Sunday, March 25, 2012

Litchi chinensis, the candy from China

In the Chinese restaurants worldwide they serve it like dessert in syrup. If you never proven it, I recommend it to you. It is an absolutely delicious fruit, coverall in fresh just taken of the tree.

Ripe fruits of lychee at the end of July.

During the last decades the import of these delicious Asian fruits has been increasing progressively and every time it is easier to find them in greengrocers of the western countries. Although the origin of this fruit tree is southern China, in Europe the majority of imported fruits come from Madagascar, Israel, Brazil and South Africa. It is cultivated from the antiquity in Asia, coverall in China, and also in India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, the Philippines, Thailand, Indonesia, Malaysia, Burma and the south of Japan. In the last years its culture to many other countries has extended worldwide, especially in South Africa, Madagascar, Israel, Australia, Brazil, Mexico and the United States (California, Florida, Texas and Hawaii). The Mediterranean basin has an ideal climate for its culture, reason why it is probable that in the next decades it is cultivated more and more in North Africa, Italy and the south and east of the Iberian Peninsula, coverall in Andalusia and the Levantine coast.

Litchi chinensis of 17 years old seeded in the spring of year 1995 in an orchard of orange trees of Majorca Island. It belongs to the Early Large Red variety, very cultivated in China for thousands of years. It is a very productive shrub that usually does not surpass the 4 meters of height. The photo was taken in the middle of March of year 2012. The tree finished surpassing three weeks of intense cold in which it remained place setting by a snow layer of 7 centimeters during five days. When the snow melted, the leaves and floral cocoons were intact.

Aspect of the leaves and floral cocoons after the heavy snowfall of February of 2012. The leaves of lychee are adapted to rainy climates. Its surface repels the water and its pendular disposition facilitates the fast sliding of rain, which prevents that the branches become broken under the weight of the water during strong tropical storms.

 As it happens with other many plants, there is a small controversy with its scientific name, because it was described and registered by two different botanists in an interval from few years. In 1782 the French botanist Pierre Sonnerat registered it as Litchi chinensis and nine years later in 1791 the German botanist Johann Friedrich Gmelin registered it as Litchi sinensis. The difference is in only two letters and both names mean the same: Litchi of China. According to the international norms of nomenclature of species the first registered name always prevails, reason why its scientific name must be Litchi chinensis Sonn.

Same previous Lychee 4 years before in May of 2008 in the heat of flowering.

 Although considered a tropical tree is very peculiar its necessity from intense cold with temperatures below +5ºC but above -3ºC during several weeks so that their yolks are transformed into floral buds. Below -4ºC litchi undergoes serious burns and dies to -5ºC. In warm winters with smooth temperatures without frosts the yolks are transformed into vegetative buds and in spring it does not bloom, branches and leaves only grow. This spring of 2012, after the intense snowfall of February, my lychee is loaded of floral cocoons and it will not take in open its first flowers. I wait for a great harvest of fruits in August.

Litchi chinensis flowers with a pollenizer bee sucking the nectar.

 Litchi chinensis blooms in clusters with hundreds of tiny flowers.

It belongs to the Sapindaceae family. It is the unique representative of the Litchi sort. Three subspecies are distinguished: 1--Litchi chinensis subsp. chinensis that grows in southern China, Bangladesh, Vietnam and Cambodia with thin branches, all the flowers with 6 stamens and crust of the fruits smooth or with protuberances of less than 2 mm, 2--Litchi chinensis subsp. oval philippinensis that live in the Philippines and Papua New Guinea with thin branches, flowers with 6 or 7 stamens, fruits with the crust covered with pointed protuberances of less than 3 mm and rarely cultivated and 3--Litchi sinensis subsp. javensis, that is only known cultivated in Malaysia and Indonesia with thick branches, flowers with 7 to 11 stamens and fruits of smooth surface with protuberances of less than 1 mm.

The flowers are composed of a white-pink or white-greenish basal disk arising six very long and divergent white stamens with an ovoid small beige color anther on the end. In the center of the disc is the female gynoecium with two carpels. Surrounding the reproductive organs several nectaries that produce nectar that attracts many bees. They lack petals.

Still green fruits at the beginning of July. 

Lychee loaded of ripe fruits in August of 2008. This year the winter was very cold and my small litchi gave me a great harvest of more than 9 kilos of great and substantial fruits. 

Detail of the branches with ripe fruits.

Litchi chinensis needs abundant irrigations during the months more drought the Majorcan summer. The calcareous soil produces it moderate chlorosis coverall in the very young trees. This problem is easily solved by providing the tree in autumn half a sack of manure or well rotted compost which acidifies the soil and in late winter, a bucket of water with iron chelate well distributed over the earth about two feet from the trunk.

Fruits of lychee in different degrees from maturation.

Detail of the previous fruits.

Magnificent lychees at the optimal time of maturation.

White and juicy aryl of above fruits after removal the skin.

Litchi chinensis seeds germinate very easily. They are due to seed immediately after removing them from the fruit, because if they are dried they lose the germination capacity quickly. I do not recommend to buy these seeds by Internet, because generally they arrive already past and they do not germinate. The same happens with the fruits of longan, Dimocarpus longan, another Sapindaceae like lychee. 

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Physalis peruviana, the Andean candy

The Uchuva, Peruvian Alquejenje, Goldenberry, Aguaymanto, Poga poga, Capulí, Uvilla or Coztomate are a shrub of the Solanaceae family that grows wild in the Andean countries, especially in Peru, Colombia, Ecuador, Bolivia and Chile between 1500 and 3000 msl. The largest producer is Colombia that exports mainly to Europe. Its culture has extended to other nonAndean countries like Zimbawe, South Africa, Kenya, Mexico, Australia, New Zealand, etc. In Spain it is cultivated with great success in the province of Huelva. It needs a fresh climate without extreme temperatures and a high pluviometry. 

Fruits of Physalis peruviana. Wrapped in the five sepals of the calyx welded together in the form of calyx are kept in perfect condition for months as protects them from insects, birds, fungi, bacteria and extreme weather conditions, both the intense cold and the torrid heat.

Young plant of Uchuva cultivated in the island of Majorca near the coast on a slightly alkaline calcareous-argillaceous earth with PH between 7 and 7´5, very rich in organic matter. The climate is to it so favorable that it gets to be invading. The plant of Uchuva or Peruvian Alquejenje is an evergreen bush grass that can reach two meters of height. Its stems partially lignified have tendency to grow prostrate, since they cannot support the weight of the leaves and the fruits. When a branch leans in the ground very easily takes root, so that the new roots contribute to the nutrition and hydration of all the plant, being able to cover up to three m2 of surface. 

Flower of Peruvian Alquejenje with five welded yellow petals to each other in the form of bell with five black spots surrounding the reproductive organs to indicate to the insects pollenizers where it is the small drop of nectar. The androecium is formed by 5 stamens inserted to the same height in the superior part of the tube of corola. The gynoecium is formed by a bilocular ovary and a stigma in the form of saddle. In the image the pubescent cover formed by abundant hairs of smooth tact is appraised, covering both the stems and leaves.

Mature fruits of Physalis peruviana at the end of June.

Several fruits of Uchuva in its optimal point of ripeness to be collected.

Same previous fruits after retiring the bag that protects them. Each fruit usually weighs between 4 and 7 grams. They taste very sweet, acid and slightly refreshing.

Removing the five sepals back the small fruit can be covered with a liquid chocolate layer, so that once solidified it becomes a delicious chocolate.

The protective calyx seen backlight has a structure crosslinked felt. I recommend enlarge photos with a double click to see details better.

Pulp of Uchuva, very rich in provitamin A, vitamin C, calcium, iron and phosphorus and one appreciable amount of proteins, something unusual in a fruit. It fortifies the immune system. Its consumption for prostate problems is recommended. 

Detail of the substantial pulp of Physalis peruviana. The small discoides seeds are appraised very well. They germinate very easily. 

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Romulea assumptionis, tiny and coquette

La pequeña Romulea assumptionis es un endemismo tirrénico de la família de las Iridaceae. Vive en las Islas Baleares y en las Îles d’Hyères cerca de Marsella. Crece en los claros de las garrigas mediterráneas iluminados por el sol del mediodía. Comparte su hábitat con jaras, lentiscos, brezos, bruscos, esparragueras, gamones, aladiernos, merenderas, gageas, albaidas, fenazos, romeros, aulagas, olivillos, orquídeas, acebuches, encinas y pinos carrascoThe small Romulea assumptionis is a Tyrrhenian endemism of the Iridaceae family. It lives in the Balearic Islands and the Îles d´Hyères near Marseille. It grows in the clear ones of Mediterranean garrigues illuminated by the sun of the noon. It shares its habitat with Cistus, Pistacia, Erica, Ruscus, Asparagus, Asphodelus, Rhamnus, Merendera, Gagea, Genista, Brachypodium, Phyllirea, Rosmarinus, Calicotome, some orchids (Ophrys, Orchis, Serapias, Barlia) and some trees like Olea europaea subsp. sylvestris, Quercus ilex subsp. ilex amd Pinus halepensis.

 Romulea assumptionis photographed in March the last day of the winter in a garrigue of the center from Majorca to about 210 msnm. The substrate where its bulb is taken root is made up of argillaceous and calcareous soil cover by a layer of mosses and lichens that absorb the humidity of the dew and transfers it to the ground facilitating the survival of the small Romulea. The bulb is tiny. It measures between 7 and 10 millimeters.

The botanist Juan Rita Larrucea, professor of the University of the Balearic Islands, after studying this species in depth could verify that the Romulea assumptionis indifferently grows on coastal grounds very droughts like those of Marina de LLucmajor, on more humid calcareous-argillaceous grounds of the interior of Majorca like the one of the photo, on sandy ground in the peninsula of Arta and on water substrates even saturated in the high Majorcan mountain. The variations in the substrate do not alter their phenotype that in all the habitats is always equal. 

Until it does few years was considered a strictly Balearic endemism, but in April of 2004 a group of French botanists, studying the flora of Îles d’Hyères, found a Romulea with an atypical phenology very similar to the Romulea columnae that at first made think them about a possible hibridization. Nevertheless later they discarded this possibility when stating that, while the present units of Romulea columnae in the islands already were releasing the first seeds, this Romulea was initiating the flowering with a clear chronological separation of two months between both flowerings, which made its hibridization impossible. For more information on the finding I recommend to consult this article: 

Lateral vision of previous Romulea assumptionis. Its unique flower open in the end of a stem that does not surpass the 11 centimeters. Usually it blooms since the end of March until May.

As I already said in a previous article (They adore to the God Sun), the Romulea assumptionis is an extreme example of heliophilia. The pollination of its unique flower depends as much on the diurnal insects that it only abre the tepals if its sensors of light detect sufficient ultraviolet rays incident on it. It knows that its pollenizers will only see its flower if this one is directly illuminated by the sun. The violet veins of their tepals orient to the pollenizers towards the reproductive organs of the flower where they find one small drop of nectar like prize to its invaluable contribution. Throughout the year the tiny Romulea is accumulating nutrients and energy in its small underground bulb with the unique purpose of producing a single flower and of assuring therefore the survival the species. It cannot squander energy uselessly nor it can put in danger to its descendants. Its small flower always is oriented towards the noon. If near it grow pines, olive trees or oaks that do shade to it during the morning, its flower patiently hopes solar rays of the noon to open its tepals. The cloudy days its flower remains closed until it improves the time. If it is able to be fertilized the first day, in the evening it is closed and no longer it returns open. On the contrary one it opens several followed days until securing its objective. 

The Romulea assumptionis flower is hermaphroditic, actinomorphic and erect. It measures between 8 and 12 millimeters. The tepals are white with violet veins and are united by their base having formed a tube. Stamens have yellow anthers and the unique pistil is white and finishes in three deeply bifid stigmatic branches with filiform divisions that do not exceed anthers.

The fruit is a capsule of 5 to 11 millimeters.

The Romulea sort is integrated by 90 species that are distributed mainly by the South and East of Africa, especially in Cape province (South Africa), where are 70 species, by the Southwest of Europe, Mediterranean region and Macaronesian region (Canary, Madeira and Azores). All the Romuleas is then Euro-African. Our small Tyrrhenian endemism makes 6 million years must have a distribution much greater than the present one. At the end of Miocene, during the Messinian Period, the Mediterranean Sea had been dried almost completely and the South of France and its small coastal islands like Îles d’Hyères, Corsica, Sardinia, the Balearic Islands, Sicily, Malta, the Iberian Peninsula, the Italian Peninsula, North Africa and the Macaronesian region formed an all continuous one with very little water separated that them, so that during the million years that one so dry period lasted the animal and vegetal species could expand their populations to all this vast region. When the Mediterranean basin returned to fill of water, the Tyrrhenian mountains became islands and the species were isolate. Thus the peculiar present distribution is understood of the Romulea assumptionis.

The leaves are filiform, very thin and acute, among 30 and 100 millimeters in length and less than 0´8 millimeters of width and are arranged in a single plane forming an arc over the earth as the blades of a fan. Its color is green-grayish with reddish tones. Its filiform leaves clearly differentiate it from the other species that lives in the Balearics, the Romulea columnae, whose leaves are flattened, wider and of intense a green color. 

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Curcuma longa, the soul of Curry

The Asian plant Curcuma longa of the Zingiberaceae family is one of the basic components of the Eastern condiment more universally well-known, the Curry. Nevertheless its cooking qualities were not the reason by which the Asians began to cultivate does already it more than 3,000 years, but the dyeing properties of the curcumin, the main active principle of its rhizome. The dyed wool acquired an attractive yellow color lemon. Also it was used to dye the skin of the face and the hands in the religious rituals. 

Inflorescence of Curcuma longa with the first flowers in the middle of the summer.

Rhizomes of Curcuma longa.

India is the producing and consuming major of this rhizome. The city of Sangli, located in the south of India, is the producing major of this spice. Dust turmeric mixes with other spices and aromatic plants to elaborate the curry, such as basil, cumin, saffron, cinnamon, cardamom, celery, coriander, onion dried in dust, ginger, nut nutmeg, pepper, cayenne pepper, pulp of tamarind, caraway, etc. varying the components and the proportion among them according to the tastes of each Asian region. Along with saffron, dust turmeric confers to curry its characteristic intense yellow color. The name of this Hindu condiment comes from the Kari word that means sauce in tamil language. 

Pulp of an intense orange color by its wealth in curcumin, that in the European Union is catalogued like colouring with the nourishing code E-100. Besides comprising of curry, also it is used to give the characteristic color to the mustard sauce. Added to stews of meat, rice, vegetables and tubercles it confers an appetizing yellow color to them similar to saffron, for that reason in Colombia, where it is a spice very appreciated, receives the name of root saffron. 

Vigorous plants of turmeric of two years of age at the height of summer, cultivated in Majorca from rhizomes. In spite of being a strictly tropical plant against all prognosis it lives very well in Mediterranean climate. The frosts do not affect to it since it spends the winter under earth in the form of hibernating rhizomes. Already well entered the spring of the yolks of rhizomes they bring forth new stems with very pretty, aromatic leaves rich in excretor cells that contain essential oils, fenilpropanoids and terpenoids. They live to total sun. The irrigation two or three times to the week in the months more droughts. In the middle of summer of the center of each stem they bring forth very pretty inflorescences, but they do not produce seeds, perhaps by the absence in Majorca of its natural pollenizers: insects like the bees and the butterflies and some Asian birds of the sorts Hornstedtia and Nicolaia. 
Six years ago my liking by the exotic thing took me to buy a tray of rhizomes of Curcuma longa coming from Thailand in a supermarket of Palma de Mallorca. It was the first time that I saw it and I nothing knew on this plant. In house I looked for information in Internet and already I discovered its relation with curry. It pricked the curiosity and I wanted to prove its flavor. Then it was happened me to prepare a plate with the exotic ingredients that finished buying: tubercles of Malanga, rhizomes of Turmeric, rhizomes of smaller Galanga, fruits of bitter Melon and Chinese Okra. Here you have the recipe. I assure to you that it knew to glory.

Malanga to turmeric with Chinese okra.

Exotic plate with malanga tubercles, Colocasia esculenta, bare and boiled with water, salt, small pieces of turmeric rhizomes, Curcuma longa, galanga rhizomes, Alpinia officinarum and bitter melon, Momordica charantia, to give color, flavor and aroma. Once the malanga is tender retire the bitter melon small pieces that already have given their flavor. In a frying pan with olive oil very thinly sliced of Chinese okra are fried, Luffa acutangula, that serve to adorn the plate and all this is accompanied with two boiled eggs.

Inflorescence in ear of Curcuma longa initiating the flowering in August.

From the antiquity their medicinal properties are known. It has been used to treat the malaria, hepatitis B and C, the dermatomicosis by its anti-fungal activity, the psoriasis, the diabetes, the immunodeficiencies, the cervical cancer, the hepatocarcinoma and the cancer of breast. Also it has been used like antioxidant to restrain the aging, anti-inflammatory in arthritis and antidepressant and anxiolitic in the mental and psychosomatic ailments. During the decade from 1990 to 2000 intense studies were realised in Hospital M.D. Anderson (Houston, Texas) to isolate its active principles and to demonstrate experimentally its therapeutic activity, especially against the cancer and AIDS. Their anti-carcinogenic properties seem to derive from the capacity of turmeric to induce the apoptosis or cellular death of the cancerous cells, respecting the healthy cells.

The ear of the inflorescence is formed by ready white bracts in spiral between which the yellow flowers arise.

Turmeric shares botanical family with other plants used like spices like ginger, Zingiber officinale, the cardamom, Elettaria cardamomum and smaller galanga, Alpinia officinarum. The Zingiberaceae are herbaceous plants with alternate, simple and distic leaves, that is to say, inserted or placed in two rows and ready so that each row forms a plane approximately. Their flowers have an unique functional stamen with two thecas and a great petaloid label of yellow color formed by the fusion of two staminodes. They are very ephemeral, because they last a single day, but the abundant nectar that produces facilitates the fertilization when attracting the pollenizers. 

Flower of Curcuma longa with the detail of the petaloid label similar to the one of the orchids of the Ophrys sort and the two thecas of unique stamen in its interior. The feminine part, the gynoecium, is formed by a trilocular ovary and a straight, filiform and whole style with nectar glands in its base, resting on functional stamen and is surrounded by the two thecas in its superior part. The fruit is a capsule full of seeds surrounded by an aril.