We didn’t set out to grow chillies but we do it anyway. The bush just appeared in the garden, perhaps a year ago, weaving its way up through a hibiscus bush. It must have grown from seed, either from our compost like the tomatoes or from bird droppings. We didn’t even notice it until the first fruit began to ripen but when they did, we thought we might as well leave the bush alone for the odd occasion we want one in our evening meal.
When we tried them, we found they were pretty powerful, at least by our standards: one chilli makes a dish for six people hot enough that at least one of them will think it is too hot to enjoy.
If you want to know about really hot chillies, try this article from Australian Geographic. Ours are not in their league. If they were, we would have ripped the plant out long ago as a menace to gardeners and small children.
There’s more about chillies and their relations here, on wikipedia. I knew they were originally South American but I had never thought about how and when they became so central to Asian cuisine.
Local lore has it that the our common Dove Orchids flower ten days before rain. It is approximately correct on all points.
Just so we know what we’re talking about, here is the flower:
The flowers are quite small, about 5 cm across, but are abundant and have a lovely scent. Sometimes we walk into the garden, take a deep breath and realise the orchids are out before we see them. The flowers do only last for a couple of days, unfortunately, but they are very pretty for that time. Between flowerings, the plant is easily overlooked – a messy tangle of stems, roots and leaves, especially if it has been there for a while. The dull green leaves are 6 – 7 cm long and 2 – 2.5 cm wide.
Now, about all those partial truths:
Dove orchids are not quite local. They are native to a broad area of southern Asia (from India, Malaysia, Indonesia and Vietnam to the Phillipines and China) but not, apparently, northern Australia. New Guinea and Christmas Island, yes; Australian mainland, no. But they are well established in gardens around Townsville, growing and propagating happily with no attention at all. If wouldn’t surprise me if they have gone feral along our tropical coast.
‘Dove orchid’ is the only common name used for them locally, and it is quite appropriate because the buds are shaped like little white birds; some people see a resemblance between the open blossom and a dove in flight, too. But ‘Dove Orchid’ is used for a quite different flower in Central America and some sources call ours the ‘Pigeon Orchid’. The scientific name is unambiguous, of course: Dendrobium crumenatum.
How could a plant ‘know’ that it is going to rain? It can’t, of course. We thought for a long time that our orchids were responding to an increase in humidity but it turns out that flowering is triggered by a sudden drop in temperature (Orchids Wiki suggests ‘at least 5.5 C’ is needed) and all the flowers will open together nine days later, not ten, according to my sources. The temperature drop often precedes the onset of rain, so once again, a partial truth.
All of our dove orchids – four clumps of them in various trees and shrubs – flowered together last Friday. Let’s see if it pours rain tomorrow or Monday!
Friday 11 November: the results are …
Townsville got 3.8 mm of rain on Monday 7th, none at all in the week before that day and none in the following two days, according to the BoM stats.
The Monday was the tenth day after the orchids flowered, so it looks like local lore is vindicated. On the other hand, those rainfall figures are for the airport and we may not have had even that much of a shower – and 3.8 mm hardly qualifies as ‘rain’ anyway!
In the immortal words of the last paragraph of every scientific paper written in the last fifty years, ‘more research is required.’
Fill large styrofoam box 2/3 full with well-rotted compost.
Place in sunny position (near swimming pool is ideal).
Repeat step 3 daily until the greenery is big enough to identify.
Repeat step 3 daily.
Prop up tomato plants as necessary.
Repeat step 3 daily.
Harvest when ripe.
Did I say, “Purchase seedlings,” or, “Plant out seedlings in the box”? No and no. Not necessary – with our compost, anyway. We have known that for years, because tomato seedlings pop up as if by magic in our plant pots and garden beds. We often let them grow wherever they choose to appear; this time we simply encouraged them.
Did I mention pesticides? No. We didn’t even need to think about using any.
Varieties? We always get cherry tomatoes, and did this time as well (there is one in the bowl although it’s a bit hard to see) but I don’t know why we got so many Roma tomatoes. Perhaps they are better at reproducing from seed than the hybrids.
Food miles? 0.01 (0.0001 when they are eaten straight from the bush).
And the taste? On a scale of 1 – 10, on which standard shop-bought tomatoes rate 4 – 6, these rate between 9.4 and 10.
No, it’s not a Latin-American cry of encouragement, nor the Argentinean answer to polo, nor a hooded mediaeval gown. It’s an exotic tropical fruit we have been enjoying recently.
We planted the tree years ago and have mostly ignored it ever since, but it has produced worthwhile numbers of blossoms and some fruit in the last few weeks. Buds, flowers and finally fruit emerge directly from the stems. The cherry-sized fruit go from green to purple-brown to black and have a single seed a bit smaller than a cherry pip. The flesh is very soft and sweet, more like a grape than anything else; the skin is thin and edible, but tough and bitter enough that we tend to spit it out.
The tree, Myrciara cauliflora, ‘grows to 10 to 12 metres in its native southern Brazil,’ according to Glenn Tankard’s invaluable Tropical Fruit, ‘but is more commonly seen in Australian gardens as a large bush growing up to 5 metres high.’ From the description of ideal growing conditions I suspect ours doesn’t get as much sun as it should – I will see what I can do about that.