Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Remember this plant?

Purple passion plant (Gynura spp.)

Purple passion plant looks more like a 70s craft project than a living thing.  Maybe I should hang it up with beaded macrame to take full advantage of the retro vibe.

Purple passion plant, velvet plant, or gynura, is one of the very first plants I ever grew.  The year was probably 1973.  My aunt had given me a piece of one of hers and told me to put it in a glass of water until it grew roots.  I did, and it did!  I'm not sure how long I wound up having it, but  I know it spent at least one memorable summer on the plant shelf my mother let me add to our tiny back porch.

I bought this one at Pike's the other day, unable to resist the crazy-colored velvet or the memories it brought back.  When I got home, I added it to the houseplant hoard on my desk and then looked up Gynura online.  It's a routine -- maybe you do the same thing.

I wasn't too surprised to discover that gynura comes from the Asian tropics originally.  In the US, you can grow it outside if you live in the warmest zones (10 or 11).  It is actually a vine which makes it particularly suitable for those macrame hanging baskets we fondly remember.  But if you want that gorgeous purple fuzz you need to keep it pruned.  It's mainly the fresh new growth that's colored like that.

A fun surprise is that gynura will bloom -- and the flowers are orange!  I've never seen them in person, but there's a cool picture of them here.   Do you think they look like dandelions?  They're in the same family, Asteraceae.  Unfortunately they are reported to be very stinky, and the general consensus seems to be, "snip them off."

I couldn't find any uses for the plant beyond the ornamental, but other species of Gynura are edible and cultivated for food in Asia.  The leaves are said to taste like "spinach."  Considering how often I run across that description, spinach is vegan chicken -- I'm not sure how useful that bit of info is.  If you've ever tasted it, please leave a comment!

Would love to hear about the first plants you grew, too!  Airplane or spider plant?  Heart-leaf philodendron?  Remember zebra plants with those bright yellow spikes?  What was your favorite?