An edible wild and native Asian plant I briefly mentioned when making a jungle salad is ‘wild spiderflower’ (Cleome gynandra, Cleomaceae), ‘pak sian’ in Central Thai language:
The flowers are ‘three-dimensional’ with male (stamens) and female (pistil) parts resembling a harvestman spider (Opilionidae).
It grows like a weed at Dokmai Garden and my efforts to transplant it to a permanent site in the sunny vegetable section has failed. It likes the gravel and partly shaded area around the gardener’s house.
The plant is short-lived (weeks) but the fruits contain many seeds and so it reproduces quickly. I have used the leaves straight in jungle salads, while Ketsanee likes to pickle any young part of the plant, later to be used as a condiment with sticky rice.
This is another species described by Swedish gentleman Linnaeus in Species Plantarum from 1753. According to his notes, this plant was also kept at Clifford’s private 18th century botanical garden outside Amsterdam and treated by Dutch Governor Rheede in Hortus Malabaricus from the 17th century. Any VIP card holder interested in continuing the pursuits of a gentleman is welcome to Dokmai Garden to pick seeds for free. Unfortunately we have no time to send seeds by mail.
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Text & Photo: Eric Danell