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

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

The Apios americana are in bloom again...

(and yes, I'm quoting Stage Door)

Every year I forget they're coming. Every year I'm surprised by their fragrance. Every year I ask myself, "Why don't more people grow this plant?!"

Seriously, I don't understand it. I can only imagine no one knows about it because anyone who saw it, smelled it, tasted it ONCE, would be enraptured, addicted, hooked!

Apios americana (aka hopniss) is an athletic vine that grows best in full sun. In NYC it blooms profusely in late August (i.e. NOW), with a heavy perfume that will not be ignored. I wouldn't want to wear it (I don't wear perfume) but I sure love to smell it in the garden. Its leaves resemble those of wisteria (medium green, pinnate) and its flowers are not dissimilar, although the round, fragrant clusters are smaller than those of wisteria and bi-colored: red and pink.

The edible part of this plant is the tuber. It's too early to harvest them now; wait till after the first frost. And delicious as the tubers are (and they ARE delicious), today I want to convince you of Apios's ornamental value.

This is a trouble free plant, requiring almost no work from the gardener. In the ground it will take as much space as you give it, but it's equally happy in a container, and therefore well suited to NYC rooftops. It's not a demure plant; give it a large container of its own, then get out of the way. I'd estimate 20-25 feet of growth in a single growing season. That's enough to fully mask an unattractive railing or make an impressive statement against a bamboo fence. The vines remain thin and green, never becoming woody like wisteria, so it's easy to cut them back to the ground each year (and dig up a few tubers for supper...oh wait! I wasn't going to talk about that.) All you have to do is keep twining it in the direction you want it to go.

What are you waiting for?


cindy said...

so are they a perennial? they look great!

gardenglamour said...

Thanks for the great planting tip. I love this vine! Do you start from seed or did you discover @ a nursery?

Ellen Zachos said...

Cindy, yes they're perennial and they come back bigger and stronger every year.

Gardenglamour, I bought a single plant from Gowanus Nursery (Brooklyn) in fall of 2008 and less than 2 years later it's a giant! You can also mail order this plant from Brushwood Nursery in PA.

Ellen Spector Platt said...

Although you weren't planning to write about the tubers, I need to know if digging some to eat damages the plant. I once planted Iris florentina so I could produce my own organic orris root powder for potpourris. After I saw the flowers bloom was unable to harvest the roots and destroy the plant. Wound up with a nice row of iris, no orris root powder.

Ellen Zachos said...

Oh, I'm planning to write about the tubers!!! (Check my old post from 11.12.09 for initial info.) Since the tubers grow in chains, out and away from the stem, it's easy to harvest the outer tubers and leave plenty to support next year's vines. I suggest leaving 4-6 tubers per vine. Which means you can probably harvest 3 or 4 times as many!

wiseacre said...

I think you're right that few even know about this native wildflower. The only place I've ever seen them is in the wild.

I'm not hooked but I do get a rush every time I find some. I should take some irrigation flags with me next time I go wandering along the river. Then I can go back and forage some of the tubers later. Growing them in a container sounds like a good idea.

Ellen Zachos said...

Wiseacre, I've dug them in the wild (don't tell my local rangers) and the soil tends to be very rocky and tough. Mostly I find them on river banks and lake shores. Much easier to harvest from a container, but not as much of a thrill. Both ways taste good.

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