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Tropical Perennials as Temperate Annuals

When I wrote a book about roots 40-some years ago I never dreamed that I would be living with a woman who would fill our house with them!

All summer when people asked Yanna how her garden was producing she would say, “I don’t know; most of the produce is in the ground.” Nevertheless, we marveled at the above ground parts of the garden which were looking beautifully exotic with huge leaves and foot-long blossoms of the taro, fragrant imbricated turmeric flowers, yam vines leaping out of the garden and climbing high into the trees. We wondered what this strange collection of vegetation was producing underground.

The theme around here has been, ”tropical perennials as temperate annuals”.

After all those years of growing sweet potatoes. It dawned on her that sweet potatoes are a tropical vegetable. In the tropics if you want to plant a sweet potato all you do is clip a piece of the vine and stick it in the ground.  Here in temperate regions we dig the sweet potatoes in the Fall, put them to sleep for a couple of months, then warm them up in early Spring, and they produce shoots (called slips). When the soil warms up we stick the slips in the ground and that’s how we grow sweet potatoes.

Well, what about other tropical roots? After talking with Hmong gardeners (folks from Southeast Asia) we realized that we could really stretch the growing season and adapt other tropical vegetables to grow in our climate, especially those with edible underground parts (roots, rhizomes, corms, bulbs, and tubers)

There’s been a lot of unearthing around here this Fall, and what an amazing array of tropical vegetables have come out of the ground.

Here’s a display of samples from the harvest.

Clockwise from top root cluster with green stem: Taro Colocasia esculenta (2 types), Arrowroot Maranta arundinacea, Malanga  Xanthosoma sagittifolium, Yellow yam Dioscorea alata, Purple ube yam Dioscorea alata, Jicama Pachyrhizus erosus, Yuca/cassava Manihot esculenta, Groundnut Apios Americana, Ginger Zingiber officinale, Yacon Smallanthus sonchifolius, Achira Canna edulis, Center:Water chestnut Eleocharis dulcis, Turmeric Curcuma longa (3 types) 

We look forward to a winter of radical, rhizomatous, cormal, tuberous, and bulbiferous culinary adventures. Come on over and chew a root with us!

That Roots book mentioned earlier was revised, given a new cover, and re- issued by Healing Arts Press as Wild Roots in 1995. It is still in print today more than 40 years after it was first released. It is considered an “underground” classic and it is available along with other books and award winning recordings of stories, songs and lore, here.

My 2020 calendar of performances, classes, and other events is coming together and can be seen here.