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Basellaceae, Basella alba, pui shak (Bengali), balasale soppu (Kannada), Malabar spinach, Malabar nightshade, Climbing spinach

June 23, 2009

This is a soft twining perennial plant. The stems are fleshy and green, sometimes tinged brownish purple. The leaves can take on a variety of degrees of heart-shape. The small, fleshy cream or white flowers are born on an erect inflorescence which then turn into fleshy, berrylike fruits with seed inside.

This species is widely distributed in the tropics (China, Japan, the Philippines, Borneo, Fiji, Hawaii, West Indies, Brazil, Guayana, Central Aermica. From West Africa to Ethiopia and south to Mozambique, Malawi, Zambia and angola. It is also common in Kenya.

In Kenya the plant is rare found growing truely wild, but can be seen in the forest, along forest edges, in humid bushland, and along rocky cliffs. It is also common in disturbed areas as the seeds germinate readily.

The leaves are used as a vegetable, often seen for sale in municipal markets. The leaves are soft and typically cooked with other vegetables. I often eat them raw. In Kenya the leaves are also given to cattle to increase milk yield.

The plant is best propagated from stem cuttings. Seed also works well.

The cultivars with thicker stems and larger leaves are from South Asia.

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