Cyphomandra betacea

The preceding species was a typical example of a food plant that later became a plant used for decoration. The use of poisonous nightshades in breeding resulted in the complete elimination of the original purpose or trait for which the species was cultivated and its function became solely decorative.

Cyphomandra betacea is also a food plant that was introduced into cultivation for its edible fruits. Though native to south-eastern Brazil it is nowadays grown for its fruits throughout tropical America. In some places, chiefly Peru, its fruits are among the most popular in village markets even though, to a European, they are nothing exceptional. The freshly picked berries taste somewhat like poor-grade tomatoes and are prepared in the same way; later the taste is reminiscent of gooseberries though never quite like it. Probably more important is the fact that the berries are rich in Vitamin C, which is rare in the Peruvian Andes.

Cyphomandra is a subtropical genus found fairly high up in the mountains in its native land, and thus it cannot be grown indoors in a warm room in winter (it would soon die there). It is not particularly suitable for room decoration even in summer for it grows to a height of more than 2 m (6 ft) even in cultivation. That is why after it has passed the winter in a corridor or hall and all danger of frost is past it is better moved to a balcony or patio where it will serve as decoration with its pale green foliage. The tubular flowers, borne in a raceme, are white with a bluish tinge.

The soil for growing cyphomandra must be a fairly heavy, nourishing mixture composed, for example, of leaf mould, loam, sand and peat. John Innes potting compost No. 2 or 3 would be ideal. During the growth period it should be watered liberally and supplied regularly with feed.

It is readily propagated from seeds, which remain viable for a number of years, as well as by cuttings in spring.

15. November 2011 by Dave Pinkney
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