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Talinum fruticosum (L.) Juss. 1789
pronounced: tell-EE-um fru-tick-OH-sum
(Talinaceae – the waterfleaf family)
common names: Philippine Spinach, Ceylon Spinach, Florida Spinach, Waterleaf
The derivation of the name Talinum is unknown, but thought to be African; fruticosum is Latin, fruticosus, shrubby or bushy.
The plant is native to Mexico, the Caribbean, West Africa, Central America, and much of South America. It is also widely naturalized in India. It occurs naturally on roadsides, waste places and forest edges, from sea level up to about 1000 m, although it grows best in the more humid conditions of lowland tropical areas. It can become a weed in cultivated land, although few farmers worry too much about it as it is shallow-rooted and easily removed.
This is a short-lived erect, strongly branched, perennial plant with succulent stems. It grows 30 – 100 cm tall, from swollen fleshy roots.
The small pink flowers are borne in 2 – 5 branched raceme-like clusters 3 – 20 cm long. The flower stalk is about 1 cm long, the bracts narrow, 4 – 6 mm long. The petals are pink, obovate, up to 1 cm long, with 15 – 40 stamens.
The fruits are capsules, pale yellow in colour, ellipsoid, 6 – 7 mm long.
The plant is often harvested from the wild for local use for food. It is also cultivated in some parts of the tropics, especially in Africa, for its edible leaves.
The leaves and stems are eaten raw in salads, or can be cooked. They have a slightly sour taste. Young shoots are used in making stews and soups. Best lightly steamed, they should not be overcooked, or they will become excessively soft and mucilaginous.
Many forms of the plant have a high concentration of calcium oxalate, most of it present in a soluble form that can induce kidney stones if taken in excess. Blanching or cooking removes about half of this. The plant also contains hydrocyanic acid (destroyed by cooking), so the vegetable should be eaten only sparingly in its raw state. Consumption of the plant should be avoided by those suffering from kidney disorders, gout, or rheumatoid arthritis.
It is sometimes planted as an ornamental pot plant, or as an edging plant in the garden.
Parts of the plant are uses in the treatment of measles and diabetes, and a tonic is made from the fleshy root.
Information about medicinal qualities of plants, or about their use as medicines, is for interest only, and is not intended to be used as a guide for the treatment of medical conditions.
Photographed in Picnic Bay 2018
Page last updated 5th June 2018