TREE SPINACH PLANT. Abelmoschus manihot (Aibika) – A quick growing deciduous upright subshrub/perennial to 6 feet tall or more by 3 to 4 feet wide with upright lightly hairy stems and short side branches holding deeply lobed palmate dark green leaves. From early summer through fall the foliage provides a great foil to the showy and outward facing 5 to 6 inch wide soft yellow flowers, each with a distinctive dark red-purple eye, that last but one day.
Plant in full sun a good garden soil with regular to occasional irrigation. Hardy to around 10F and useful in USDA Zones 8a and above and grown from seed as an annual. Cut to the ground in mid-winter. This is an attractive plant for giving a tropical feel to the garden.
Its flowers are attractive to butterflies and bees and the foliage resistant to predation by deer though it is widely cultivated because of its edible leaves, flowers and roots. It is in fact considered by some to be the world’s most nutritious leafy vegetable because of its high protein content (12% protein by dry weight) and is also very high in vitamins A and C, and iron.
Abelmoschus manihot comes from tropical Asia south to northern Queensland. The name of the genus is believed to come from the Arabic “abu-l-mosk” in reference to the smell of the seeds and the specific epithet is in reference to the tapioca and cassava plant Manihot which comes from the Brazilian name manioc that was used for for cassava. It was formerly considered a species of Hibiscus. Other common names include Sweet Hibiscus, Edible Hibiscus, Palmate-leaved Hibiscus, Sunset Muskmallow, Sunset Hibiscus, Okra (though true okra is Abelmoschus esculentus), Hibiscus Spinach, Lettuce Tree and Queensland greens.
It was introduced into Europe from East India by 1712 and first listed in the US by Philadelphia nurseryman Bernard McMahon in his 1806 American Gardener’s Calendar. The Wikipedia image used on this page was taken by Ton Rulkens. Our thanks for out to Kristen Yanker-Hansen, who first provided us with the seed to grow this wonderful plant. The information on this page is based on the research that we have conducted about this plant in the San Marcos Growers library, from what we have found on reliable online sources, as well as from observations made of our crops of this plant growing in the nursery and of plants growing in the nursery’s garden and those in other gardens where we may have observed it.
me getting feedback from those who may have additional information, particularly if this information includes cultural information that would aid others in growing Abelmoschus manihot.
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