Saturday, 21 September 2013

Wapato: The Seedy Side of Sagittaria

I'm a bit of demon for sowing interesting things and then forgetting about them. This has advantages and disadvantages. Many of the plants that fascinate me have seeds with dormancy mechanisms; in the absence of information on unlocking these, it's easiest to just sow them and hope that the spinning tumbler of fluctuating ambient temperatures finally cracks the code and allows them to germinate.

The disadvantage is the large number of pots and seed trays knocking around, which sometimes generates some criticism from my nearest and dearest.  And if the labels and pots become separated, as has been known to happen, things can get a little baffling.

Back in the spring (I think) I sowed some wapato seeds which I  had gathered from my plants in 2012 (I think). This is a signal lesson in why appending the sowing date on the label is a worthwhile undertaking. The seed tray was placed in a shallow receptacle which was topped up with water, in an attempt to create the kind of conditions most likely to encourage wapato germination. The months rolled by and nothing happened. The heat wave in July kept me busy watering other pots and I abandoned the wapato in favour of more deserving cases. The compost became completely desiccated and I presumed the wapato seeds had perished.

Then came the rain - lots of it. One day, in between torrential showers, I was dutifully following my instructions to create order out of chaos in the back yard and rediscovered the wapato tray.

Wapato, Sagittaria latifolia
I picked off a few small bittercress plants and was all set to reassign the compost as soil conditioner, when I noticed some small seedlings in one corner of the tray. At  first I thought they were pink purslane (Montia sibirica) a pretty (and pretty invasive) introduced wildflower. This aggressive beauty self seeds with great enthusiasm in our garden and any unguarded pot is soon infected with the pink plague.

And yet there was something alismataceous in their cast that made me pause. Wapato, unlike pink purslane, is a monocot, so I checked the next batch of emerging seedlings; they were wholly lacking in the paired cotyledons you'd expect to see in dicots like Montia sibirica. The wapato germination code has been cracked, although I can't help feeling that it would have been better for them to have waited until next spring. And probably better for me, because they don't look as though they're ready to survive the rigours of winter without my intervention.

Just as I was about to post this, I noticed a comment on the Radix Root Crops page from Tycho Rosehip. It turns out he has managed to sow and grow wapato this year. I've got a feeling his plants are now bigger than mine and I may ask him to reveal his secrets. 

Tuesday, 10 September 2013

Yabumame: Hot Stuff From Hokkaido

Yabumame (Amphicarpaea edgeworthii) is the Asian version of talet (Amphicarpaea bracteata), one of my favourite  underutilised legume crops, whose many virtues I've mentioned on several occasions previously. If you're looking for a cunning botanical strategist, which is also tasty to boot, look no further than Amphicarpaea.

Yabumame's status as a separate species seems to be under question and it appears that we should all be calling it Amphicarpaea bracteata subsp edgeworthii. It does look very similar to A. bracteata proper.

I've already grown yabumame, but that variety came from seeds I collected myself around Tsukuba, Japan. They did OK, but I couldn't help feeling that plants from further north would be more suitable. Luckily, Paolo Gaiardelli came to my rescue when he brought back seeds from Hokkaido and graciously passed some of them on to me.

As with hopniss, sourcing northern provenance seeds makes a lot of sense for those of us foolhardy enough to live at high latitudes. Plants are somewhat more likely to tolerate our temperature regime and get on with the business of flowering or tuberising during our long day summers. So runs the theory, anyway. Hokkaido summers are cooler than the rest of Japan and the winters are snowy and cold. Cooler is of course, a relative term, but as yabumame grows in woodland habitats in its native range and talet has done well here, it seemed safe to assume that it would also thrive.

Yabumame, Amphicarpaea edgeworthii
The glorious top growth of yabumame
I sowed some seeds in the spring; they germinated and grew, although not enthusiastically, it has to be said, with foliage and habit of growth more or less a dead ringer for talet. When the puny amount of top growth died back in August, with nary an aerial pod in sight, I was disappointed. Perhaps the growing medium lacked the necessary rhizobium, or they got too hot, cold, dry or wet at some stage and never recovered. I cursed my horticultural ineptitude yet again and resigned myself to sowing some of the remaining seeds next spring.

Subterranean yabumame seeds(Amphicarpea edgeworthiii)
Yabumame beans: small but full of eastern promise
Before recycling the compost, I tipped it out into my hand and was surprised to discover some rather small, but reassuringly plump, subterranean seeds. If a sickly slip of a plant can deliver the goods, imagine what a fine, strapping individual might have achieved. Assuming these seeds survive the winter, they should grow away well next spring. Underground seeds tend to give much bigger plants, with higher yields in my experience, so perhaps everything is unfolding as the universe intended.

Having spent several years amassing Amphicarpaea varieties, it must now be time to start doing some comparative trials, with a view to breeding a super talet. In my mind's eye I can see it now, with its neat, bushy habit and handfuls of tasty beans easily accessible just below the soil at the base of the plant. While I work towards this goal, I know that eating those which fail to make the grade will be no hardship: Amphicarpaea is one of the best wild foods out there.

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