Text and photographs are © by Ellen Spector Platt & Ellen Zachos, all rights reserved.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

it's a floor polish, it's a dessert topping...

All hail Apios americana!

What? Never heard of it? I'm not surprised. You won't find it at a big box store; it takes a special kind of nursery to offer this plant.

Maybe people just don't understand how to classify Apios americana (aka hopniss, aka groundnut). Is it an edible? an ornamental? A. americana is both of these and more. Without exaggeration I offer you:

- an ornamental vine with a fragrant and lovely flower;
- a low maintenance plant, growing approximately 10 feet in a season;
- a perennial that grows in sun to part shade, tolerates wet and dry soils, and like most legumes, thrives in poor soils;
- a delicious tuber; after letting the plant establish for 2 years, you can harvest a crop each fall without sacrificing performance the following year.

I found no reference to growing Apios in containers, but decided to take a chance in a tight corner of a client's terrace. I wanted something that would mask the railing and grow well in a half day of sun. And if, perchance, I got to harvest a meal from the container at the end of the season...well, how nice for me!

The leaves of A. americana are typically leguminous: pinnately compound with 5-7 leaflets.

Flowers are wisteria-esque; individual blooms are pink on the outside, reddish on the inside (Georgia O'Keefe fans take note) and borne in clusters. They bloom in August/September and you'll often smell their intense perfume before you notice the flower visually.

Tubers form inches below the soil surface and grow in chains, with the older tubers being the largest. When you cut back the vines in fall (as I did earlier this week), it's the perfect time to dig up a meal.

In the wild this plant often colonizes rocky soils, making the tubers difficult to dig. In the cultivated soil of a back yard garden or a rooftop container, however, digging up a meals' worth of hopniss is quick and easy. I don't claim it's foraging, but it sure is fun.

I like my hopniss roasted, but you can boil, bake, or saute them...whatever your little heart desires. The taste is nutty and dense, like a cross between a potato and a peanut.

Whether you want to eat the tubers or merely gaze upon the lovely Apios, do me a favor. Ask for it wherever you shop for plants. Ask for it every time you go in. Ask until you wear them down. It's a tactic that works surprisingly well. In the meantime, you can find A. americana in Brooklyn at Gowanus Nursery and via mailorder from Brushwood Nursery.

P.S. If you get the title of this post, please let me know.


Elizabeth said...

I get it, you early SNL aficionado you. Makes me want to discuss it more with you offline, as an option for B-line

Unknown said...

Not only did I get it, I tried using another SNL commercial spoof ("Hey, You," the perfume for one night stands) in an orchid lecture on Wed., but was foiled by digital rights and lack of internet access. Must be something 70's in the ether right now!

I've read a bit about this vine before but never seen or grown it, must run over to Gowanus before they close for the season, thanks!


SaraGardens said...

I get it, too, but I am far older than you. I'm delighted to know Apios americana grows well in containers. It's such a special plant. And thanks for the cooking tips, too. We tasted them raw, but haven't had enough to make a feast (yet!).

Shady Gardener said...

The flower was so pretty... I would find it hard to dig it up to eat it! Did you save a few??

Ellen Zachos said...

Oh, Jim, you'd better hurry. I think Gowanus closes next Sunday. Call first, they might be out this late in the season! And thanks for reminding me of "Hey, You." Those were the days.

Shady, that's the beauty of it! After the flowers have faded and the vine has died back for the winter you can dig the tubers with impunity. Next spring the remaining tubers will sprout and the vines will flower without missing a beat.

Sara...guess what I'm bringing you on Monday? Not just Apios seeds!

Georgia said...

Really like your foraging posts!

Ellen Zachos said...

Thanks Georgia, foraging is one of my favorite activities, as you can probably tell.

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