A Gardening Journal

Today in the Garden of a Lifetime: Progress of the "plow breaker" plant

erythrina-zeyheri-overall-091112-640

 

Last year, I germinated some of the enormous red seeds of this perennial species of bean tree, Erythrina zeyheri, whose woody roots grow so enormous that they broke the plows of South African settlers.  This "plow breaker" seedling has been exceptionally enthusiastic, growing so large it takes up much of the table.

 

It's easy to feel why the huge foliage is usually left alone by browsers that munch on the grasslands of this plant's native habitat:  As is typical for Erythrina, the leaves have short and sharp spines, especially on the underside. 

 

erythrina-zeyheri-hand--leaflet-091112-640

 

The spines deter foragers as they also help the plant's foliage hold onto underlying growth, to keep its top-of-the-heap position in full sun.

 

erythrina-zeyheri-leaf-spines-091112-640

 

The spines prick more than they pierce, but are rigid enough to ensure that the plant's lush growth doesn't become antelope lunch.

 

erythrina-zeyheri-leaf-spines-closer-091112-640

 

The plant's "plow breaker" root is mostly buried, with only a modest above-ground presence, known as a caudex, from which the yearly stems sprout.  Overall, the root mass can become as big as a suitcase, and is impervious to brush fires, drought—and horse-drawn farm equipment.

 

erythrina-zehyeri-caudex-091112-640

 

The plant is already in a three-gallon pot.  When it sits dormant in the greenhouse over the Winter, I'll unpot it to see how the root's plow-breaking potential is developing.  And I'll encourage that potential by repotting it in a much larger container.

 

erythrina-zeyheri-pot-091112-640

 

Next season, I bet this weird plant will show off some flowers, too.  Stay tuned.

 

Here's how to grow this astonishing tender perennial.

 

 
 
FacebookTwitterRSS Feed

Stay in touch!

 

Sign up for twice-monthly eNews, plus notification of new posts:

 

* indicates required