Vines and Other Climbing Plants


Malabar Spinach - Basella Alba/Rubra.

Basella Alba is a native climber of the Indian Subcontinent, Southeast Asia and New Guinea. It has also been naturalized in parts of South America including Brazil, Belize and Columbia.
It is the leaves of this plant that give rise to its common name and that are used as a Spinach alternative in cooking in many native and some non native countries including parts of Africa, China, Vietnam, Korea, India, Ceylon and Japan with interest now being shown here in the UK.

Malabar Spinach is a soft-stemmed twining vine that can reach some 10 metres, or 30 ft in length in hot weather, (around 90 F) although a cooler climate will curtail its growth enormously. Being extremely frost-sensitive it is best grown as a half-hardy annual, although it is in fact a perennial. Growing Basella in part shade will increases the leaf size, but it does prefer full sun. This fast growing climber is happy in a wide range of soil types, but it likes moist, fertile soil that is high in organic matter with a pH of between 6.5 to 6.8. If the plant is allowed to dry out it will encourage flowering, which will turn the leaves bitter, although, normally the leaves have a mild flavour. 

Basella needs the support of something like trellis and is ideal for growing up a pergola where it can run freely. The variety ‘Rubra,’ has purplish stems and an abundance of bright, glossy, red leaves that make it a very decorative plant. Indeed some seed companies actually list it as an ornamental because of its colourful appeal rather than as a vegetable. 

Going under many names such as Indian spinach, buffalo spinach, climbing spinach and Pui the leaves of Basella are quite nutritious whether they are cooked, or used in raw salads. They are high in vitamin A, vitamin C, iron, and calcium and low in calories, but relatively high in protein. They are also particularly high in soluble fibre. Malabar spinach can also be used as a thickener in soups.

The propagation of Basella can be done by seed, or cuttings. Seeds need to be scarified though to ease germination as they have a tough coat and need a fairly high temperature of between 65 F and 75 F to develop. 

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