What is Basella? by Luc Vincent, Head of the Horticultural Establishment of the City of Neuchâtel

We are going to discover today spinach from Malabar.

In 1688, Mr Rheede, a Dutch botanist was the governor of the coast of Malabar, India. He discovers a plant that the natives grow and call Basella. This is the first mention of this plant. In 1749 it is found in Paris in the Garden of the King.

Basella alba is not a spectacular plant but it is worth watching it a little. First, its leaves are succulent. Here, in the botanical sense of the term, that is to say fleshy tissues rich in water. It is for this reason that Basella alba was cultivated. When cooked, its leaves, replaced advantageously those of the spinach.

To better understand it, we must put ourselves in the context of time. The freezer did not exist and as you know, spinach does not like heat. It goes up and is no longer edible. Vasella alba, on the other hand, needs heat to grow well. However, Basella alba is not as rich in vitamins as spinach, which means that under our latitudes this plant is no longer cultivated.

Basella alba is a climbing plant which at the end of the season reaches a height of 2m. If we look closer, in the armpit of each leaf there's a cluster of small white cones (alba). Each cone is actually a flower that blooms really discreetly. This flower is so special that botanists have had to create a family for her, the family Basellaceae.You can admire Malabar spinach in Neuchâtel at the Jardin Anglais (English Garden) near the La Rotunde. Since the beginning of June, a selection of climbing plants has been planted, among which you will find Basella alba, but also a variation with very decorative red foliage Basella alba rubra.

We wish you great discoveries.

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