscus sabdariffa i

RoselleHibiscus sabdariffa is sometimes called “Florida cranberry” because of the bright red, crunchy, sour calyx that can be used somewhat similarly to cranberries in recipes.  The calyx surrounds the developing fruit and seed and is the size of a small nut.  A very popular drink is made from the calyx in many tropical countries by cooking them in water, then adding sugar and lemon juice and cooling.  Plant roselle later in the summer to avoid likely root knot nematode damage.  It will not bloom and form the edible part until around October. Roselle, an annual is propagated by seed.    Plant and seed available at ECHO Nursery

Okinawa SpinachGynura crepioides

Okinawa SpinachGynura crepioides forms a dense, non-vining, edible ground cover, or as a specimen plant that grows well in full sun or partial shade. Grown commercially in China, the plant is a vigorous, perennial vegetable that is adaptable to a variety of tropical climates and requires little if any additional input. Okinawa spinach has attractive pointed leaves that are green on the top side and purple underneath. Young leaves and shoots can be eaten raw or cooked. Its rather insignificant yellow blossoms attract a constant stream of butterflies.  Okinawa spinach has potential to grow for more than one year but usually declines after about a year at ECHO.  It is propagated by cuttings.  Plant available at ECHO Nursery


Edible hibiscusAbelmoschus manihot

Edible hibiscusAbelmoschus manihot, is a shrubby perennial from Indonesia, the leaves of which are flavorful eaten fresh as one would eat lettuce or cooked either alone or added to soups.  It is grown exclusively for its leaves and is a very prolific producer, out yielding most crops planted for the production of leafy greens.  It is touted as having very high nutritive value.  Edible hibiscus must be propagated by cuttings, and is susceptible to nematodes.  If you do not have nematode-free soil, try planting edible hibiscus in containers.  The leaves can be as large as a slice of bread and one leaf can be used instead of lettuce.  The plant is a hibiscus but only blooms, sparingly, in SW Florida around January.  Plant available at ECHO Nursery

Tropical lettuceLactuca indica

Tropical lettuceLactuca indica, (a.k.a. Indian lettuce) grows well in full sun and tolerates the heat of the South Florida summer, growing to perhaps four feet tall.  When eaten fresh, the leaves are somewhat bitter.  Tropical lettuce has a nice flavor when stir-fried or boiled.  Tropical lettuce can be propagated by cuttings and by seed.  As this “tropical lettuce” is perennial, it can be cut back and it will re-sprout.  When you do this, remember to fertilize it to give it the needed boost.


Malabar spinachBasella alba

Malabar spinachBasella alba, a.k.a. Basella or Ceylon spinach is grown for its attractive edible leaves that are cooked.  Some people like the mucilaginous leaves and some do not.  It has potential to be a great substitute for lettuce in our hot summers.  The plant can grow up a fence or trellis or sprawl along the ground and, on top of mulch, forms an attractive ground cover. Malabar spinach is a perennial that comes in two stem colors.  The variety ‘Bangladesh’ has red stems; the variety “green” is entirely green. Both are propagated by seed and by cuttings.  Plant and seed available at ECHO Nursery


New Zealand spinachTetragonia tetragonioides

New Zealand spinachTetragonia tetragonioides is an annual green that often behaves more like a perennial. This is partially because the plant continues to grow and produce until the surrounding environment is no longer favorable for its growth and partially because it produces seeds close to the crown of the plant where they inconspicuously drop into the soil.  They then lie dormant until conditions are ideal for them to germinate and continue growing the following season.

Soak the seeds overnight before sowing.  Plant in pots or direct seed into the garden, spaced at 1-2 feet apart.  New Zealand spinach likes fertile soil, so the addition of organic matter in the form of compost, worm castings or animal manures will help maintain its lush vegetative growth.  Harvest by snipping 3-4 inch tips of the stems or individual leaves.  Picking them at least once a week ensures continued lush growth and leaf production.  They may be prepared as you would spinach – either by cooking (steamed, boiled, stir-fried) or by eating fresh in salads, and may substitute for spinach in any recipe. Plant and seed available at ECHO Nursery