Aquatic or Wetland Layer

Permaculture Plants: Water Spinach, Kangkong, Ong Choy

Common Name: Water Spinach, Kangkong, River Spinach, Water Morning Glory, Ong Choy, Water Convolvulus, Swamp Cabbage
Scientific Name: Ipomoea aquatica
Family: Convolvulaceae (the Morning Glory or Bindweed family)

Ipomoea aquatica goes by many names around the world!

Ipomoea aquatica goes by many names around the world!

Water Spinach is a common vegetable in Asian cuisine.

Water Spinach is a common vegetable in Asian cuisine.

Common Names (I did the best I could considering I speak none of these languages!):

  • Bengali = kalmi shaak or kalami
  • Burmese = gazun ywet or kan-swun
  • Cantonese (Jyutping) = weng cai or tung coi or ong tsoi or ung coi  (sometimes transliterated as ong choy)
  • Chinese (Mandarin) = kōng xīn cài or toongsin tsai
  • Chinese (Hokkien) = eng ca
  • Dutch = waterspinazie
  • Filipino and Tagalog = kangkóng or cancong
  • Hindi = kalmua or kalmi or kalmisaag
  • Japanese = asagaona or ensai or kankon or kuushin sai or stuu sai
  • Khmer (in Cambodia) = trâkuön
  • Korean = kong sim chae or da yeon chae
  • Laotian = pak bong or bongz
  • Malay and Indonesian = kangkung or ballel
  • Thai = phak bung or pak hung or phak thotyot
  • Vietnamese = rau mung
Water Spinach has spinach-like leaves and hollow stems.

Water Spinach has spinach-like leaves and hollow stems.

Description:
My first experience with this plant was in the Asian supermarkets while I was living in Minnesota. I was very curious about it, but it took many trips before I got up the nerve to sample the bright green leaves. I had no idea what the vegetable was called, but it was quite good. It came as no surprise when I heard it called Water Spinach, as it really does taste like “regular” spinach; althought Water Spinach has a bit nuttier taste.

While the plants I normally highlight on this site are perennial and well suited to cool or cold climates, I do make exceptions for exceptional plants, and Water Spinach (or Kangkong) is one of them. It is common in Southeast Asia and grows with almost no care in many waterways. Unfortunately, because it grows so easily, it has been named an “invasive” in many parts of the United States. In warmer locations, it can be grown as a perennial. In cool to cold locations, it can be grown as an annual or as a greenhouse plant. It grows so fast and easily, and tastes so good, that I think everyone in a Temperate Climate should be growing this plant indoors in the Winters and outside in the Summers.

Ipomoea aquatica Forssk. 1775 - Wasserspinat - Water Spinach

Ipomoea aquatica Forssk. 1775 – Wasserspinat – Water Spinach

History:
Botanists are unsure where Water Spinach originated, but it likely came from somewhere in eastern India to Southeast Asia. It was first documented in 304 AD with the Chin Dynasty in China. Currently it is found throughout tropical and subtropical regions around the world, but is a common ingredient in Southeast Asian cuisine.

Red-Stemmed Water Spinach has pink to purple flowers.

Red-Stemmed Water Spinach has pink to purple flowers.

Trivia:

  • Water Spinach (Ipomoea aquatica) is closely related to Sweet Potatoes (Ipomoea batatas) and Common Morning Glories (Ipomoea purpurea)
  • Water Spinach has two major forms: Red-Stemmed (with pink to purple flowers) and White-Stemmed (with white flowers).
  • White-Stemmed Water Spinach as a number of cultivars that can roughly be categorized as long-leaf (or narrow-leaf), broad-leaf, white-stemmed (pak quat), green-stemmed (ching quat), etc. There is no formal classification that I can find.
  • Some consider the white-stemmed variety (pak quat) of the white-stemmed form as better tasting than others.
  • There is growing research showing that the red-stemmed form has more health benefits.
  • Each variety and cultivar has different culture characteristics as well… some can grow in moist soil, while others need to grow in water, and some can grow in both conditions.
  • Water Spinach grows fast… up to 4 inches (10 cm) in a day!
  • Water Spinach stems are hollow and can float.
  • Water Spinach will root at the nodes on the stem, and these roots can establish new plants if the stems break.
  • Water Spinach usually likes full sun, but can be a great herbaceous groundcover in very hot locations.
  • Water Spinach is considered an invasive weed in the United States. But almost no one is eating it!
    This dish looks amazing!

    Sambal Kangkong: This dish looks amazing!
    see recipes below…

    As does this one!

    As does this one!
    see recipes below…

USING THIS PLANT

Primary Uses:

  • Edible Shoots – typically only the young and tender shoots are eaten, usually cooked.
  • Edible Stems – typically only the young and tender stems are eaten, usually cooked. These stems are hollow and are crunchy when cooked. The stems require only a little bit longer cooking time than the leaves.
  • Edible Leaves – can be eated raw or cooked (stir-fried, sauteed, boiled, parboiled, etc.). The older leaves are more fibrous and are generally avoided. The leaves are used much like “regular” spinach in Western cuisines, but there are many Asian recipes that look delicious…
  • Recipes (I don’t normally list recipes, but since many Westerners are unfamiliar with this plant, I thought it would be a fun idea):
Water Spinach also makes great fodder!

Water Spinach also makes great fodder!

Secondary Uses:

  • General insect (especially bees) nectar plant
  • Ornamental Plant – beautiful flowers
  • Animal Fodder – older leaves and fibrous stems are used as animal feed in tropical climates. But in any area where this plant is growing too fast, it would make a great ancillary feed source.
  • Biomass Plant – the fast growing nature of this plant could allow it to be harvested and used as mulch or in compost

Yield: Variable.
Harvesting: Best harvested before flowering. Often harvested 30-60 days after sowing, depending on climate and culture – earlier if fully aquatic and later if semi-aquatic. Water Spinach can be harvested completely or in a cut-and-come-back-again manner – secondary shoots will form and grow. Harvest in the coolest part of the day to prevent moisture loss and wilting.
Storage: Water Spinach is very perishable… it does not store well. It only stores well in the refrigerator for about a day, but occasionally can make it 2-3 days. This is why we should grow our own!

Water Spinach does very well in hydroponic systems.

Water Spinach does very well in hydroponic systems.

Water Spinach can grow in dense mats.

Water Spinach can grow in dense mats.

DESIGNING WITH THIS PLANT

USDA Hardiness Zone: Zone 8-15 (as a perennial). Water Spinach does not do well where average temperatures drop below 50 F (10 C), and do much better when the temperature is between 68-86 F (20-30 C). For most of us living in a Temperate Climate, this means we will use Water Spinach as an annual or grow it in a greenhouse.
AHS Heat Zone: 12-6
Chill Requirement: Unlikely, but no reliable information is available.

Plant Type: Aquatic or Wetland Plant
Leaf Type: Perennial in warm climates. Annual or greenhouse plant in colder climates.
Forest Garden Use: Aquatic/Wetland Layer, Herbaceous Layer, Groundcover Layer
Cultivars/Varieties: There are a number of varieties available for this plant.

Pollination: Self-fertile
Flowering: Warmer months (usually Summer)

Life Span: No good information available. Considering that the plants grow so fast and can be propagated from cuttings so easily, an individual’s life span is likely irrelevant.

Top (white-stemmed, broad-leaf), Middle (green-stemmed, narrow/long leaf), Bottom (green-stemmed, broad leaf)

Top (white-stemmed, broad-leaf), Middle (green-stemmed, narrow/long leaf), Bottom (green-stemmed, broad leaf)

Some varieties of Water Spinach can be grown in moist soil conditions.

Some varieties of Water Spinach can be grown in moist soil conditions.

PHYSICAL CHARACTERISTICS OF THIS PLANT

Size: Up to 12 inches (30 cm) tall with trailing stems that are 7-10 feet (2-3 meters) long, but can get to almost 70 feet (21 meters)!
Roots: Fibrous. Stems can root at the nodes.
Growth Rate: Very fast

Water Spinach roots very well from cuttings.

Water Spinach roots very well from cuttings.

Geoff Lawton showing his floating island of Water Spinach.

Geoff Lawton showing his floating island of Water Spinach.

GROWING CONDITIONS FOR THIS PLANT

Light: Prefers full sun
Shade: Tolerates light shade
Moisture: Moist to wet soils or fully aquatic conditions (still or flowing waters)
pH: 5.5-7.0 (but it can tolerate a wide range of soil conditions)

Special Considerations for Growing:

  • If you live in a warmer climate, consider the fast-growing nature of this plant.
  • Since this is an aquatic or semi-aquatic plant, there is always the question of how to grow it in water. Briefly, the seedling or rooted cutting is placed in very wet soil. This can be “puddled soil” like a rice paddy or at the pond’s edge or in a floating island (like Geoff Lawton) and allowed to grow into the water from there. See Propagation section below.

Propagation:
Can be grown from seed, often soaked for 24 hours before sowing. Can be easily propagated from cuttings just below a node; Water Spinach freely roots at the node. One source explains that commercial operations will take cuttings approximately 12 inches (30 cm) in length (which will have 7-8 nodes) and plant them 6-7.5 inches (15-20 cm) deep.

Maintenance:
Minimal. You may need to keep it from spreading too much if you live in warmer locations. Harvesting for human and/or animal consumption is the best method, by far!

Concerns:

  • When eaten raw in Southeast Asia, there is a chance it can carry the parasite Fasciolopsis buski, the largest intestinal fluke in humans… it is best to cook it if in this area of the world!
  • Listed as an Invasive in many places, especially in the United States. It is illegal in some parts of the United States to even be in possession of it! Please check with your local state laws!

 

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Photo References:

  • http://www.payer.de/amarakosa/amara02760.jpg
  • http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/4/49/Ipomoea_aquatica.jpg
  • http://ppcdn.500px.org/7390354/1063ffb474cc139f6d212a214bc6a2ab8acf47a0/5.jpg
  • http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/c/c3/Ipomoea_aquatica_Nksw_1.jpg
  • http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/f/f1/Starr_080530-4636_Ipomoea_aquatica.jpg
  • http://farm1.staticflickr.com/171/418033533_e2804ad31a_o.jpg
  • http://www.lushplants.com.au/~lushplan/images/stories/virtuemart/product/kang-kong-ipomoea-aquatica.jpg
  • http://www.flickr.com/photos/manggy/2620247365/sizes/l/in/photostream/
  • http://farm9.staticflickr.com/8026/7385708312_df5c9346af_o.jpg
  • http://www.clovegarden.com/ingred/img/mg_ongwat01g.jpg
  • http://www.ecofilms.com.au/wp-content/uploads/2014/01/Permaculture-Fish-Pond-2.jpg
  • http://2.bp.blogspot.com/-dUbFZXFOcGk/T6PA59E9kYI/AAAAAAAAAOg/DI3YPQJvYZ4/s1600/IMG_0720.JPG
  • http://www.worldngayon.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/07/DSC_0331.jpg
  • http://lifestyle.inquirer.net/files/2012/05/t0531louie-cruz_feat2_2.jpg
  • http://blog.seasonwithspice.com/2012/05/malaysian-sambal-belacan-kangkung.html

 

Permaculture Plants: Willow

Common Name: Willows, Sallows, Osiers
Scientific Name: Salix species
Family: Salicaceae (the Willow family)

Selected Species (there are over 400 species!):

  • White Willow (Salix alba)
  • Weeping Willow (Salix babylonica)
  • Beaked Willow (Salix bebbiana)
  • Goat Willow (Salix caprea)
  • Coastal Plain or Carolina Willow (Salix caroliniana)
  • American or Pussy Willow (Salix discolor)
  • Gray Willow (Salix glauca)
  • Western Black or Goodding’s Willow (Salix gooddingii)
  • Pacific Willow (Salix lucida)
  • Yellow Willow (Salix lutea)
  • Chinese Willow (includes Corkscrew Willow) (Salix matsudana)
  • Black Willow (Salix nigra)
  • Laurel or Bay Willow (Salix pentandra)
  • Purple Osier or Purple Willow (Salix purpurea)
  • Common Osier or Basket Willow (Salix viminalis)
Willows can be shrubs or trees.

Willows can be shrubs or trees.
Salix nigra

Description:
There are over 400 species in the Salix genus that are commonly known as Willow or Osier. These are beautiful shrubs and trees that can be used to make baskets, crafts, fences, houses, tools, paper, string, charcoal, and medicine. It can be used to bioremediate soil and wetlands, control erosion, block the wind, and Willows can be coppiced over and over again. Willows are some of the most beneficial plants that can be used in Forest Gardening and Permaculture designs.

Willow04

Goat Willow (Salix caprea) on left & Common Osier or Basket Willow (Salix viminalis) on right

History:
The Willows are native to temperate and cold climates around the northern hemisphere and have been used for thousands of years for medicine, crafts, and building materials. Willows have been introduced all over the world and continues to be important plants.

Trivia:

  • Willow has been used for treating fever and pain from at least 2,000 BC as referenced on Egyptian paparyi. Likely it was used far earlier than that. Hippocrates referenced it in 400 BC. It was not until 1897 that Bayer first started producing Aspirin based on an extraction technique developed by the French chemist Charles Gerhardt.
  • There are a number of dwarf or creeping Willows species found around the world. Many of these plants are very low growing and capable of living in very cold climates… including artctic!
  • Cricket bats are traditionally made from a special variety of White Willow (Salix alba) called ‘Caerulea’.
  • Willow Water – There has been a lot written on using Willow stems/twigs to help root cuttings from other plants. There is some truth to this, but it is not a magic bullet. The reason for this is that Willow contains both salicylic acid and auxins. Salycylic acid reportedly prevents pathogen growth – meaning it will stop fungus and other microorganisms from attacking the cutting. Auxins are a family of plant hormones that stimualte root growth. The research shows that the most success is seen when using 50-100 six-inch new Willow stems or new Willow shoots and soaking them in 1 gallon (3.75 liters) of water for 4-6 weeks. The water is strained and used to soak cuttings from other plants to induce/speed rooting. Cuttings of other plants are placed in a container with the Willow water (like flowers in a vase).
Basketry and crafts are a common use for Willow

Basketry and crafts are a common use for Willow

Harvesting Willow for production.

Harvesting Willow for production.

Here is a great photoessay on Willow from The Guardian.

USING THIS PLANT

Primary Uses:

  • Branches – Willow branches can be woven for baskets, wicker, wattle, etc.
  • Wood – Willow wood can be used for boxes, brooms, furniture, crafts, tools, etc.
  • Fiber – a fiber from the wood can be used to make paper, string, rope, etc.
  • Ornamental Plant – many species (and varieties) are used around the world as ornamental plants
Willows are commonly used as ornamentals... it is easy to see why.

Willows are commonly used as ornamentals… it is easy to see why.

Secondary Uses:

  • General insect (especially bees) nectar plant
  • Coppice Plant – Willows can be coppiced often (as frequently as every 2-5 years). The frequency of coppicing will depend on the size of branch desired and the speed of growth.
  • Charcoal Plant – Willow is used for cooking and art charcoal
  • Erosion Control Species – the extensive root system helps stabilize soils prone to erosion
  • Pioneer Plant – helps reestablish overused or damaged land
  • Windbreak Species – this plant can be used to block, or break the path, of wind. Martin Crawford recommends using Willow as a windbreak on the eastern side of the property, because it leafs out early in the Spring and loses leaves early in Autumn.
  • Hedgerow Species
  • Bioremediation/Phytoremediation Plant – Willow is used as part of biological filtration systems to clean and purify contaminated water, often as part of a constructed wetland. This can be part of a home gray water system as well.
  • Biomass Plant – very fast growing plant can produce large amounts of organic matter in a short time. This has been used on a commercial level for energy production in Sweden and the U.K.
  • Wildlife Shelter – mainly birds and small mammals
  • Medicinal Plant – Willow has a long history of of medicinal uses, and is the origin of one of the first “modern” medicines, Aspirin
  • Food Plant – the inner bark can be dried, ground into a powder, and mixed with other flours. It is reportedly bitter with a poor flavor and is considered a famine food… but it is food. Young shoots can also be eaten… also a famine food.

Yield: Variable.
Harvesting: Willow branches are typically harvested when the plant is dormant and the leaves have fallen.

Willow has a long history of being coppiced.

Willow has a long history of being coppiced.

This coppiced hedge of Willow is a windbreak as well.

This coppiced hedge of Willow is a windbreak as well.

DESIGNING WITH THIS PLANT

USDA Hardiness Zone:

  • White Willow (Salix alba): Zone 2-9
  • Weeping Willow (Salix babylonica): Zone 5-9
  • Beaked Willow (Salix bebbiana): Zone 3
  • Goat Willow (Salix caprea): Zone 5-9
  • Coastal Plain or Carolina Willow (Salix caroliniana): Zone 7
  • American or Pussy Willow (Salix discolor): Zone 4-8
  • Gray Willow (Salix glauca): Zone – Cool to cold climates
  • Western Black or Goodding’s Willow (Salix gooddingii): Zone 7
  • Pacific Willow (Salix lucida): Zone 2
  • Chinese Willow (includes Corkscrew Willow) (Salix matsudana): Zone 4-9
  • Black Willow (Salix nigra): Zone 4
  • Laurel or Bay Willow (Salix pentandra): Zone 5
  • Purple Osier or Purple Willow (Salix purpurea): Zone 4-7
  • Common Osier or Basket Willow (Salix viminalis): Zone 4

AHS Heat Zone:

  • White Willow (Salix alba): Zone 9-1
  • Weeping Willow (Salix babylonica): Zone 9-1
  • Goat Willow (Salix caprea): Zone 9-5
  • American or Pussy Willow (Salix discolor): Zone 8-2
  • Black Willow (Salix nigra): Zone 9-4 (maybe colder)
  • Purple Osier or Purple Willow (Salix purpurea): Zone 7-1

Chill Requirement: Likely considering where this plant originates, but as this is not really a food plant, so this is not that important for us… and yes, I know that this can be a famine food.

Plant Type: Small Shrub to Large Tree
Leaf Type: Deciduous
Forest Garden Use: Canopy Layer, Sub-Canopy Layer, Shrub Layer, Aquatic/Wetland Layer
Cultivars/Varieties: There are a large number of species and varieties available.

Pollination: Dioecious (there are male and female plants). Pollinated primarily by bees.
Flowering: April-May (as early as January in some climates!)

Life Span:

  • Years of Useful Life: 40-75 years on average. Coppicing will greatly increase the life span. If you have a large planting of Willow, an individual tree’s life span is not that important, because it easily sends up suckers.
Willow 09

Willow has male and female plants, each with their own flower.

Weeping W

Weeping Willow (Salix babylonica) on left and Black Willow ((Salix nigra) on right

Willow bark

Willow bark

PHYSICAL CHARACTERISTICS OF THIS PLANT

Size:

  • White Willow (Salix alba): 82-100 feet (25-30 meters) tall and 32 feet (10 meters) wide
  • Weeping Willow (Salix babylonica): 39 feet (12 meters) tall and wide
  • Beaked Willow (Salix bebbiana): 23 feet (7 meters) tall
  • Goat Willow (Salix caprea): 32 feet (10 meters) tall and 26 feet (8 meters) wide
  • Coastal Plain or Carolina Willow (Salix caroliniana): 32 feet (10 meters) tall
  • American or Pussy Willow (Salix discolor): 20 feet (6 meters) tall and 15 feet (4 meters) wide
  • Gray Willow (Salix glauca): 4-20 feet (1.2-6 meters) tall
  • Western Black or Goodding’s Willow (Salix gooddingii): 32 feet (10 meters) tall
  • Pacific Willow (Salix lucida): 26 feet (8 meters) tall
  • Yellow Willow (Salix lutea): 82 feet (25 meters) tall and 32 feet (10 meters) wide
  • Chinese Willow (includes Corkscrew Willow) (Salix matsudana): 60 feet (18 meters) tall
  • Black Willow (Salix nigra): 39 feet (12 meters) tall
  • Laurel or Bay Willow (Salix pentandra): 32 feet (10 meters) tall
  • Purple Osier or Purple Willow (Salix purpurea): 16 feet (5 meters) tall and wide
  • Common Osier or Basket Willow (Salix viminalis): 19 feet (6 meters) tall and 13 feet (4 meters) wide

Roots: Fibrous, extensive on the surface and running deep. Readily sends up suckers.  UPDATE: While I have found a few sources that state Willow roots run deep, this information is in conflict with the “in the field” experience of reputable Permaculturists (like Geoff Lawton) who routinely recommend Willow and Bamboo for planting on dam/pond walls due to these plants having fibrous, stabilizing root systems that do NOT run deep. As you can see in the comments below, I think I will side with Geoff Lawton’s opinion on this.
Growth Rate: Fast

Willow loves the water's edge Black Willow (Salix nigra)

Willow loves the water’s edge and can tolerate periodic flooding with no problem.
Black Willow (Salix nigra)

Willow is one of the first trees to leaf out and flower in the Spring, making one of the main early food sources for bees.

Willow is one of the first trees to leaf out and flower in the Spring, making one of the main early food sources for bees.

GROWING CONDITIONS FOR THIS PLANT

Light: Prefers full sun
Shade: Tolerates moderate shade
Moisture: Moist to very wet soils. Can tolerate intermitent standing water (flooding) and wetland areas.
pH: 4-7 (tolerates a wide range of soil conditions, but does not really like alkaline soils)

Special Considerations for Growing:

  • Willow is fast growing and relatively short-lived.
  • It is recommended to avoid planting Willow too close to a building as the roots may spread and disturb the foundation.
  • Most species have relatively weak wood that is can break in strong winds, although because it is fast growing and forms a lot of branches and leaves quickly, it is still a good windbreak plant.

Propagation:
Most easily grown from cuttings taken at anytime of the year – just stick it in the ground! Very easy. Willow can also be propagated from seed. Willow seed has a short viability life.

Maintenance:
Cutting back suckers to prevent spread is occasionally needed. Browsing animals (deer, goats, etc.) will eat these suckers if allowed.

Concerns:

  • Some people consider Willow invasive due to the suckers it puts up and the ease of producing a new tree from just a single twig that has been buried. This is also what makes it so good for site rehabilitation as a pioneer species.
  • The extensive root system can undermine foundations or underground lines/pipes, so only plant Willow in places that this is not going to be a problem.
A beautiful Willow in Autumn

A beautiful Willow in Autumn

 

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Photo References:

  • http://akoeneny.files.wordpress.com/2010/04/weeping_willow_by_vivastock.jpg
  • http://www.yvts.com/images/willow%201.jpg
  • http://essitolling.files.wordpress.com/2012/04/willow-tree.jpg
  • http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/c/c8/Illustration_Salix_caprea0.jpg
  • http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/a/a2/Cleaned-Illustration_Salix_viminalis.jpg
  • http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/1/15/-_Willow’s_Bark_01_-.jpg
  • http://www.cas.vanderbilt.edu/bioimages/biohires/s/hsani–brlarge13585.jpg
  • http://www.cas.vanderbilt.edu/bioimages/biohires/s/hsaca5-lf33828.jpg
  • http://www.cas.vanderbilt.edu/bioimages/biohires/s/hsaba2-lf29624.jpg
  • http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/2/28/Salix_caprea_Male.jpg
  • http://farm4.staticflickr.com/3626/3381880447_271529e0fa_o.jpg
  • http://www.backyardnature.net/n/09/090316w1.jpg
  • http://www.backyardnature.net/n/09/090316w2.jpg
  • http://3.bp.blogspot.com/_8OH0U312vu4/TDNj3EHNnrI/AAAAAAAAB5s/qlyG6cjNqF0/s1600/2010_06_20.jpg
  • http://greghumphries.files.wordpress.com/2010/12/dscf0004.jpg
  • http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/8/8a/Bourgoyen_knotted_willow_and_woodpile.jpg
  • http://www.friedmanphoto.com/data/photos/57_1glowing_autumn_willows_1800.jpg

 

 

 

 

Permaculture Plants: Mayhaw

Common Name: Mayhaw, May Hawthorn, Apple Hawthorn,
Scientific Name: Crataegus aestivalis and Crataegus opaca
Family: Rosaceae (the Rose, Apple, Peach, and Plum family)
Common Species:

  • Eastern Mayhaw (Crataegus aestivalis)
  • Western Mayhaw (Crataegus opaca)
Mayhaw harvest!

Mayhaw harvest!

Description:
The Mayhaw is a large shrub or small tree that is native to the lowlands and wetlands of the Deep South of the U.S. It is most well known for the coral-colored jelly made from the small red berries. It can also be used as a windbreak, an erosion control and pollution-tolerant plant, and it is drought and flood-tolerant. While it prefers full sun, it can grow in the shade as an understory plant. On top of that, it is a rather beautiful tree. Now, it does have a narrow natural range, but considering its tolerance, adaptability, and its ease of hybridization with other Hawthorn species, this is a tree that is just waiting for development into other growing areas. If you live close to its natural range, then this is an ideal plant for you. If you are within its USDA Zone, this may be a great plant with which to experiment.

Crataegus aestivalis

Crataegus aestivalis

History:
Native to the Deep South of the United States, Mayhaw has not been the most popular fruit. Native Americans did use this plant on occasion, but likely due to their thorns and propensity to grow on the water’s edge or wetlands in swamps (hard locations to harvest small fruit), the Mayhaw never gained the notoriety as other native fruiting trees and shrubs. However, once settlers began to populate these bayous and swamps, they developed many uses for the wild fruit. Almost 40 years ago James Sherwood Akin, a retired Louisiana merchant who was an avid gardener and amateur botanist,  transplanted a single Mayhaw seedling from the wild and developed an orchard of over 1,000 trees. He continued his work until he died in 2007, at the age of 89. His work attracted the attention of Louisiana State University and the Louisiana Agricultural Experiment Station. Because of Sherwood and the knowledge he gained and shared, there are a number of commercial operations and a growing hobby market for the Mayhaw. He is known as the man who brought the Mayhaw out of the swamp and into the orchard.

Trivia:

  • Older flowers can smell a bit like rotten fish.
  • There are over 800 species of Hawthorn in North America. Only the early ripening species in the southern U.S. (placed in the Aestivales series) are called Mayhaws. It is unknown how many Mayhaw species there are, because Hawthorns can easily hybridize.
The classic way to use the fruit... Mayhaw Jelly!

The classic way to use the fruit… Mayhaw Jelly!

Harvesting Mayhaws.

Harvesting Mayhaws.

Here is an article about the Robertson Family (from Duck Dynasty) and their love of Mayhaw Jelly!

USING THIS PLANT

Primary Uses:

  • Edible Fruit – I have seen Mayhaw Jelly for sale when I was living in Panhandle of Florida. I passed on it because, at the time, I thought it was too expensive. Now that I understand the rarity of this Southern specialty, I wish I would have bought a jar or three! I’ll get the chance again soon enough. My advice, and my mindset now, is to try anything at least once. Then I will never regret never having missed the opportunity to taste something unique.
    • Raw – while edible, it is rather bland. Most people don’t eat it as a fresh fruit. However, there are some newer varieties that have been developed for fresh eating
    • Preserved – By far, this is the most common use. The coral-colored Jams or Jelly is a specialty in the South (U.S.). Mayhaw Butter (like apple butter) is also fairly popular.
    • Cooked – used in sauces and savory meals
    • Baked – used in pastries, tarts, pies, etc.
    • Fruit Leather
    • Primary or Secondary flavoring for Beers, Wines, Liquors, Cordials, etc. Mayhaw Wine and Brandy are becoming more popular in the South.

Secondary Uses:

  • Ornamental Plant – Mayhaw has attractive foliage, showy blossoms, and clusters of bright fruit
  • Beneficial Insect and Butterfly Plant – this plant has foliage that attracts butterflies and is said to be of benefit to native bee populations, but I can find no specifics on the species of butterfly or bees that use this tree.
  • Wildlife Food Plant for birds and mammals – Birds and small mammals eat the fruit. White-tailed Deer browse on this tree.
  • Shelter Plant for birds – the thorny nature makes this a great shelter
  • Coppice Plant – While it is listed as a plant that can be coppiced, although I can find no good information on this subject.
  • Wood – very strong and heavy. Used for tool handles and mallets.
  • Erosion Control Plant – root system helps stabilize soils prone to erosion, especially for stream bank or water’s edge stabilization projects
  • Windbreak Species – While not fast growing, this plant can withstand high winds
  • Pollution-Tolerant Plant – often grown in areas with high pollution; can be used to help filter the air
  • Drought-Tolerant Plant – this species can tolerate prolonged dry conditions once established
  • Flood-Tolerant Plant – this species can tolerate very wet conditions

Yield: Extremely variable based on wild-type, variety, age, and size
Harvesting: Late April-May. Fruit should be allowed to ripen on the tree. It will fall on its own or when the tree is shaken. If the tree is entirely on land, then harvesting is typically done with sheets or canvas laid out; then the tree is shaken, and the fruit is easily harvested. If the tree overhangs the water, then the tree can be shaken, and the floating fruit is easily harvested with nets downstream.
Storage: Rarely used fresh. Processed soon after harvest.

Mayhaw is one of the first bloomers in the Spring.

Mayhaw is one of the first bloomers in the Spring.

Beautiful Mayhaw flowers.

Beautiful Mayhaw flowers.

DESIGNING WITH THIS PLANT

USDA Hardiness Zone: 6-11
AHS Heat Zone: No reliable information, but the natural distribution of Mayhaw places it in AHS Heat Zone 9-8
Chill Requirement: Likely considering where this plant originates, but no reliable information is available. One report places it “south of the 1,000 hour chill line”.

Plant Type: Small-Sized Tree or Large Shrub
Leaf Type: Deciduous
Forest Garden Use: Sub-Canopy Layer, Shrub Layer, Wetland Layer
Cultivars/Varieties: There are a number of improved varieties (these are actually wild-found trees that have been propagated).

Pollination: Requires cross-pollination; pollinated by midges and flies.
Flowering: Early Spring (March-April)

Life Span:

  • Years to Begin Fruiting: 5-8 years
  • Years of Useful Life: Trees can live for over 50 years.
Mayhaw leaves

Mayhaw leaves

Mayhaw fruit is almost ripe and ready to harvest.

Mayhaw fruit is almost ripe and ready to harvest.

PHYSICAL CHARACTERISTICS OF THIS PLANT

Size: 25-30 feet (7.6-9.1 meters) tall and wide
Roots: No reliable information other than multiple sources state “surface roots are usually not a problem”. Since there is no specific mention of it having a taproot (taprooted plants are usually noted), then it likely has a broad or heart-shaped fibrous root pattern. Considering that these plants can be moderately drought-tolerant, then the roots are likely not all at the surface.
Growth Rate: Slow to Medium

Watch for the thorns on this plant - Herbarium specimen from University of North Carolina

Watch for the thorns on this plant – Herbarium specimen from University of North Carolina

Mayhaw is a beautiful and useful plant!

Mayhaw is a beautiful and useful plant!

GROWING CONDITIONS FOR THIS PLANT

Light: Prefers full sun
Shade: Tolerates moderate shade, but more shade usually means less fruit
Moisture: Dry to wet soils. Can tolerate very wet soils if they will drain, and it is moderately drought-tolerant once established.
pH: 5.1-7.0

Special Considerations for Growing:
This is a relatively worry-free plant as it is considered to have “superior disease resistance”. All Hawthorn species tolerate juglone (natural growth inhibitor produced by Black Walnut and its relatives) as it is often seen growing in close proximity.  Consider using this tree as a buffer between your walnuts and other plantings.

Propagation:
I found one source that stated most Mayhaws seed will grow true to type almost all the time… this means that a seed from one plant will grow a plant which will produce fruit just like its mother. This is not true with a number of fruit trees like apples, pears, cherries, etc. This is great news for us as it simplifies propagation. Mayhaw can be propagated from seed – needs 12 weeks cold stratification for germination (the natural overwintering), but germination can take up to 18 months. This is a seed that is best to plant in Autumn immediately from ripe fruit as this will recreate the ideal conditions for germination. Softwood cuttings, hardwood cuttings, and root cuttings are also possible.

Maintenance:
Minimal. Annual pruning in Winter to open the canopy can increase fruit production.

Concerns:

  • Thorns!
  • Poisonous – Considering its Family, there is a good chance that the leaves and seeds contain a precursor to cyanide (large amounts need to be eaten for this to be toxic), but I can find no good information on this.

 

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Photo References:

  • http://www.mayhaw.org/images/03e95f83b297bd5069bc42f6abcc9e85_4zi7.jpg
  • http://www.mayhaw.org/images/9bdfc409280d19245e9e727c84e4b343.jpg
  • http://www.mayhaw.org/images/d86db54ebc0cfe36ec0ef0c237b15da7.jpg
  • http://www.mayhaw.org/LMA_Photo_Galleries.php
  • http://4.bp.blogspot.com/_hbAUn-lQ-qM/TMTVpvyZEoI/AAAAAAAAAEA/kgiu-tNWo9I/s1600/IMG_0460.JPG
  • http://texasjellymaking.files.wordpress.com/2011/04/dsc_0070.jpg
  • http://bayou-diversity.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/07/Mayhaw-1edited.jpg
  • http://2.bp.blogspot.com/_hja4NT5DtE4/S-xn35Ic5nI/AAAAAAAAABc/9f1Acz5wYdU/s1600/Maddie,+Mason,+Mayhaw+017.JPG
  • http://plantillustrations.org/illustration.php?id_illustration=48337
  • http://gardeningsolutions.ifas.ufl.edu/mastergardener/outreach/plant_id/images/fruits/mayhaw_foliage.jpg
  • http://www.ibiblio.org/botnet/flora/images/Crataegus_aestivalis_512703.jpg

Permaculture Plants: Cattail, Bulrush, or Reedmace

Common Name: Cattail, Bulrush, Reedmace, Catninetail, Cumbungi, Raupo
Scientific Name: Typha species
Family: Typhaceae (a large marsh herb family)

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The classic wetland plant… a perfect permaculture plant!

Common Species (well, all of them, give or take one or two due to quibbling over nomenclature):

  • Narrow Leaf Cattail,  Lesser Bulrush, Small Reedmace, or Jambu (India) (Typha angustifolia)
  • Cape Bulrush (Typha capensis), only found in Southern Africa
  • Asian species with no common English name (Typha davidiana)
  • Bulrush, Southern Cattail, Narrow-Leaved Cumbungi (Australia) (Typha domingensis)
  • Common Cattail, Reedmace (Typha latifolia)
  • Laxman’s Bulrush (Typha laxmannii), likely the same species as Typha bungeana
  • Dwarf Bulrush (Typha minima)
  • Broadleaf Cumbungi (Australia), Raupo (New Zealand) (Typha orientalis) probably the same plant as Shuttleworth’s Bulrush (Typha shuttleworthii)
  • White Cattail (Typha x glauca) – this is a hybrid of T. angustifolia x T. latifolia
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One of the best bioremediation (water filter and such) plants on Earth.
These systems can be very intricate…

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…or less so (and less attractive!), but the Cattails don’t care, and the water is still cleaned.

Description:
Whether they are called Cattails, Bulrush, Reedmace, Cumbungi, or another local name, few people are unfamiliar with their local Typha species. This common wetland plant is one of the most versatile elements a Permaculturist can add to a land design. Most parts are edible and have been used as such for thousands of years. Animals utilize this plant for food and shelter. The leaves and stems can thatch a roof, make paper, or fuel a fire as charcoal… to name but of few of many uses. This fast growing plant is also one of the best wetland water filters on Earth. This plant should be strongly considered for any water feature you have!

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Typha species

History:
Native and widespread around the Northern Hemisphere, from just below the Arctic to the Tropics. It has been used as food, fuel, fiber, and medicine by indigenous people in these areas. It has been introduced to many new locations around the globe, and it continues to be used in many ways around the world but most commonly as either a decorative wetland plant or as a natural water filter species.

Trivia:

  • Typha × glauca – this is a hybrid cattail (T. angustifolia × T. latifolia) and is the White Cattail which is typically sterile… not a bad choice if you are concerned about spread by seed. This plant will still expand through rhizome (root) expansion.
  • Evidence of preserved starch grains on grinding stones suggests they were eaten in Europe 30,000 years ago (from Wikipedia)
  • Pulp of the Common Cattail can be used to make rayon, although wood pulp is the most common source of this semi-synthetic fiber
  • Rush Lights are a type of candle made by soaking the dried pith (inner core) of Cattail (aka “Rush”) stalks in household fat or grease; traditionally bacon fat was most common, but sheep fat was also used since it dried to a harder consistency. Beeswax was often added to make the candle burn longer
  • Pollen from Cattails is used in fireworks production
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The immature male flowers are edible and many consider it a delicacy.

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They can be cooked and eaten right off the core, or scraped off and used in many ways.

Here is one method of cooking flower spikes from Wendy Petty: http://hungerandthirstforlife.blogspot.pt/2010/06/wild-about-cattail-flowers.html

USING THIS PLANT

Primary Uses:

  • Ornamental Plant – used in water gardens and even florist’s displays
  • Edible Roots – raw or cooked. Can be treated like potatoes.
  • Edible Shoots – young shoots can be used raw or cooked, like a cucumber-tasting asparagus (known as “Cossack Asparagus” due to their popularity with Ukranians and Russians); peel the outer layers and use the heart, ideally used before they become fibrous
  • Edible Stems – just the base, peel back the outer stem. This is the only part of this plant I have eaten so far. It was quite palatable to a 10 year old boy swimming in a pond in south Florida!
  • Edible Flower Spike – only the immature male flower spike, used raw or cooked, reportedly tastes like sweet corn
  • Edible Seed – raw or cooked, but difficult to harvest and use, but some do. An oil can be obtained from the seeds
  • Edible Pollen – raw or cooked, high in protein, added to soups as a thickener or flours as an additive
  • Flour – roots and seeds can be dried and ground into a flour. This flour can be added to cereal flours for bread making. The flour can be used as a thickening agent in soups, stews, and sauces.
  • Syrup – roots are chopped up and boiled which yields a sweet syrup

Secondary Uses:

  • General insect (especially bees) pollen plant
  • Wildlife Shelter – small mammals, birds, insects, fish (especially juvenile fish), crustaceans, etc.; birds will use the “hairs” on the fruit to line their nests
  • Wildlife Food – many animals will eat the seeds, but especially birds
  • Bioremediation Plant – beds of Cattails can be used as part of a biological filtration system to clean and purify contaminated water, often as part of a constructed wetland. This can be part of a home gray water system as well.
  • Biomass Plant – very fast growing plant can produce large amounts of organic matter in a short time
  • Fuel Plant – the dried stems and leaves can be used directly as fire fuel or to make charcoal (see the first video on this page from an MIT professor)
  • Thatch Plant – used to make thatched roofs
  • Fiber Plant – from stems, leaves, and flowers, used to make paper, mats, hats, chairs, baskets, etc.
  • Tinder Plant – the female flowers have been used as tinder to start fires
  • Other uses – the hairs of the fruits are used to stuff pillows, diapers, and wound dressings; the flowering stems can be dried and used as insulation

Yield: Variable, in one study, 2.5 acres (1 hectare) produced 8 tons (16,000 lbs or 7,250 kg) of flour from the roots.
Harvesting: One report states the roots are best when harvested in Autumn through to Spring. Shoots are harvested in Spring until 20 inches (50 cm) tall. The leaves can be harvest year-round, but typically less in the Spring when rapid growth is underway.
Storage: Use within a few days fresh. The roots and seeds can be dried and stored whole or ground into flour. Flour does not store as long as whole seeds or roots.

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The rhizomes (type of root) grow and allow the plant to spread… and they are edible!

DESIGNING WITH THIS PLANT

USDA Hardiness Zone: 2-12

  • Narrow Leaf Cattail,  Lesser Bulrush (Typha angustifolia): Zone 3-11
  • Bulrush, Southern Cattail (Typha domingensis): Zone 5-11
  • Common Cattail, Reedmace (Typha latifolia): Zone 2-11
  • Laxman’s Bulrush (Typha laxmannii): Zone 4
  • Dwarf Bulrush (Typha minima): Zone 6
  • White Cattail (Typha x glauca): Zone 3-11 (probably Zone 2 as well)

AHS Heat Zone: 12-1
Chill Requirement: Unlikely.

Plant Type: Herbaceous Wetland Plant
Leaf Type: Deciduous
Forest Garden Use: Aquatic/Wetland Layer
Cultivars/Varieties: There are a number of species and varieties available

Pollination: Self-fertile – these plants are considered monoecious... a single plant will have both male and female flowers. The male flowers (staminate) are at the top, and they wither away after they release their pollen. The female flowers, produced in large number and make up the classic sausage-shaped structure on the Cattail, are located just below the male flowers. Pollinated by the wind.
Flowering: Summer

Life Span:

  • Years to Begin Fruiting: 2 years
  • Years to Maximum Fruiting: 3-4 years
  • Years of Useful Life: No good information available as we typically harvest bulbs and eat them. Considering that the plants can be propagated from bulb division, an individual’s life span is likely irrelevant.
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The male flowers are the source of pollen… which is also edible!

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Cattail pollen pancakes… I can’t wait to try these… they are gluten-free, too!

Another couple links to recipes using cattail pollen:
http://www.greatnorthernprepper.com/foraging-cattails/
http://hungerandthirstforlife.blogspot.pt/2010/06/wild-about-cattail-pollen.html

PHYSICAL CHARACTERISTICS OF THIS PLANT

Size:

  • Narrow Leaf Cattail,  Lesser Bulrush (Typha angustifolia): 3-6 feet (0.9-1.8 meters) tall
  • Cape Bulrush (Typha capensis): 3.25 feet (1 meter) tall
  • Asian species (Typha davidiana): 3.25 feet (1 meter) tall
  • Bulrush, Southern Cattail (Typha domingensis): 6-9 feet (1.8-2.7 meters) tall
  • Common Cattail, Reedmace (Typha latifolia): 5-10 feet (1.5-3 meters) tall. Will grow in water depth of 2-3 feet (0.75-1 meters).
  • Laxman’s Bulrush (Typha laxmannii): 5 feet (1.5 meters) tall
  • Dwarf Bulrush (Typha minima): 1-3 feet (30-90 cm) tall
  • Broadleaf Cumbungi (Typha orientalis): 9-13 feet (2.7-4 meters) tall
  • White Cattail (Typha x glauca): 3-9 feet (0.9-2.7 meters) tall

Roots: Rhizomes, new shoots will develop from the spreading rhizome layer
Growth Rate: Fast

Cattails02

The fruit of the Cattail is composed of these soft hairs which have been used to stuff pillow, start fires, and line birds’ nests.

Cattails14

Rushlights are candles made by soaking the dried pith (inner core) of Cattail (aka “Rush”) stalks in household fats. They were so common at one time that special holders were made specifically for them… these are now considered antiques.

GROWING CONDITIONS FOR THIS PLANT

Light: Prefers full sun
Shade: Does not like shade
Moisture: Wet, boggy soils to fully aquatic conditions.
pH: tolerates a very wide range of soil conditions

Special Considerations for Growing:
This is a fast growing plant. Some consider it invasive. However, at least one species is native to most parts of the world. Just be wise in where you plant this species.

Propagation:
Seed – sown just at the surface and flooded. Young plants can slowly have the water depth increased. It is much easier to propagate through division in Spring. Divide the shoots from the mother plant, and just plant any shoots that have roots attached.

Maintenance: 

  • This depends on what you are doing with it. If you have a native stand, then there is not much needed to be done.
  • However, considering how fast this grows, it makes an excellent nutrient recycler… plant a bed of Cattails at the lowest level where water exits the property. Once or twice a year, significantly cut back the stalks and leaves and use these as mulch or compost higher up in the property. The rhizomes can be harvested at this same time for food or division.

Concerns:

  • Cattails can accumulate large quantities of toxins, which make it a great water-cleaning/filter plant, but can make consumption of this plant potentially hazardous if grown in contaminated sites.
Cattails05

The edible young shoots are prized in Ukraine and Russia and are known as “Cossack Asparagus”

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Photo References:

  • http://www.cattails.info/images/cattails_8yyb.jpg
  • http://www.malag.aes.oregonstate.edu/wildflowers/images/CattailFruitland_2.JPG
  • http://truepsychicsnetwork.com/wp/wp-content/uploads/2013/07/cattail.jpg
  • http://2.bp.blogspot.com/_1C72BiCMjz4/TCZque1QaSI/AAAAAAAAAiY/gpT2wWJ8bVM/s1600/i+only+eat+the+boys.jpg
  • http://artemisherbals.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/06/cattails-cleaneds.jpg
  • http://www.gallowaywildfoods.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/03/reedmace-rhiz+shoots-feb.jpg
  • http://www.gallowaywildfoods.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/03/reedmace-rhizomes-peeled.jpg
  • http://farm1.staticflickr.com/249/526680430_51bfd8e41f_z.jpg?zz=1
  • http://2.bp.blogspot.com/_1C72BiCMjz4/TCkaSwkT2TI/AAAAAAAAAi4/yvW9Egq1DU4/s1600/cattail-flower-with-pollen.jpg
  • http://4.bp.blogspot.com/_1C72BiCMjz4/TCko_ApEkpI/AAAAAAAAAjY/QRxC_XY-gQk/s1600/cattail-pollen-pancakes-gluten-free.jpg
  • http://www.greatnorthernprepper.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/07/cattail-pollen.jpg
  • http://graphics8.nytimes.com/images/2007/05/31/garden/31graywater.span.jpg
  • http://www.dancingrabbit.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/01/IMG_1984.jpg
  • http://artantiquesmichigan.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/02/rushlight_6.jpg
  • http://www.bio.brandeis.edu/fieldbio/medicinal_plants/images/cattail_many_full.jpg

 

Permaculture Plants: Water Lotus

Common Name: Lotus, Water Lotus

Scientific Name: Nelumbo species
Family: Nelumbonaceae (the Lotus family) formerly within the Nymphaeaceae family (the Water Lily family)

AmericanLotus04

The rhizome (root) of the Water Lotus is a delicious food most common in Asian cuisine.

Common Species (well actually all of them, since there are only two):

  • American or Yellow Water Lotus (Nelumbo lutea)
  • Sacred or Chinese or Indian Lotus (Nelumbo nucifera)
SacredLotus01

The Sacred Water Lotus (Nelumbo nucifera)
The American Water Lotus (Nelumbo lutea) is pictured at the top of the page.

Description:
The Water Lotus is an important food in Asian cuisine, and it has widespread religious and cultural significance through its natural range. Native Americans used their native species for food as well. In the modern Western world, it is a common decorative aquatic plant grown for its very large, fragrant flowers. With its edible roots, stems, leaves, and seeds, and with varieties that can grow to Zone 4, it is one of the most useful aquatic plants to be used in the Forest Garden.

Lotus

Left: Sacred Lotus (Nelumbo nucifera)
Right: American Water Lotus (Nelumbo lutea)

History:
The Sacred Lotus (N. nucifera) is native to the tropical regions on Asia and Australia, and the American Water Lotus (N. lutea) is native to eastern and central North and Central America. However, these species were carried about by native peoples who spread them all over their respective continents, wherever they would grow. Initially, a food source with widespread religious significance, the Water Lotus eventually became more well known (mainly in Western cultures) as an attractive decorative water plant. However, in Asia, it is still used as a common food plant.

AmericanLotus06

Note the mostly circular leaves without a cleft.

Trivia:

  • The Water Lotus is often mistaken for the Water Lily (flowering water plants of the Nymphaeaceae family)
  • Water Lotus have circular leaves, with no clefts, and a somewhat central stem; Water Lilies typically have cleft leaves
  • The Lotus flowers can heat up and sustain a temperature of 86 F (30 C), even when the air temperature is 50 F (10 C), in order to attract pollinating insects… the increased heat benefits the insects by creating a warm environment for them
  • N. nucifera is the national flower of Egypt, India, and Vietnam
SacredLotus02

The seed head (with visible seeds in their holes) are often dried and used as an ornamental addition to flower arrangements, although the seeds are still a common food in Asia.

SacredLotus06

The original use, and still primary use in much of the world, is for the tasty roots!

http://justhungry.com/how-cook-lotus-root-renkon

USING THIS PLANT

Primary Uses:

  • Ornamental Plant – beautiful flowers with a sweet aroma; the dried seed head is used in floral arrangements
  • Edible Root – cooked as a vegetable; American Water Lotus (Nelumbo lutea) ususally needs to be steeped in water to remove the bitterness, but during cooking it develops good flavor, like a sweet potato. Sacred or Indian Lotus (Nelumbo nucifera) has a mild, crunchy flavor, highly prized in Asian cooking… Japanese, Chinese, Korean, Vietnamese, Indian, etc.  This is the only species of Water Lotus I have eaten, and it is quite good. The roots can also be pickled. Note that the root will turn brown quickly after exposed to air, so treat them like freshly cut apples to avoid browning (lemon juice works well).

Secondary Uses:

  • Edible Stems – peeled and cooked; reportedly tastes like a beet.
  • Edible Leaves – only the young ones are recommended (before they open all the way); can be eated raw or cooked as a vegetable; traditionally the large, older leaves are used to wrap other food while cooking
  • Edible Seeds – raw or dried or cooked; often eaten like peas when fresh (young), but need to have the shell removed first; dried seeds can be popped like popcorn
  • Edible Flowers – petals are used in soups and as a garnish
  • Flour – older seeds can be dried and ground into a flour; can be added to cereal flours for bread making. The flour can be used as a thickening agent in soups, stews, and sauces.
  • Tea Plant – the dried stamens are used to make a tea

Yield: Variable.
Harvesting: Roots (tubers/Rhizomes) can be harvest year round, but reportedly best in Autumn. Young leaves can be harvested through the growing season. Flowers are harvested Summer through Autumn. Seeds and seed heads are harvested in late Summer through Autumn.
Storage: Use within a few days fresh.

AmericanLotus02

Water Lotus can get large, but are still beautiful and useful, so plan accordingly.

DESIGNING WITH THIS PLANT

USDA Hardiness Zone:

  • American Water Lotus (Nelumbo lutea): Zone 4-11
  • Sacred or Indian Lotus (Nelumbo nucifera): Zone 8-12 for most varieties, but there are some available growing in Zone 4 and 5.

AHS Heat Zone:

  • American Water Lotus (Nelumbo lutea): Zone 12-1
  • Sacred or Indian Lotus (Nelumbo nucifera): Zone 12-3

Chill Requirement: no reliable information is available.

Plant Type: Aquatic Plant
Leaf Type: Deciduous
Forest Garden Use: Aquatic/Wetland Layer
Cultivars/Varieties: There are a number of varieties available which have been developed mainly for the ornamental flower

Pollination: Self-fertile; pollinated by insects
Flowering: Mid-Summer through Autumn

Life Span:

  • Years to Maximum Flowering: typically Water Lotuses bloom in their second summer
  • Years of Useful Life: No good information available as we typically harvest bulbs and eat them. Considering that the plants can be propagated from bulb division, an individual’s life span is likely irrelevant.
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These fresh seeds are edible raw or they can be cooked like peas.

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The rhizomes (roots) start small and fragile.

PHYSICAL CHARACTERISTICS OF THIS PLANT

Size:

  • American Water Lotus (Nelumbo lutea): 3-5 feet (0.9-1.6 meters) above the water line
  • Sacred or Indian Lotus (Nelumbo nucifera): 4-6 feet (1.2-1.8 meters) above the water line

Roots: Rhizomatous
Growth Rate: Fast

SacredLotus05

The roots are said to taste best in Autumn, but it is not uncommon for professional harvesters (like this gentleman in Beijing) to harvest in Winter!

Here is his story:  http://english.caixin.com/2012-12-28/100478224_2.html

GROWING CONDITIONS FOR THIS PLANT

Light: Prefers full sun
Shade: Tolerates light shade
Moisture: This is a fully aquatic species
pH: prefers a neutral to acidic soil (around 4.6), but can tolerate a wide range of water pH (up to 9.3)

Special Considerations for Growing:

  • Water Lotus can grow in waterlogged soil but usually prefers aquatic condition.
  • When planting or digging, remember that the root is fragile. If damaged, the Water Lotus will not grow the right way.
  • When planting the tuber, only embed it partially in the soil. Weigh it down to keep it from floating away. Then the roots will develop to anchor it in place and the tuber will bury itself as it desires.
  • Indian Lotus can grow in water up to 8 feet (2.5 meters) deep, and the American Water Lotus can grow in water up to 2-3 feet (60-90 cm) deep, but no shallower than 1 foot (30 cm).
  • Indian Lotus prefers water temperatures of 73-80F+ (23-27 C).
  • If in a cold climate, then shallower water is better – it will encourage earlier growth and a longer growing season as the shallower water warms up faster each Spring.
  • Indian Lotus requires a 5 month growing season and does not like humid climates.

Propagation: From seed – requires scarification of the seed (scratched with a knife or file carefully across the center, but avoid damaging the seed flesh). The seed is soaked in water, with twice daily water changes, until germination. The seedling is planted into soil and just covered with water; the depth increasing as the plant grows. Rhizomes can be divided when dormant (typically early Spring). Each segment with a growing “eye” can planted individually and will produce a new plant.

Maintenance:
If you live in a cold location, and you grow non-cold hardy varieties, then you will need to make sure the rhizomes are planted deep enough in the mud to protect the tubers from freezing, or you need to move the rhizomes into a warmer place to overwinter . I think it makes more sense, and makes for a lot less work, to just grow varieties that are suited to your climate zone.

Concerns:
Some sources call these plants invasive, but most people welcome the Water Lotus to their land.

 

 

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Photo References:

  • http://www.carsoncity.k12.mi.us/~hsstudent/wildflowers00/nelumbonaceae/nelumbolutea668.jpg
  • http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/8/87/Parc_Floral_de_Paris_-_Nelumbo_lutea_001.JPG
  • http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/1/1c/Lotus_Nelumbo_nucifera_Seed_Head_2500px.jpg
  • http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/2/27/Lotus_root.jpg
  • http://www.swsbm.com/NGSImages/Nelumbo_lutea.jpg
  • http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/0/0e/Nelumbo_nucifera_001.JPG/1280px-Nelumbo_nucifera_001.JPG
  • http://3.bp.blogspot.com/-WtndavaG5TU/UaL5geiJQ-I/AAAAAAAACVE/icLbm9HHJi8/s1600/Nelumbo-Nucifera.jpg
  • http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/d/d0/Nelumbo_nucifera_Blanco1.158-original.png
  • http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/e/e9/Nelumbo_nucifera5.jpg
  • http://i583.photobucket.com/albums/ss279/kreos123/Lotus%202013/CAM00225_zps8e3452d5.jpg
  • http://pickmeyard.files.wordpress.com/2010/05/green-lotus-seeds.jpg
  • http://img.caixin.com/2012-12-28/1356683686589342_840_560.jpg
  • http://justhungry.com/files/images/renkonnegiitame.jpg

 

Permaculture Plants: Watercress

Common Name: Watercress, Water Radish, Water Rocket, Hedge Mustard

Scientific Name: Nasturtium officinale
Family: Brassicaceae (the Crucifers or Cabbage/Broccoli/Turnip/Radish family)

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Watercress growing wild in Wisconsin.

Description:
Watercress is a prime example of why there should be extra layers in the Edible Forest Garden (see my article on the Nine Layers of the Food Forest). This amazing plant does best when grown in an aquatic or wetland location. Grow it in clear, flowing water, and you have an amazing raw or cooked green with a pungent flavor. Grow it in poorer conditions, and it will purify the water and accumulate nutrients… a great addition to the compost pile. This is a highly recommended plant.

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Nasturtium officinale

History:
Native to Asia and Europe, Watercress has been consumed for thousands of years. In fact, it is likely the oldest known green veg used by humans. It can be traced back to the Persians, Romans, and Greeks. Hippocrates himself grew watercress at the first hospital on the island of Kos around 400 BC. Watercress remained a commonly collected wild food throughout Europe. It was also common through Asia, but the history of Watercress in Asia is less known. It spread around the world with the European explorers who used it to prevent scurvy (a deadly vitamin C deficiency prevented due to Watercress’ high vitamin content). Watercress was raised commercially in the early 1800’s, and it’s popularity grew. Over the last few decades, watercress has waxed and waned in popularity.

Trivia:

  • The stems of Watercress are hollow which allows the plant to float.
  • The seeds of Watercress can be used to make a mustard. The seeds are dried and then ground to a powder. If exposed to cold water and allowed to sit for 10-15 minutes, the mustard will become “hot” or “spicy”. The cold water activates an enzyme, myrosinase, which breaks down another compound, sinigrin, to produce a mustard oil, allyl isothiocyanate. This mustard oil is what give the pungent, mustardy flavor. This is the same mustard oil responsible for the pungent flavor in horseradish. Once activated and pungent, it needs to be used right away or mixed with vinegar, or it will lose its pungency and become bitter. Interestingly, if the dried Watercress seed powder is mixed with hot water or vinegar first, the enzyme is not activated, and the mixture will not become pungent and will be bitter.
  • Despite its Latin name, watercress is not related to the popular trailing flower, nasturtium (which has edible leaves and flowers).
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Watercress Salad

Watercress Salad with Miso-Lime Dressing (Recipe)

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The classic French Watercress and Potato soup (Potage Cressionniere)

Jamie Oliver’s recipe
Caroline’s Kitchen Diary recipe
Delia Online recipe

USING THIS PLANT

Primary Uses:

  • Edible Leaves – Leaves can be used raw or cooked throughout the growing season. Typically used in small amounts (like a garnish) in salads, but can be. Commonly used to make a soup.
  • Edible Seeds – dried and ground into a powder – used like mustard. See Trivia above..
  • Edible Sprouts – has a spicy flavor.

Secondary Uses:

  • General insect (especially bees) pollen plant
  • Dynamic Accumulator Species – Potassium, Phosphorus, Calcium, Sulfur, Iron, Magnesium, Sodium
  • Water Purifying Plant

Yield: High as far as greens are concerned. Harvesting can start at 30-45 days and may continue every 40-80 days.
Harvesting: Leaves can be harvest at anytime during the growing season. The flavor is better before flowering – leaves can become bitter. Seeds can be harvested when from mid-Summer through Autumn.
Storage: Use within a few days fresh. There are some reports of dehydrating Watercress, but I have never tried it or tasted it.

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Watercress can easily be added to any pond or stream.

DESIGNING WITH THIS PLANT

USDA Hardiness Zone: 2-10
AHS Heat Zone: 8-1
Chill Requirement: None

Plant Type: Small Aquatic/Semi-Aquatic Herbaceous Perennial
Leaf Type: Deciduous (will overwinter in mild areas)
Forest Garden Use: Wetland/Aquatic Layer, Herbaceous Layer
Cultivars/Varieties: There are few cultivars available

Pollination: Self-fertile
Flowering: Late Spring to Autumn (May-October). Pollinated by bees and flies.

Life Span: No good information available as we typically harvest the plant and eat it. Considering that the plants can spread so easily, an individual’s life span is likely irrelevant.

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Watercress can spread easily, but we can harvest often!

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Watercress flowers are tiny.

PHYSICAL CHARACTERISTICS OF THIS PLANT

Size: 6-12 inches (15-30 cm) tall and indefinitely wide
Roots: Fibrous with runners
Growth Rate: Medium-Fast (fast if in aquatic conditions)

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Watercress is known for attracting wildlife.

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A great addition to the Aquatic/Wetland Layer!

GROWING CONDITIONS FOR THIS PLANT

Light: Prefers full sun
Shade: Tolerates light shade
Moisture: Prefers shallow aquatic or semi-aquatic conditions; will also grow in wet/muddy soils; will tolerate moist soils if the soil does not dry out.
pH: 6.5-8.0 (prefers fairly neutral to alkaline conditions)

Special Considerations for Growing:
Slow moving, very clean water is the best condition for growing this plant.

Propagation:
Typically from seed – no stratification required. Grows easily from cuttings – any part of the plant (leaves, stems, etc.) will sprout roots. Divisions of the runners from the mother plant.

Maintenance:
Minimal.

Concerns:

  • Dispersive – in some locations, Watercress is considered an invasive weed. In other locations, it is considered a high-value aquatic crop and water purifying plant… perspective is everything! If you are in an area where Watercress is a “weed”, you have a great compostable material. It is relatively easy to harvest, and it accumulates a lot of minerals; this is a great addition to the compost bin!
  • Watercress contains compounds which slow the enzymes cytochrome P450 in humans. This enzyme family is responsible for metabolizing many modern medications. If you are going to be consuming Watercress in more than small amounts, and you are taking regular medication, then check with your doctor.
  • It has been reported that eating large amounts of raw food from the Brassica family can cause GI upset… I think it has to be quite a bit, though. No definitive numbers. My advice is to start low and go slow, increasing as tolerated.
  • If you are raising livestock on your land, be sure that the water used to grow your Watercress is not filtering through your pastures. The common liver fluke (Fasciola genus of parasitic flat worms) are commonly found in the liver and bile ducts of sheep, cattle, and other animals. The eggs are passed in the animals’ stool and mature in certain species of freshwater snails. These matured larvae reside on freshwater plants (they are fond of Watercress) and wait to be eaten, by wild animals, livestock, or humans, and mature into adult flukes. This awful sounding infection can easily be avoided by using only clean water to raise your Watercress.

 

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Photo References:

  • http://ericademane.files.wordpress.com/2011/05/watercress-painting.jpg
  • http://4.bp.blogspot.com/-KFxHwwTV7qQ/TeHelggS0-I/AAAAAAAABWY/gWeF0W3Msj8/s1600/watercress-1.jpg
  • http://i801.photobucket.com/albums/yy294/StreamOfTime_photos/WaterCress_zpsa4617cf0.jpg
  • http://3brothersflies.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/09/watercress-and-release-3000×2250.jpg
  • http://www.herbs.org.nz/information/images/watercress.jpg
  • http://www.gallowaywildfoods.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/12/watercress-closeup-may.jpg
  • http://3.bp.blogspot.com/_1C72BiCMjz4/TU7PQhgv-6I/AAAAAAAABI0/dR_fFbU2Df8/s1600/wild+watercress+spring+water.jpg
  • http://farm7.staticflickr.com/6034/6243115793_c8fb273fd9_o.jpg
  • http://3.bp.blogspot.com/_HOGY48tq_uY/TQaK1gS_oWI/AAAAAAAACuc/OQotp-HAXBo/s1600/Watercress+Salad+1.jpg

Permaculture Plants: Common Reed

Common Name: Common Reed

Scientific Name: Phragmites australis
Family: Poaceae (the True Grass family… the 5th largest plant family with over 10,000 species!)

Subspecies:

  • Phragmites australis subspecies americanus – the North American variety
  • Phragmites australis subspecies australis – the Eurasian variety
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In it’s natural habitat, Common Reed will spread along a shoreline.

Description:
The Common Reed is found in wetlands around the world from temperate to tropical climates. This perennial grass is likely the most useful species I have documented to date. Most of the plant is edible in one way or another, it can be used to make many things from housing to fences to baskets to paper, and it is a wonderful plant for wildlife (food, shelter, habitat, etc.). Looking forward, I foresee three ways I plan on using this plant. First, it will be part of  my home’s gray water system. Reeds are used in small and very large scale bioremediation systems… they filter out impurities from water flowing through their root systems. Second, reeds are a wonderful way to capture nutrients before leaving a property. A small wetland can be constructed at the lowest end of a property where water typically exits the land. A significant amount of the nutrient that would have flowed off the property in the water can now be captured in the roots and converted into energy to grow the plant. When the reed bed gets overgrown, we can harvest a large quantity of the reeds from the wetlands and transfer that captured nutrient (in the form of cut reeds) back into our system… as compost, mulch, or animal feed (my Third reason). There are few plants that perform so many duties, and we would be wise to consider using this plant in our Permaculture Designs. Keep in mind that this plant can easily spread. A rhizome barrier is recommended to keep it in bounds.

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Phragmites australis, Prof. Dr. Otto Wilhelm Thomé Flora von Deutschland, Österreich und der Schweiz 1885

History:
Common Reeds are found in temperate climates, as well as sub-topical and tropical climates, around the world. Botanists have not decided if there are multiple subspecies or actual distinct species of the Phragmites genus.

Trivia:

  • Reed Beds are extensive stands of reeds that can grow to a full square kilometer.
  • The subspecies australis can be invasive in climates where it is not native (e.g. North America – it is found in all the U.S. states but Alaska). It easily outcompetes native species. When discussing “invasive” species, my philosophy is that the “invasive” species is only invasive because we have destroyed the natural ecosystem. Most often, the ecosystem is so badly damaged that it would take hundreds of years, literally and at least, to repair if left to the native species. Sometimes, the damage is too great that the native species will never rehabilitate the land. However, I do understand that certain non-native species can wreak havoc on ecosystems that are not particularly damaged. We need to be very careful how, and if, we use those plants. In this case, using the native common reed to North America (subspecies americanus) would be a good place to start, but if you want to build a rhizome barrier and there are already non-native reeds in your area, then utilizing the significantly faster growing australis subspecies may be a viable option. This invasive has already spread into 49/50 U.S. states, so it is unlikely we will be “introducing” it to an area. However, I strongly recommend a rhizome barrier if using the non-native plant.
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A Reed Bed as part of a water treatment (or home graywater) system.

USING THIS PLANT

Primary Uses:

  • Edible Roots – Raw or cooked – best when young. Dried and ground – used as a porridge.
  • Edible Shoots – Use when young, before the leaves appear. Bamboo shoot substitute – I have to try this. I love bamboo shoots. Some reports state that Cattails have better flavor than Common Reeds as bamboo shoot substitutes.
  • Edible Leaves – Harvest when young and unfolded. Reported to be dried, ground, and added to other flours.
  • Edible Stems – When dried, a powder forms within the stems. This can be extracted, moistened and roasted like marshmallows.
  • Edible Seeds – Raw or cooked – ground into flour
  • Sugar Plant – A sugar is extracted from stalks and stems. It may be eaten raw. It can be extracted through boiling the stems in water, then boiling off the water. I imagine the plant could be macerated similar to Sorghum.
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Reed-thatched roof in Germany.

Secondary Uses:

  • Wildlife food plant, especially birds
  • Livestock feed plant.
  • Insect nesting sites, especially Mason Bees
  • Shelter plant for small mammals, birds, and aquatic species
  • Ornamental aquatic and pond/lake plant.
  • Nutrient Sink – Reed Beds can accumulate a lot of nutrients (see information above) which can be transferred to other locations.
  • Bioremediation/Phytoremediation Plant – Reed Beds can be used as part of a biological filtration system to clean and purify contaminated water, often as part of a constructed wetland. This can be part of a home gray water system as well.
  • Biomass Plant – very fast growing plant can produce large amounts of organic matter in a short time.
  • Green Manure Plant.
  • Alcohol Plant – Biofuel can be made by fermenting the sugars into alcohol. This has also been used for fertilizers. It should also be able to produce drinking alcohol as well.
  • Structures – stems used for building dwellings and the plant can be mixed with mud to make a plaster for walls
  • Fiber Plant – used for weaving mats and baskets; also used for insulation, upholstery filler, string, rope, nets, etc.
  • Stems used for fencing, lattices, stakes, etc.
  • Flower Heads used as brooms.
  • Thatching Plant – a reed-thatched roof can last for over 100 years.
  • Erosion Control Plant – the vigorous roots bind the soil and hold it together

Yield: Variable, depends on how it is to be used.
Harvesting: Anytime.
Storage: If using for food, then it should be used within a few days. Flour made from this plant should likely be usable for many months if kept dry.

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Common Reeds used as a filtration system and wildlife habitat in the UK.

DESIGNING WITH THIS PLANT

USDA Hardiness Zone: 5
AHS Heat Zone: no reliable information, but this plant is found in the tropics, so it is likely very heat tolerant. Using a locally adapted plant would be best.
Chill Requirement: Unlikely, but no reliable information is available on this subject

Plant Type: Perennial Grass, Wetland Plant
Leaf Type: Grass
Forest Garden Use: Aquatic or Wetland Layer
Cultivars/Varieties: None

Pollination: Self-fertile (pollinated by wind)
Flowering: Late Summer

Life Span: No good information available, but the Common Reed may take 5-10 years to reach mature height. Also, this plant freely spreads through rhizomes and stolons. As one plant is starting to decline, a new plant will be established to take the original plant’s place in the garden and in production.

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The Common Reed’s extensive root system.

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Common Reeds can provide a lot of biomass.

PHYSICAL CHARACTERISTICS OF THIS PLANT

Size: 6.5-13 feet (2-4 meters) tall and 9 feet (3 m) wide
Roots: Fibrous with Rhizomes (underground stems that send out roots and shoots) and Stolons (above ground stems that can sprout a new plant).
Growth Rate: Fast

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Common Reed can be a beautiful plant.

GROWING CONDITIONS FOR THIS PLANT

Light: Full to partial sun.
Shade: Tolerates light shade
Moisture: Prefers wet soils and can grow in marshes, bogs, swamps, and standing water; can tolerate moderately salty water (brackish waters).
pH: 4.8-8.2 (tolerates a wide range of soil conditions)

Special Considerations for Growing:
Consider rhizome barriers if using the australis subspecies.

Propagation:
By seed – quick germination. Can be propagated by division of the roots in early Spring to early Summer – any part of the root with a growth bud will develop a new plant.

Maintenance: 
Will need to be cut back or grazed to keep growth in check. Almost no pests or diseases.

Concerns:
Spreading – this is a very vigorous and potentially “invasive” plant, specifically the australis subspecies. This can be kept in bounds with either a rhizome barrier, frequent harvesting or grazing.

 

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Photo References:

  • http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/b/ba/Illustration_Phragmites_australis0.jpg
  • http://www.florafinder.com/LargePhotos/D0/Phragmites_australis-AB14497C80.jpg
  • http://vitalsignsme.org/sites/default/files/applebrook_farm/sta72194.jpg
  • http://www.oregon.gov/ODA/PLANT/PublishingImages/lg/weed_phragntrodstnd_rcrawford.jpg
  • http://farm6.staticflickr.com/5005/5229902434_5f0c652af2_z.jpg
  • http://www.alliedbiological.com/images/spring2002_reed.jpg
  • http://delawareinvasives.net/yahoo_site_admin/assets/images/Phrag_rhizome.5893816_std.jpg
  • http://3.bp.blogspot.com/-xp64Utug3e4/Tl-Vjh5zLfI/AAAAAAAAAAY/JSKQDX1GES4/s1600/Reed%2BBed%2B1.JPG
  • http://info.cat.org.uk/sites/default/files/images/water-and-sewage/Vertical_Flow_RB.jpg
  • http://berlinplants.files.wordpress.com/2012/05/img_0464.jpg