Seeds: Capsules of information
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.