africa

Coffea canephora - Canephora Coffee

BACKGROUND, ORIGIN AND DISTRIBUTION

Coffea canephora, otherwise known as Robusta coffee, is native to Central and Western Sub-Saharan Africa.  I took this photo in the Northern Caribbean Islands in Panama where we were planting it as a shaded understory intercrop to larger hardwoods and crown bearing fruit trees. . 

Native to the upland forests of Ethiopia, Coffea robusta was only recognized as a coffee species in 1897, almost 100 years after Coffea arabica.

Most Robusta coffee today is grown in Vietnam, where it was introduced by French colonists in the late 19th century. 

USES AND ETHNOBOTANY

40% of the coffee in the world is Robusta coffee. Robusta has a greater crop yield and more caffeine then Arabica coffee. This species is also less succeptible to pests and diseases then Arabica, therefore relying on less herbicide and pesticides in commercial cultivations. 

That Robusta coffee plants are less susceptible to pest and diseases begs the question of weather or not the plant may have more mycorrhizal associations with beneficial fungi, thereby improving overall resilience and health. 

PROPAGATION AND CULTIVATION

Coffee can be easily grown from seed. Seeds benefit from a light fermentation over a few days in their skin prior to germination. The pre-fermentation basically mimics the natural process that fruit goes through after it matures and drops to the ground in the tropics. After the light fermentation seeds can then be rinsed in clean water, removing any residual pulp. 

Coffee seedlings can often be found germinating around the base of a fruit bearing plant. Reportedly the plant has naturalized in a number of countries throughout the world including Borneo, French Polynesia, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Jamaica, and the Lesser Antilles.   

 

Coffea conifera fruit and leaf.

Coffea conifera fruit and leaf.

Coffea conifera unripe fruit.

Coffea conifera unripe fruit.

Adansonia digitata - Baobab, Muyu (Chonyu), Mbuyu (Swahili, Digo), Muramba (Embu)

The Baobab appears to be a somewhat disproportional tree, with a massive trunk and gnarled, twisting branches.

The fruit grow to around 25 cm long, with a hard oval shell and longitudinal grooves, like a football. The pod is packed with seeds embedded in an edible cream or white pulp.

The cream can be eaten raw, or alternatively dissolved in water and stirred into a milky paste, served as a drink. Coconut juice is commonly added. The seeds can be sifted off and roasted like groundnuts.

In times of famine the soft tuber-like root tips are cooked and eaten. Germinating seed roots are also eaten, and young leaves are used as a vegetable, often mixed with cassava leaves.

The pulp covered seeds are coated with colored sugar and sold as sweets in coastal towns in Kenya (where the tree is most common).

A. digitata is also employed as a plant medicine. A decoction of the bark is used to steam-bath infants with high fever. A juice made from the mashed pulp is drunk to treat fever.

This versatile tree also yields a fiber (taken from the trunk) used as string for weaving baskets and ropes. Strings are first stripped from the trunk, chewed for softening, then woven.

Adansonia digitata leaf.jpg

Trees are traditionally used for placing bee hives, assumedly due to the high quality honey produced with the pollen of its flowers.

In parts of Kenya it is believed that the appearance of new leaf growth or flowers is an indicator that the rainy season is going to start. Fallen trees provide a huge amount of biomass and decompose over time improving the soil quality significantly.

Adansonia digitata trunk.jpg

Perhaps more then any other tree in east Africa, this one is associated with complex myths, legends, and beliefs amongst peoples in areas where it grows. For instance: Young plants are never cut down, while large trees are never debarked (for sap or fiber) just before the onset of rainy season for fear that to do so would keep rain from falling. The Baobab is considered to be a sacred and peaceful tree. A cut in the tree is said to bleed like a human being. And in the region of Meru, there is a belief that a person will turn into the opposite sex if they walk in a circle around the tree with a goat.

The tree is easily propagated from seed. For higher germination rates seeds can be scarified or put in boiling water briefly and let to cool. Naturally a seed can take several years to find water and germinate. The tree is very slow growing and should not be planted near houses as lateral roots can reach lengths of a hundred m or more. A tree is said to begin producing fruit after 60 years, so plant one now!

In Kenya there are three distinct varieties, differing mostly in the degree of sweetness of the pulp and size of the seed. The shape of the trees and fruit will also vary.

Adansonia digitata tree.jpg

Chondrilla juncea - ampelosyrida (αμπελοσυρίδα) or glykosyrida (γλυκοσυρίδα)

ORIGIN AND DISTRIBUTION

The plant is native to Europe, Asia, and North Africa, but it is known throughout most temperate regions of the world as an introduced species which is usually considered a noxious weed.

USES AND ETHNOBOTANY

In the Greek island of Crete the leaves and the tender shoots of a local variety called ampelosyrida (αμπελοσυρίδα) or glykosyrida (γλυκοσυρίδα) are eaten raw or boiled in salads by the locals. The plant is also traditionally consumed by ethnic Albanians (Arbëreshë) in the Vulture area (southern Italy). Chondrilla juncea may have an anti-oxidant activity and some potential for medicinal use. XO-inhibiting activity shown by extracts of the aerial parts of the plant with potential benefits for hyperuricaemia and gout.

PROPAGATION AND CULTIVATION

In the wild the plant reproduces by seed but also by cloning itself at the root; tilling of soil and chopping up plants actually help this species disperse by sectioning and distributing root parts.

Reseda alba - white mignonette

BACKGROUND, ORIGIN AND DISTRIBUTION

Reseda alba flower in early spring, Kefalonia, Greece.

Reseda alba flower in early spring, Kefalonia, Greece.

Native to EuropeAsia, and North Africa, Rseda alba can be found in parts of the Americas and Australia as an introduced species. It is also cultivated as an ornamental plant for its spikelike racemes of fragrant white flowers. This is an annual or perennial herb growing up to a meter tall.

In Kefalonia, Greece the plant grows wild from fall through winter, then flowering in early spring.

USES AND ETHNOBOTANY

White mignonette is a sought after species of horta (wild edible greens) in parts of Greece. The leaves are pinched off and simmered in water for 10 min often mixed with other horta, then strained. Lemon juice and olive oil and a pinch of salt are added. The dish is eaten hot or at room temperature. The young inflorescence shoot is also edible. 

Reseda alba L. are considered to be healthy by being “good for the liver” and having blood-cleansing properties (Nebel et al. n.d.).

Reseda alba, edible leaf. 

Reseda alba, edible leaf. 

In the article Wild Gathered Food Plants in the European Mediterranean it is recorded that "The tops of the shoots are eaten raw seasoned with olive oil or after being cooked and then stir- fried with garlic and olive oil. In the literature, only two references to the use of R. alba as food were found. First, young leaves of R. alba were used as vegetable in Greece (Heldreich 1862) and, second, as salad by Greek farmers of the surroundings of Larnaca in Cyprus (Arnold Apostolides 1985)."

The article goes on... "both records are from regions of the Eastern Mediterranean, which were, in historic times, part of the Greek and Byzantine empires, as the Graecanic area in Southern Italy. For some plants from Greece (GR) and Gallicianò (I), cognates were detected, which suggests that they have been used as vegetables since pre- Roman times: “tsochos” (GR) and “zuccho” (I) for Sonchus asper L. & S. oleraceus L., or “andrakla” (GR) and “andrácla” (I) for Portulaca oleracea L. (see Table 2 and Nebel and Hein-rich n.d.)."

PROPAGATION AND CULTIVATION

I have only used this species when collected from the wild. It is used by some as a annual or perennial ornamental species, and seed can likely be obtained easily. On my land in Greece it tends to seed most aggressively in marginally fertile disrupted soils. 

References: Wild Gathered Food Plants in the European Mediterranean: A Comparative Analysis.... Available from: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/226642826_Wild_Gathered_Food_Plants_in_the_European_Mediterranean_A_Comparative_Analysis [accessed Mar 29 2018].

Agroforestry species database from the World Agroforestry Center

The World Agroforestry Center recently announced and released a new multi-database search engine, or switchboard for information on Agroforestry species.

The 13 websites the Switchboard links to include The Plant Resources for Tropical AfricaThe Useful Tree Species for AfricaTree Seed Suppliers DirectoryThe UNEP-WCMC Species Database,  and The VECEA interactive vegetation map. In addition to directly harnessing information from these 13, the switchboard also provides hyperlinks to The Plant List,  Tropicos,  Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, and The Global Biodiversity Information Facility.

The Switchboard’s main strength is that it shortens the time and energy spent on searches, and generates quality information drawn from trusted sources,” says Roeland Kindt, the senior ecologist at ICRAF who led the development of the tool. “Its creation was driven by a need expressed by users, for a “one-stop-shop” for good quality and detailed information on species of interest,” says Kindt.

Users can search for information in two ways:

– See more at: http://blog.worldagroforestry.org/index.php/2013/10/23/new-agroforestry-species-switchboard-means-easier-faster-access-to-quality-information/#sthash.o0d79nTR.dpuf

Amaranthus blitum - Purple Amaranth, Guernsey pigweed

ORIGIN AND DISTRIBUTION

Native to the Mediterranean Basin region, it is naturalized in other parts of the world, including much of eastern North America and Africa.

A. blithum grows in many regions of the world, most notably mediterranean, tropical and subtropical parts of the world. This species is found in central and western parts of Kenya in wet areas, on waste ground and in cultivated land. 

The Greeks call the Amaranthus blitum var. silvestrevlita (Modern Greek: βλίτα), and eat the leaves and the tender shoots cooked in steam or boiled and then served with olive oil, lemon and salt. Similarly, it is also picked as young shoots in Lebanon and cooked in olive oil, onion, chilli, and burghul, seasoned with salt and drizzled with lemon juice before eating with pita bread. It is considered a side dish and particularly popular in the north of Lebanon.

USES AND ETHNOBOTANY

Leaves and young shoots are used as a vegetable. This is an important leafy vegetable in tropical and subtropical areas of Kenya and a popular species in traditional homegardens and sold in open markets.

PROPAGATION AND CULTIVATION

The plant can be propagated easily by broadcast seeding. In favorable conditions it can become naturalized and is most likely considered invasive in some areas. But as a highly nutritious edible leafy green, perhaps that's not such a bad thing. 

Aerva lanata (L.) Schultes

BACKGROUND, ORIGIN AND DISTRIBUTION

Francisco Manuel Blanco (O.S.A.) -  Flora de Filipinas [...] Gran edicion [...] [Atlas II].  [1]

Francisco Manuel Blanco (O.S.A.) - Flora de Filipinas [...] Gran edicion [...] [Atlas II].[1]

Widespread in the tropics and subtropics of the world, from West Africa to Egypt and south to South Africa. Widespread in Kenya in open grassland, seasonally waterlogged areas, roadsides, forest edges and rocky areas. 

USES AND ETHNOBOTANY

Leaves are eaten as a vegetable in parts of East Africa (Giriama, Duruma, Chonyi).

Medicinally a decoction of the leaves is used for bating babies suffering from Malaria. The whole plant is also used as a chicken feed (Digo) and the white wool from the plant is used for stuffing pillows (Tharaka)

Cola nitida - Cola nitida, Cola nut, Abata cola, gbanja cola, goro cola, labozhi kola

ORIGIN AND DISTRIBUTION

C. acuminata is indigenous to Congo, Nigeria, and Gabon, while C. nitida (photographed above) occurs naturally in Ashanti, the Ivory Coast, and Sierra Leone.

USES, ETHNOBOTANY AND NUTRITION 

Cola nitida flower. 

Cola nitida flower. 

The seeds, or nuts, of Cola have been chewed since ancient times in West Africa for their stimulant properties. Cola nuts make up a very important product in regional West African markets. Historically, cola nut was also used to flavor cola soft drinks but are now largely supplanted by synthetic products. The embryo, seed, or “nut”, varies considerably in size and weight. A nut will typically contain 2 – 3 percent caffeine, to which the nuts stimulating effects are ascribed. Theobromine is also present in the nut in significant quantities.

Cola nitida seeds / fruit. 

Cola nitida seeds / fruit. 

As far as nutritional value, the cola nut is unimportant, as only small amounts are consumed. The nuts do, however, have some health benefits when used in moderation. Seed extracts are used to treat mental and physical fatigue, and are considered useful as a tonic (mild diuretic, secretion of gastric juices is stimulated). People suffering from ulcers or hypertension should restrict their intake of caffeine.

PROPAGATION AND CULTIVATION

Cola nitida germinates quickly from seed. The fresher the seed the better. As with many tropical species, seeds to not retain viability for very long.

Seedling leaves of Cola nitida.

Seedling leaves of Cola nitida.

When cultivated, the tree is typically managed below 10 m high, with long lateral branches, like cacao. Cola acuminata is considered secondary in masticatory quality to C. nitida.

I took the photos in this post at Summit Botanic Garden outside Panama City.

Two lesser known species are bamenda cola (C. anomala), and owé cola (C. verticilla)

Ensete ventricosum - Wild Banana, Ihindu (Kiduyu), Ikulutui (Kamba), Getembe (Maasai)

I took these photos of Ensete ventricosum growing in the understory of secondary forest in Kenya, E. Africa.

BACKGROUND, ORIGIN AND DISTRIBUTION

Ensete ventricosum 1.jpg

Ensete ventricosum, commonly known as the Ethiopian bananaAbyssinian bananafalse bananaenset or ensete, Like the domesticated banana, Ensete is technically classified as an herb, the largest herbaceous plant the world. E. ventricosum can grow up to 12 m in height. In Kenya the plant is widespread in the highland areas, both cultivated and growing wild. It can be found most commonly in the wild along streams in upland valleys, ravines, and on the lower slopes of mountains, typically between 1,000 – 2,400 m.

USES AND ETHNOBOTANY

The plant has been cultivated in Ethiopia for thousands of years where it is still considered to be one of the most important and widely cultivated root crops. The pseudostems, corms and stems of flowering branches are used to make a starchy product which is fermented in a pit and then made into a kind of pancake, bread, and porridge.

The Ensete pseudostem has medicinal uses, also used for animal fodder, shade, adornment, roof thatch, and dye. The seeds are used as beads for ornamentation.

PROPAGATION AND CULTIVATION

Ensete ventricosum in the wild in Kenya, E. Africa.

Ensete ventricosum in the wild in Kenya, E. Africa.

Ensete can be propgated from seed and corm division. 

“Enset provides more amount of foodstuff per unit area than most cereals. It is estimated that 40 to 60 ensete plants occupying 250-375 sq. meters can provide enough food for a family of 5 to 6 people.” – Country Information Brief, FAO

Ensete ventricosum 3.jpg

Hibiscus acetosella - Cranberry Hibiscus

Overview

Cranberry Hibiscus flower and leaf.

Cranberry Hibiscus flower and leaf.

Cranberry hibiscus, also known as False Roselle, is a member of the large and diverse Malvaceae family with botanical relatives such as Baobab (Adansonia spp.), cotton, okra, cacao (Theobroma spp.) and Durian (Durio spp.) among many others. Hibiscus is the largest genera in the Malvaceae family with over 300 species.

Cranberry hibiscus has bright red edible leaves and is nematode and insect resistant and grows well in sandy soil. The leaves can be eaten raw and have a somewhat tangy yet agreeable flavor, similar to sorel. The pink blossoms can be blended with citrus juice and sugar to make a brightly colored beverage. I use cranberry hibiscus raw primarily in mixed salads. The leaves do contain oxalic acid, thus should not be consumed regularly in massive quantities.

Origin

Native to East and Central Africa.

Propagation

Cranberry hibiscus can be propagated from either seeds or cuttings. Seedling plants tend to live longer and be more productive. Seeds can be sown any time of year in the tropics, or in early spring in a greenhouse in cooler climates. Germination is typically fast. Germinated seedlings can be transplanted to individual pots, or directly into the field if protected during initial establishment.