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Passiflora is a genus of several hundred species of plants, known for its unique and sometimes quite spectacular flowers, and therefore popular with lovers of exotic plants. Different species are used in different ways: The common passion fruit (P. edulis) is eaten as a fruit, while P. Incarnata is used in herbal medicine as a sedative. But most species are just grown for their beautiful flowers.

passicae

Passiflora caerulea – blue passionflower

Here in this corner of Europe that’s not without problems: Passion flowers are very beautiful and generally fast-growing climbing plants, but they often need tropical or subtropical climates to thrive. So here in Flanders we’re just at or just below the Northern Border for the most cold-resistant passion flowers that grow well outdoors. There are some species that grow reasonably outside here, until a very severe winter shows up that is. The common blue passionflower (P. caerulea) is the best-known species here and also the best-adapted to our climate. The maypop, Passiflora incarnata can survive even colder winter temperatures, but it completely freezes off in cold climates every winter and then needs to grow back completely from the roots, needing summers more hot than ours to have much flowers and fruits.

(I leave out the northernmost species P. Lutea here, the yellow passionflower which has no ornamental value and is reportedly not the easiest plant to grow.)

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Tucumanese passionflower – Passiflora tucumanensis

There are a number of hybrids and ornamental varieties that are grown, some of which very nice. But there is also another less known wild species that should be almost like P. Caerulea when it comes to coldhardiness, the P. Tucumanensis (sometimes called P. Naviculata). This is a South American species that grows in mountain areas and so is accustomed to cooler temperatures.

The Tucumanese passionflower, as its name can be translated, is named after the Argentine province of Tucuman. It has small soft-green ternate lobed leaves and hanging passion flowers, slightly smaller than those of the blue passionflower. The flowers, that are only open for one day, have a spectacular purple-white corona.

Earlier his summer I had ordered a plant of this and some other species from de passifloratuin, and today the Tucumanese Passionflower is the first of those plants that blooms. It is stil to be seen how well it does in the long run, but of all my Passiflora plants I have here now it is the one that continued to grow most in August which was exceptional cold and wet… So maybe it’s indeed a plant that can withstand cooler summers. We will still have to wait and see what happens in and after the winter though…

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Tucumanese Passionlfower – Passiflora tucumanensis

But there is more: If we look edible fruit this one might actually also be interesting. The fruits are described as small, but with a very delicate aromatic flavor which is even better than the common passion fruit. What makes it more interesting here than P. Incarnata which generally needs a longer and much hotter growing season to form ripe fruit than we have, and P. Caerulea which sets fruit here, but is not known for its good taste … (and all hybrids, which have reduced fertility, which is not very convenient if you like to have a lot of fruit)
The problem here is that Passiflora-species are generally self-incompatible, so you need at least two genetically different plants (that means no clones which come from cuttings taken from the same mother plant) and I have only one at the moment …

But we’re working on that, so probably this story will be continued one day… The first impressions of the Tucumanese passionflower are very positive right now though…

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glassgelA while ago it was quite overhyped on the internet: a spectacular close-up picture of one ear of corn, with unreal shiny kernels in all kinds of unreal pearly colors. Some people didn’t even believe it was real, and claimed it was photoshopped. Others said it was probably genetically modified or something like that. It seemed that lot of people wanted to grow it, or to have it, but looking online told me that the seed was not widely available at all, and not only hard to get but also unusually expensive, some people on ebay did sell small quantities of it for quite high prices for example.

Now on to reality, Glass gem is a real corn, not photoshopped nor genetically modified, and just a regular open-pollinated race! And also a very variable one, so you can’t expect every comb to carry the same colors of kernels as that one in the spectacular picture. It probably was selected as the most beautiful one of the whole patch that year anyway…

some more down to earth information about the variety: Glass gem is actually a heirloom race of corn based on old Indian races, with an interesting history. It is a multicolored flint corn, with every plant having a different combination of small ears, and seeds approximately the size of unpopped popcorn. It’s (alas) also a race developed in a relatively hot climate (compared to ours) and not the earliest race, needing officially 120-130 days to mature.

I saw the pictures and thought it was a very pretty one, but I initially never planned on growing glass gem at all after receiving the info I just quoted, I am not the one to fall for hypes and knew it was quite a slow grower, so probably not fit at all for our Belgian climate. Moreover, the seeds on ebay were generally in the category of ‘obscenely high priced’, and it’s a flint corn after all, a type of corn I don’t know how to use. Why pay so much for a decorative corn???

And then, in a weird twist of fate, I suddenly and unexpectedly had glass gem seeds in my hands, 2 small packets even, one packet thanks to smart seeds, and a second one one came from a seed-swap. strange to realise that I had the seeds of the overhyped ‘most spectacular corn in the word’ photograph’, the a lot of people seemed to want to pay extreme prices for, so what could else I do but try to grow it as good as I could? In the beginning of may I planted the seeds I had, and the plants progressed slowly but they looked strong and healthy, and suite prolific. Most plants of this variety have at least 2 ears on them, and some of the bigger plants have more stems (something I haven’t seen before in corn, but then again, I’m not that experienced with corn) but it took the plants like forever to flower, and when the first ears were visible the summer was over.

I’s a very slow corn indeed… Would it yield anything before the killing coldness would take over?

It’s been a vglass gemery warm month of october in 2013 , without any trace of nocturnal frosts, and the plants are still healthy and growing. This I harvested my first 2 ears (see left), so I can give my first impressions now, and I begin here:
I do think that it is indeed a beautiful corn, but not for here, and I wonder if the hype is worth it.

So what are my thoughts on glass gem?

1.) sloooooow: ‘glass gem’ is too slow a grower for our climate, officially 120-130 days but it even took longer here. Also because the month of may was unusually cold (I planted them on the 5th, they only came up at the end of the month…) but I’m lucky that we didn’t have any frost yet and that the weather is still unusually war for the end of october. Hopefully more corn will ripen before the winter kills my plants…It is a strong grower that looks quite healthy and makes a lot of ears though.

glass gem 12.) beautiful: ‘glass gem’, on the other pictures (not that one hyped one) is a very diverse multi-colored corn with small pop-corn size kernels. The plant that I harvested had mostly colors in a weird kind of soft yellow, with some reddish and dark colors. It is indeed beautiful and shiny in a way I haven’t seen in any corn. Worth the wait, but was it worth the stress and looking the weather?

3.) Is it useful?: If I do get a decent harvest still in spite of everything, what do I do with it? Except from seed-saving and decoration, what can I use it for?(I’m not the guy to rip off people on ebay by selling seeds of a supposed ‘miracle corn’ for an enormous amount of money, that wouldn’t feel right!) Yes, it’s edible as a flint corn, to make flour, but I have no idea what I should do with that. The use as popcorn seems to be contested.
(And what am i growing corn anyway? We don’t eat much corn since my eldest daughter is corn-intolerant and can’t eat it…)

Verdict: it was a fun experiment that seems to be turning out okay in the end (although I was despairing most of the time that it would yield anything at all), Glass gem is indeed the most beautiful corn I’ve ever seen, but it’s not fit at all for our climate, and I don’t exactly know what to do with it except maybe for lending the combs to amateur photographers who can make better pictures of it than I am possible to make.
Next year I’ll probably try something else (Alan Bishop’s multicolored genetically superdiverse ‘astronomy domine‘ sweetcorn might be a good idea for the corn department…).

glass gem close-up

Some pictures from october, from right before the first nocturnal frosts…/Een paar foto’s uit october, van vlak voor de eerste nachtvorst…

Tomatillo (Physalis ixocarpa), rabarber/rhubarb (Rheum rabarbarum), biet/beet (Beta vulgaris), wortel/carrot (Dauca carota) , jaltomato (Jaltomato procumbens), bladbroccoli/leaf-broccoli (Brassica oleracea) , amarant/amaranth (Amaranthus ssp.) , postelein/purslane (Portulaca oleracea), Courgette (Cucurbita pepo)

Ijsplant/Iceplant (Mesembryanthemum crystalinum) tastes like something in between sour-salty watermelon and iceberg lettuce…/smaakt als iets tussen zoutzure watermeloen en ijsbergsla

Epazote (Chenopodium ambrosioides)

Niet nader geïdentificeerde blad-broccoli/ An unidentified leaf-broccoli… (zie ook foto 1/see also picture 1)

peace

Bram

What’s growing in the garden this year? (For some reasons I only take pictures of the more special plants… There are also a lot of more regular vegetables like peas and beans, pumpkins, radishes and beets. But these are more ‘cool’ I guess…

The first one is Shungiku, the Japanese edible chrysantemum (Chrysantemum coronarium) , which is actually from the south of Europe, but like burdock (Arctium lappa) and water-pepper (Polygonum hydropiper) that both are native here, is is not at all eaten where it grows in the wild, but cultivated in Japan, where it doesn’t originate at all….

 

The second one is the famous Oca (Oxalis tuberosus), the Andean wood-sorrel tuber.  I lost most of my tubers because it let them in the ground, and we had a complete week of frost in februari, but the ones I’ve saved are starting to grow.

These are tree spinach seedlings. I really like the color of this plant, and the taste. I wrote about them earlier. I still have some seeds if anyone would like them….

This is a young tomatillo plant (Physalis ixocarpa). A physalis species that is used as a vegetable in Mexico, where the unripe berries are used for a salsa sauce. The last 2 years I’ve been growing white ones, this year I try the black ones as well…

This is my favorite type of rocket-salad: the perennial wall rocket (Diplotaxis tenuifolium). Perennial leafy salad plants are very interesting! This species is sold, but my plants are from seed that I’ve collected in the wild.

These are baby Mashua or Anu (Tropaeolum tuberosum ‘Ken Aslet’) plants, another Andean tuber, and one with a strange reputation. It seems like not all people like the very particular taste (like you can see it’s closely related to garden Nasturtium (Tropaeolum majus), which might say something about the taste.) and it is also reputed as an anaphrodisiac for men if eaten too much. I’ll find out more about it

This is a blue potato ‘Vitelotte noir’ (I suppose, there was no name of race on it but that’s the most sold blue potato over here) and I also have another weird potato race called ‘corne de gatte‘. I suppose both are Solanum tuberosum, but I’m not 100% sure. (notice the tree spinach seedlings, that’ll end up in the salad if I weed them out…)

And here is some Elderflower (Sambucus nigrum) which I use to make a very tasty lemonade!

And the last plant is the ‘weed orchid‘ (Epipactis helleborine) that comes up between the herbs. The only common wild orchid over here. But hey, an orchid is an orchid, and doesn’t get weeded out just for nothing..

And finally, something else: A dragonfly that wasn’t afraid at all when I put my cheap camera quite close to it to take this picture. I think it’s the broad-bodied chaser (Libellula depressa).