Seeds: Cap­sules of in­for­ma­tion

Island Life - - Culture Diary -

Big, bold and beau­ti­ful comes to mind in trop­i­cal agri­cul­ture. “Seeds” in the trop­ics range from al­most mi­cro­scopic to the gi­ant nuts and tu­bers that form part of the ed­i­ble diet of the Pa­cific is­lands. In the trop­ics, one does not of­ten think about seeds as a source of re­gen­er­a­tion as cut­tings grow so easily. But, there is a whole world of amaz­ing seeds that needs to be dis­cov­ered and nur­tured, spe­cially at times when cli­mate change is threat­ing agri­cul­ture and food se­cu­rity across the planet. Co­conuts are well known and are the amaz­ing nut/seed of the co­conut palm. The husk is a nat­u­ral air con­di­tioner for the seed in­side and has to be re­moved close to the time of con­sump­tion. Re­mov­ing the husk re­sults in the nut and co­conut wa­ter in­side start­ing to over­heat and fer­ment within hours. When left alone, the flesh of the co­conut is used by the plant to ger­mi­nate its seed. The sweet marsh­mal­low ball that de­vel­ops in place of the wa­ter is an ex­cel­lent baby food and the white flesh of the nut turns into a rich but­tery oil. The big­gest seed in the world be­longs to another trop­i­cal palm tree called Lodoicea. Weigh­ing in at 18 kg and mea­sur­ing 30 cm, it re­quires six to seven years to ma­ture and two years to ger­mi­nate. No won­der it is a pro­tected species! The nut is ed­i­ble and used as a fla­vor­ing in tra­di­tional Sey­chelles cui­sine. The small­est seeds found in the trop­i­cal world are orchid seeds. The vanilla bean is the pod of an orchid flower and the very fine grains are the highly prized seeds. Although most or­chids will pro­duce seed­pods if pol­li­na­tors are around, to en­sure pol­li­na­tion and pro­duc­tion of vanilla a lit­tle in­ter­ven­tion is re­quired. A grower will spend time in his plot watch­ing for the mo­ment when the flower is ready to ac­cept pollen. Us­ing small tools, the gar­dener will trans­fer pollen from one part of the flower to the other. It will take up to six weeks for the bean to grow and up to six months for it to ma­ture. Prop­a­ga­tion of a vanilla plant is pre­dom­i­nantly done with cut­tings, as the seed re­quires a cer­tain kind of bac­te­ria to help it ger­mi­nate. Beans and peas are the flavour of the month be­ing so easy and fast to grow. Per­haps the most amaz­ing of them all, the ‘won­der plant’, is the cow pea. The seed of the cow pea is creamy white with a black eye and what it grows into is amaz­ing. Both seeds and plants tol­er­ate poor soils and ger­mi­nate and grow quickly, pro­vid­ing a crop of young leaves that look and taste like spinach. The flow­ers are large and light yel­low fol­lowed rapidly by dark green straight pods car­ried above the fo­liage. When steamed, the young pods taste like peas. If the pods are not har­vested, they will ma­ture and nat­u­rally dry out. Seed can be col­lected and stored for fu­ture times or re­planted again. Apart from its high-pro­tein food value, the seed and fo­liage of the plant are a great fod­der for pigs, chick­ens and cows. The amount of com­post or biomass cre­ated by the plant will equal five ton per acre and it is both ni­tro­gen fix­ing and drought re­sis­tant. No mat­ter their size or shape, seeds con­tain the whole ge­netic make up of the plant and be­com­ing a seed saver is an ad­dic­tive and re­ward­ing hobby. It is also a great way to play a part in con­ser­va­tion. Give a child a few bean or pump­kin seeds and open up a world of won­ders as they rapidly ger­mi­nate and turn into a pro­duc­tive plant. A whole uni­verse to be dis­cov­ered!

Cor­nelia Wyl­lie is the care­taker of Rain­bow Botanic Gar­dens. She is well-known for her in depth knowl­edge of trop­i­cal plants and gar­den­ing. Rain­bow Gar­dens Nurs­ery and the Botan­i­cal Gar­dens is open Mon­day to Fri­day 7.30 am to 5 pm, Satur­day 7.30 to 12 pm and af­ter hours by ap­point­ment. Take a tour of the Gar­dens to view Van­u­atu’s fan­tas­tic range of trop­i­cal plants. Con­tact Tudsie on 77 26720 to book a Gar­den Tour. Con­tact Cor­nelia to ar­range func­tions and cater­ing on 77 24720.

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