August 10, 2010

Podocarpus

This is one of the most beautiful and decorative of our indigenous conifers, a tree that any plant enthusiast would be proud to have in their garden. With its dense glossy foliage, it makes a most elegant pyramid of green in the garden.

In its natural environment Podocarpus henkelii is a tall to very tall, straight stemmed forest tree, reaching 20 to 30 m in height. In time, its trunk can grow to massive proportions, reaching over 1m in diameter, becoming fluted and spirally twisted with age. It is an evergreen tree with a dark grey to pale grey-brown, longitudinally fissured bark. In older trees this bark sometimes peels off in large pieces, exposing a red-brown under-surface.

It has grey and ridged branchlets and the young shoots are pale green and angular. The leaves are simple, short stalked, lanceolate-oblong, 9-12cm long, sharp pointed, with entire and slightly revolute (rolled under) margins. They are spirally arranged, often crowded at the end of the branchlets, and more or less pendulous. The longer, droopy leaves make it easy to distinguish this species from the other yellowwoods growing in South Africa. Podocarpus henkelii has straight or somewhat falcate (sickle-shaped) leaves, hence it was once called the falcate yellowwood. This name had to be dropped because it was confused with Podocarpus falcatus, the Outeniqua yellowwood. The leaves of Henkel's yellowwood are bright green to bluish green and glossy above, dull green with a prominent midrib below. The young leaves are pale green and soft.

This handsome tree is dioecious, i.e. it has male and female reproductive organs on separate plants. Yellowwoods belong to a primitive group of plants called the Gymnospermae. Gymnosperms, often called conifers, are cone-bearing plants, distinguished from the other major plant group, the Angiospermae or flowering plants, as their ovules and resultant seeds are borne unprotected in the cone whereas in angiosperms the ovules and seeds are protected in an ovary. Other gymnosperms include cycads, pines and cypresses. Male Podocarpus henkelii cones are erect, pink, and 2-3cm long and are solitary or in clusters of up to 5. Female cones are solitary, but shortly stalked. The seed is large and roundish and 1,5-2cm in diameter and olive green to yellowish green when ripe.

Seed is dispersed by birds. Large old yellowwood trees form the perferred nesting sites of the Cape Parrot (Poicephalus robustus) and the kernels of the seeds are a major source of food for this bird.

Podocarpus henkelii is found from the former Transkei in the Eastern Cape to KwaZulu-Natal. It is most abundant in moist inland forest, locally common in montane forest of the Northern KwaZulu-Natal Drakensberg. The largest concentrations of Podocarpus henkelii are found in areas between Mt Ayliff, Kokstad and Harding.

Podocarpus henkelii is moderately drought-resistant and frost hardy. This is a highland forest species that grows best on moist sites with high rainfall and deep doleritic soils.

This tree is protected by SA Forestry Legislation as well as Nature Conservation Legislation.

Podocarpus henkelii was named after Dr JS Henkel (1871-1962) a conservator for forests in the Cape Province and KwaZulu-Natal, and later director of forestry in Zimbabwe. He was the first to recognise that this is not a variety of Podocarpus latifolius but a distinct species. The genus name is derived from Greek words podos a foot and karpos a fruit, referring to the fleshy fruit-stalks in some species.

There are nearly100 species in this genus, found mainly in the montane forest of the tropics and sub-tropics and at lower altitudes in temperate regions mainly in the southern hemisphere. There are four species in southern Africa, distributed in Northern Province, Mpumalanga, Swaziland, Free State, KwaZulu-Natal, Western Cape and Eastern Cape. At Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden we have good specimens of all four southern African species: Podocarpus henkelii, Podocarpus elongatus, Podocarpus falcatus and Podocarpus latifolius.

The yellowwoods in general are regarded as South Africa's national tree, although sometimes Podocarpus latifolius is singled out for this honour. Wood, especially that from P. falcatus and P. latifolius is prized for furniture making and was used extensively in the past for floor and ceiling boards.

Growing Podocarpus henkelii

Podocarpus henkelii is a very neat decorative tree suitable for both home gardens and large landscapes. It makes and excellent specimen tree for lawns and is a good choice for an avenue. Podocarpus henkelii is also suited for formal gardens, as it can be pruned to the desired shape. It can also be left to achieve an informal finish.

Seed collection from this tree is a struggle as the fungal disease black coral spot destroys many of the seeds. The seed that falls during the first 2-3 weeks is always highly infested, only the seed collected afterwards is good. The seed is perishable and must be kept in cold storage after collection. Under normal nursery conditions, seed germination takes 2 months. The germination period can be shortened by placing the seed trays on bottom-heated benches.

Podocarpus henkelii grows best in deep and moist, sandy or loamy soil. It can tolerate less favourable sites, but then grows very slowly. Judicious application of organic fertiliser will speed up growth.

References

  • Palmer, E and Pitman, N., 1972, Trees of Southern Africa, A.A Balkema, Cape Town.
  • Leistner, OA, ed., 2000, Seed Plants of Southern Africa, Families & Genera Strelitzia 10, NBI, Pretoria
  • Fried & Jutta von Beitenbach, Tree Atlas of Southern Africa, Dendrological Foundation, Pretoria
  • Pooley, E. 1993, Trees of Natal, Zululand & Transkei: Natal Flora Publication Trust, Durban
  • Palgrave, 1977, KC.Trees of Southern Africa, Second Edition , Unifoto, Cape Town

August 9, 2010

Peacotum

A triple-header of a hybrid fruit - touted as the first three-in-one ever - has made cameo appearances at a few markets in the Bay Area. The 'Bella Gold' peacotum is a cross of peach, apricot and plum. While the fruit's season is winding down, come fall, the trees will be available for home orchards.

More than a decade in development, peacotum is a creation of Zaiger's Genetics Inc., which relies on natural methods, rather than genetic modification. Like other Zaiger fruit, it's grown and sold exclusively by Dave Wilson Nursery in Hickman (Stanislaus County). Inventor Floyd Zaiger and his three children have patented or have in the application process more than 500 new fruits.

While a couple of peacotums - 'Bella Cerise' and 'Bella Royale' - have been released to the commercial market, 'Bella Gold' is being introduced exclusively for home gardeners. 'Bella Gold' bare-root fruit trees will be delivered with other tree shipments to garden centers stocked by Dave Wilson Nursery in the fall.

This month, shoppers at several produce venues in the Bay Area may find it, but perhaps listed as a plum derivative.

"It's a keeper," says wholesaler Joe Farray Jr. of Petra Produce Inc. in South San Francisco, which distributes 'Bella Gold' to Bay Area markets.

Farray is a 35-year veteran of the produce industry, and while it was news to him that 'Bella Gold' contained peach traits, he likened the juiciness of the flesh to that of a peach.

There are people who prefer their fruit with a bit of a sour kick - or acidity - and those who prefer sweet. Home gardeners have the advantage of picking their fruit at various stages of maturity. Fruit for the commercial market must withstand handling, transportation and storage before it reaches store displays, so it cannot be ripe when it is picked.

Artisan stone-fruit grower Andy Mariani of Andy's Orchard in Morgan Hill is acquainted with the peacotum and says that when it is picked later in its ripening cycle, "you can almost taste every element in it."

"It's a mellow-tasting fruit - I like it," said Frank Benevento III, a third-generation commercial stone-fruit grower in San Benito County.

At the point when the smooth, deep yellow/dark blush skin gives when pressed lightly, the flesh is the color of a ripe peach. But the lush interior may be the only "peachy" thing about it.

At informal tastings of 'Bella Gold' conducted for this article, none of the six tasters detected a peach flavor. Most identified the plum aspect; two detected apricot.

It is not a self-pollinator, so Dave Wilson staffers recommend pairing it with the nursery's 'Flavor Grenade' pluot (plum/apricot blend), which matures in the middle of August.

The peacotum requires 500 chill hours - the amount of time the temperature must fall between 32 and 45 degrees in a season for trees to break dormancy and set fruit. Most of Northern California receives 800 to 1,500 hours of chill each winter.

Putting peacotum to the taste test

Six tasters, half of them associated with the California Rare Fruit Growers, sampled 'Bella Gold' peacotums at several stages of ripeness at blind tastings. Here are the results:

Appearance: The majority gave 'Bella Gold' high ratings for its tropical good looks. A couple said it looked like a pluot.

Texture: Good marks all around. One described the skin as "oily" and another regarded it as "chewy." At its ripest stage, the fruit's flesh was described by one taster as "melting" in the mouth.

Acidity: "Good" was the consensus, with a proper balance for delicious flavor.

Sweetness: Marks ranged from moderate to good.

Maturity: At the firm stage - where fingers could not dent the fruit - it was difficult to slice the peacotum because the pit was lodged tightly in its center. When the fruit was soft but smooth and even all over, the pit slid out when sliced. One taster considered it "near its peak."

Final words: "Plum flavor, some apricot." "Seems like a pluot - three-quarters plum and one-quarter apricot." "Nice plum flavor and aroma." "I can't taste anything but plum." Four said other fruit would get priority for their garden. One said he might plant one, and commercial stone-fruit grower Benevento said, "I'd buy a couple for my yard."

August 8, 2010

Aprium

An aprium  is a hybridized fruit which incorporates plum and apricot genetics. The fruits are available from specialty growers, who sometimes also sell to markets and greengrocers. Much like their relatives, apriums can be eaten in an assortment of dishes, or right off the tree. The fruit is extremely sweet, with strong apricot overtones and a hint of plum.

The aprium was developed by Floyd Zaiger of Zaiger Genetics, a firm in Modesto, California. Zaiger Genetics specializes in developing high quality fruit hybrids, including the pluot. The company holds a trademark for the aprium, along with a variety of other fruit hybrids. The fruit is more than a simple cross between plums and apricots. Creating the aprium required several generations of breeding, ultimately yielding a fruit which contains 75% apricot and 25% plum.

In appearance, an aprium  resembles an apricot without the fuzz. Like both apricots and plums, the aprium is a stone fruit, and the company has developed numerous varietals. Honey Rich, Tasty Rich, Flavor Ann, and Flavor Delight are all commonly cultivated varieties of aprium, with slightly different flavors and maturation rates. Both commercial and home growers can order young trees from several sources, most of which are located in California.

The trees should be planted on well drained soil in warm areas out of the wind. Fruit trees appreciate being pruned annually, and will bear the best fruit if they are well cared for, either by a gardener or by a pruning professional. Gardeners should also make sure that their aprium trees are well watered and fertilized for the best yield, and they should keep an eye out for disease. Aprium branches can also be grafted onto existing apricot trees, for gardeners with limited space.

The intensely sweet flavor of the aprium can make an excellent addition to pies, salads, and preserves. As with other stone fruits, apriums should be handled with care so that they are not bruised, and a fruit pitter may be a valuable tool for people handling them in high volume. An aprium is a climacteric fruit, meaning that it will continue to ripen after harvest, and it should be kept away from bananas, as they emit ethylene gas which can hasten the ripening process. If apriums are slightly underripe, they can be kept in a paper bag on the counter until they mature, after which they can be held in refrigeration before use.

Pluot

The strangely named pluot  is a hybrid of the plum and the apricot. The actual ratio works out at about 70% plum and 30% apricot. The pluot is extremely sweet; this is because it has a very high sugar level. Although pluots are a cross breed they mainly look like plums.

Pluots are sometimes sold by the name of Dinosaur egg due to the strange dappled coloring on some types of the fruit. The name Dinosaur egg has actually been trademarked by a California pluot grower.

Pluots come in a wide range of varieties with strange sounding names. You can choose from the Flavor Grenade, Dapple Dandy, Flavorglo, the Hand Grenade or the Last Chance. The Flavor Heart is one of the largest pluots, heart shaped with black coloring and yellow flesh. The Candy Stripe has pink and yellow stripes with a spotted red skin.

Many people are suspicious of pluots thinking that this strange fruit must be genetically engineered, but this is not the case. Pluots were first sold in 1989 and were developed by a Californian fruit breeder called Floyd Zaiger. It took Zaiger several generations of cross breeding before the pluot  we know today finally emerged.

The process involved in the hybridization is very complex. The climate control must be exactly correct. The process is so precise that pollen is transferred with a tiny brush. Pluots are now registered as Zaiger’s Genetics. There are now at least 25 different varieties of pluot available in stores.

Pluots are an intensely flavored fruit. They are full of vitamins A and C, have a very low fat content and are sodium and cholesterol free. Pluots are mainly grown in the Central Valley area of California and are available from late May through September.

You will know when pluots are ripe as the fruit gives to pressure and is also very fragrant. They should be handled delicately just as you would a plum. The pluot's sweetness makes it a great ingredient for many cooking recipes. They make a great addition to any summer fruit salad.

The pluot can also be used as an ingredient in ice cream or yogurt, or in a sauce over pancakes. Many people add them to their breakfast cereals to sweeten them up. Blended pluots also work well in smoothies or in alcohol based drinks.

August 7, 2010

Plum Benefits

Plum is a fruit that is related to the family of peaches and cherries. It is one of those fruits that are rich in dietary fiber, which in turn proves effective in improving the digestive system. There are thousands of varieties of plums that are available throughout the world, ranging in colors like red, blue-black, purple, yellow, green or amber. Plums are believed to have originated in Asia and since then, they have been grown all over the world. The fresh and juicy taste of the plums makes it refreshing to eat them on a hot summer day! Dried plums, called prunes, are also quite delicious. To know about the immense health benefits and the nutritional value of plums, read on further.

Nutritional Value of Plums

Amount of Plum: 2
Total Weight of Plum: 66 g

Basic
Protein    0.52 g
Carbohydrates    8.59 g
Water    56.23 g
Ash    0.26 g

Calories
Total Calories    36.30
Calories from Fat    3.68
Calories from Saturated Fat    0.29

Fiber
Dietary Fiber0.99 g
Soluble Fiber0.55 g
Insoluble Fiber0.44 g

Sugar
Total Sugar    6.66 g
Monosaccharides    2.97 g
Disaccharides    1.98 g
Other Carbs    0.94 g

Fats
Total Fat    0.41 g
Saturated Fat    0.03 g
Mono Fat    0.27 g
Poly Fat    0.09 g

Vitamins
Vitamin A    213.18 IU
Vitamin A
Carotenoid    21.12 RE
Beta Carotene    126.72 mcg
Thiamin    0.03 mg
Riboflavin    0.06 mg
Niacin    0.33 mg
Niacin equiv    0.33 mg
Vitamin B6    0.05 mg
Vitamin C    6.27 mg
Vitamin E alpha equiv    0.40 mg
Vitamin E    0.59 IU
Vitamin E    0.57 mg
Folate    1.45 mg
Pantothenic Acid    0.12 mg

Minerals
Calcium    2.64 mg
Copper    0.03 mg
Iron    0.07 mg
Magnesium    4.62 mg
Manganese    0.03 mg
Phosphorous    6.60 mg
Potassium    113.52 mg
Selenium    0.33 mcg
Zinc    0.07 mg

Mono Fats
18:1 Oleic    0.26 g

Poly Fats
18:2 Linoleic    0.09 g

Other Fats
Omega 6 Fatty Acids    0.09 g

Amino Acids
Alanine    0.02 g
Arginine    0.01 g
Aspartate    0.16 g
Glutamate    0.02 g
Glysine    0.01 g
Histidine    0.01 g
Isoleucine    0.01 g
Leucine    0.01 g
Lysine    0.01 g
Phenylalanine    0.01 g
Proline    0.02 g
Serine    0.01 g
Threonine    0.01 g
Valine    0.01 g

Other Nutrients
Sugar Alcohol    0.93 g
Sorbitol    0.93 g
Organic Acids    827.64 mg
Citric Acid    22.44 mg
Malic Acid    805.20 mg

Nutrition Benefits of Eating Plums

  • Plums, even their dried form known as ‘prunes’, are high in unique phytonutrients called neochlorogenic and chlorogenic acid. Their function is that of an antioxidant and is of much benefit to the body.
  • Since plums are rich in antioxidants, they provide protection from superoxide anion radical and also prevent damage to our neurons and fats that form a part of our cell membranes.
  • Consumption of plums helps in the production and absorption of iron in the body, thus leading to better blood circulation, which further leads to the growth of healthy tissues.
  • Regular consumption of plums can prevent macular degeneration and any other infection of the eye, in the long run. Your eyes will be healthy and strong for long time and you can also retain a sharp eye-sight.
  • Researchers have found that plums have anti-cancer agents that may help prevent the growth of cancerous cells and tumors in the body.
  • Eating plums also reduces your chances of contracting a heart disease in the long run. Plums have certain cleansing agents that keep the blood pure and prevent complications of the heart.
  • Plums have high content of Vitamin C, which means that they help protect the body against health conditions like asthma, colon cancer, osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis.
  • Plum juice concentrate is effective in preventing and reducing human influenza A.

August 5, 2010

Pitomba

Pitomba, Eugenia luschnathiana, is the fruit of an evergreen shrub native to Brazil. The fruit is little known outside of Brazil, despite several attempts to grow the plant in areas other than its tropical home. Pitomba fruit is reminiscent of apricots  in shape, color, and flavor, although sometimes slightly more bitter in taste. Pitomba, like its relative, the surinam cherry, is also frequently used to provide a landscaping accent and appears in hedges, topiaries, and on its own.

The pitomba  shrub can grow up to 25 feet (7.5 meters) in height, although it is rarely allowed to attain this height by gardeners. It has long, glossy, dark green leaves that are somewhat paler underneath, and new growth has small bronze hairs on the underside of the leaves. The pitomba  shrub produces white to orange-yellow flowers that appear singly in late spring or early summer. In some areas, the pitomba  shrub may flower more frequently.

The pitomba fruit is round and orange in color, with creamy flesh. It may contain a pit, or two to three seeds. If the plant is given plenty of water and sufficient fertilizer, the pitomba fruit will be plump and juicy. The fruit generally reaches maturity in November or December, when it is used in jams, jellies, and other preserves by Brazilians. Pitomba is considered an acid fruit, and it can be resinous as well if picked too early.

Pitomba appears in the United States as a landscaping bush, and in some parts of Florida, it is cultivated for its fruit. The pitomba shrub is often used for produce topiary, because it can be easily trained into a pleasing form. Pitomba shrub is often chosen in coastal regions, because it has a salt tolerance and can grow in poor soil. The plant also matures rapidly, growing as much as 2 feet (2/3 meter) per year, and taking four to seven years to fruit, depending on fertilization and water supply. When pitomba is used for landscaping, the fruit needs to be collected to prevent volunteer growth.

Both flowers and fruit of the pitomba plant have a pleasant scent that is enhanced on warm tropical days. For this reason, it is frequently planted along walkways and near homes. The aromatic shrub has a small following in the United States, although it is hoped that at some point in the future, the plant will gain wider popularity, along with other little known tropical species.

The name pitomba is shared with a different type of South American plant, the Talisia esculenta. This tree, which can grow to over 30 feet (9 meters), produces round, brown fruit with a diameter of about 1.5 inches (4 cm). The fruit is eaten fresh, with a white pulp that has a sweet-sour taste.

August 4, 2010

The Health Benefits of Pineapple

Ananas comosus
Bromeliaceae
Common Names: Pineapple, Ananas, Nanas, Pina.

Related Species: Pina de Playon (Ananas bracteatus).

Distant affinity: Pingwing (Aechmea magdalenae), Pinguin (Bromelia pinguin), Pinuela (Karatas plumier).

Origin: The pineapple is native to southern Brazil and Paraguay where wild relatives occur. It was spread by the Indians up through South and Central America to the West Indies before Columbus arrived. In 1493 Columbus found the fruit on the island of Guadaloupe and carried it back to Spain and it was spread around the world on sailing ships that carried it for protection against scurvy. The Spanish introduced it into the Philippines and may have taken it to Hawaii and Guam early in the 16th Century. The pineapple reached England in 1660 and began to be grown in greenhouses for its fruit around 1720.

Adaptation: The pineapples is a tropical or near-tropical plant, but will usually tolerate brief exposures to 28° F. Prolonged cold above freezing retards growth, delays maturity and causes the fruit to be more acid. Pineapples are drought-tolerant and will produce fruit under yearly precipitation rates ranging from 25 - 150 in., depending on cultivar and location and degree of atmospheric humidity. They are successfully grown in southern Florida and coastal areas of southern California. The small plant adapts well to container and greenhouse culture and makes an interesting potted plant.

Pineapple is one of those foods that is heaven to eat. A good, juicy ripe pineapple can satisfy a sweet craving as well as any chocolate bar. In addition to being a delicious food, there are many health benefits of pineapple.

Pineapple is Loaded with Vitamins and Minerals
The obvious benefits of pineapple are all the vitamins and minerals the fruit is loaded with. Its nutrients include calcium, potassium, fiber, and vitamin C. In addition it is low in fat and cholesterol.

The benefits of pineapple can be achieved through eating fresh, canned, or frozen pineapple or by drinking its juice.

Pineapple Strengthens Bones
One of the benefits of pineapple is that it helps to build healthy bones. Pineapples are rich in manganese, a trace mineral that is needed for your body to build bone and connective tissues. Just one cup of pineapple provides 73% of the daily recommended amount of manganese. The benefits of pineapple can effect the growth of bones in young people and the strengthening of bones in older people.

Pineapple is Good for Colds and Coughs
While many people often take extra vitamin C or drink extra orange juice when they have a cold, few consider eating pineapple. The benefits of pineapple when you have a cold or cough are the same as the benefits of orange juice, but there is an additional benefit of pineapple. Bromelain, which is found in pineapples, has been found to help suppress coughs and loosen mucus.