May 10, 2006

Bladder pods to Wasabi: Brassicas in Bloom

Wasabia japonica

Anyone who has had the good fortune to eat at a high-end Japanese restaurant, such as Nobu, knows what a treat fresh ground Wasabi is. The spincy, pungent shaved 'horseradish' so important in Japanese cuisine, is not a horsradish at all, but a member of the cabbage family, Brassicaceae, a family that also includes Brocolli, Rape Seed (from which Canolla oil is made, and Mustard. The Wasabi one gets in ninety five percent of Japanese restaurants in America, as well as in Japan, however, is sadly synthetic, a pale green powder from a small tin, which one mixes with water to create a paste. Fresh Wasabi is difficult to grow and is very expensive. The demand is so high that only a few specaily growers can supply the fine restaurants. SO I opt to grow it myself, finding the plants from a few growers. Try Freshwater Wasabi.

Cardamine macrophylla

Cardamine are attractive garden perennials that are somewhat ephemeral in nature, but are a relatively under utilized species of which I am becoming more fond of. Cardamine are a little difficult to find, and impossible at garden centers. They are growable from fresh seed, but rarely produce it. Once established they are long lived. A few species are invasive, but it seems that the good ones never are as is the case with this C. macrophyla above, which is stop-dead gorgeous in the garden, with it's one inch wide blossoms. My three plants have yet to spread into a clump, but I keep trying. Dan Hinkley advises that the best time to propagate is by severing the rhyzomes in early spring before growth. Something to try next year. The rhyzomes have thick, fleshy leaf-like scales, and each scale has at it's base a dormant bud if you sever the rhyzome and replant it. If you never do this, the plant just seems to produce one stem per plant. And Cardamine is a species that looks best with lots of company. Kew plant sections with up to 20 plants at a time. AThey bloom once in early spring, then are gone by July.

Lesquerella kingii

Native to America's west, Lesquerella kingii is an endangers brassica from the northern California hills. The Bladder Pod produced large inflated 'bladder-like'seed pods in late summer, but alpine gardeners fidn the yellow flowers attractive in the alpine garden. This plant, growing in the raised stone wall, is blooming in early May, in our Massachusetts garden. Stay tuned for the bladders! Some bladderpods have agricultural merit, for an oil pressed from thier seed.

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