Two Houses: Dioecious Plants, part 5

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I had a hard time thinking of a vegetable that belonged with this group and then it hit me: Asparagus. Named varieties are usually all male but the grower missed this one. Asparagus is my number one favorite vegetable and the plants from the garden are the sweetest I’ve tasted. Male and female are equally good but do remove the seedlings as a crowded bed will become impossible to tend.

This seems the right place to state that marijuana is also a member of this exclusive group. In this case, it is the female plants and their buds that are the objects of desire. Or so I’ve been told. Although I came of age in the late 60s and 70s, I’ve never had the desire to indulge in the herb. However, I did one time partake of it baked into brownies. My thoughts and perceptions seemed the same after imbibing as they did beforehand, so I can’t truly say if a high was achieved. But my memory of the brownies’ sublime chocolaty goodness still lingers, so who knows.

If you were to cross a rush with papyrus, added a touch of bamboo and seasoned with horsetail, the result might be a Restio. In this case, the entire family is dioecious. Originating mostly in South Africa and Australia with a smattering of species in other countries in the southern hemisphere, these are tough plants that can take a lot of drought and seasonal wet, don’t require intense fertilization, and aren’t bothered by pests. Their sin is they aren’t cold hardy but they can take colder temperatures than once was believed. Their foliage is usually a variation on non-branching reed-like culms but there are also plants with feathery groupings of fine hair-like stems that make great contrasts to other plants. Plant size can vary from 18 inches to 10 foot specimens, depending on the species. Sexual dimorphism can come into play as Restio females are often larger and more robust than the males.

We’ve been growing one of the more common ones for five years and it makes the seasonal cycles from indoors to outdoors and back with aplomb. Its needs are simple – water, light and protection from winter. It doesn’t require feeding and doesn’t get bugs. It’s the earliest to go out in the spring and one of the last to return in the fall. It doesn’t fall apart if a light to mild frost hits it. It takes division beautifully and mixes well with its neighbors. What’s not to like?

Part 5 of a 6 part series. Tomorrow – wrapping it up.

About the Author

I started in 1977 growing plants at wholesale nurseries and a wholesale seed company in California. In 1992 I started volunteering (in the nursery, of course!) at Strybing Arboretum in San Francisco where I met my wife. My wife is originally from upstate and we moved here in 2002. It took at least two years of living here for me to fully understand our property and to take advantage and work with our microclimate. Although growing zone maps show us to be in 5, we are realistically a 4b. I am inordinately proud, in a smarmy kind of way, of how many of the plants we brought with us have thrived. Coming from a zone 9 has been quite an adjustment for all of us. But we are thriving and enjoy the beauty and what the land gives us everyday. USDA Hardiness Zone: 4b/5a Location: rural; Central Leatherstocking near Cooperstown, New York Geographic type: riverine valley Soil type: Chenango alluvial – shallow clay and highly stony Experience level: 28 years professionally wholesale and retail, no longer in the business Particular interests: native plants and ecosystems, flowering and berry producing shrubs, home-grown foods, maples, birches, willows, ornamental grasses, filipendulas, iris, ligularias, persicarias, asclepias, artemisia, asters, arisaemas, hardy geraniums, euphorbias, eupatoriums, origanums, lysimachias, eryngiums, lilies, and visiting nurseries

In the end, this may be the most important thing about frost: Frost slows us down. In spring, it tempers our eagerness. In fall, it brings closure and rest. In our gotta-go world–where every nanosecond seems to count–slowness can be a great gift. So rather than see Jack Frost as an adversary, you could choose to greet him as a friend.

~Philip Harnden in A Gardener’s Guide to Frost: Outwit the Weather and Extend the Spring and Fall Seasons

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Renata Jelito January 26, 2012, 9:55 pm

The asparagus plant is very special, not only it’s spears are delicious they also make lovely plants.