Grit Blogs > Nature and Gardening at the Edge

What is that in my garden?

We plant our garden and think that we know what to expect. Every year there are some unusual insects or weeds but occasionally even the vegetables don’t look familiar. We star at something unfamiliar and ask ourselves, ‘Did I plant this?’

This year has been a record year for garden mysteries. I planted my usual few hills of pumpkins. A friend who spent time in South Africa asked me to plant some African pumpkins. The vines and blossoms look the same as those next to it. The fruit, see picture, is quite different. The color is pale green although my friend assures me that gray is the mature color. They are much flatter and more deeply creased than the familiar orange types. I’ll be interested to hear how these pumpkins are used and perhaps get a sample of pie or whatever the favorite dish is that they make.

Meanwhile at the other end of the garden my broccoli has positively turned into a hedge. I have learned that the over production of leaves and lack of heads is a result of uneven temperatures in the spring. I haven’t found a use for all of the leaves on the nearly two foot tall plants. I have gotten some small heads.

The biggest mystery was in the potato patch and this one sent me searching online. My potatoes have small green tomato like fruit on them. The University of Iowa web site assures me that this is not from cross-pollination with tomatoes. The part of the potato that we enjoy is actual a tuber on the roots. Most of the plant is otherwise poisonous and should not be eaten. The familiar flowers that we see in mid summer on potatoes occasionally are pollinated and develop fruits, which is what I found. The web site assures me that they contain solanine, the poisons found throughout the potato plant and are not edible. Also, since potatoes are grown from cuttings, the seeds could be a more challenging to produce a potato plant.

If you grow sweet corn, you have probably seen those alien-looking ears that have smut growing on them. The kernels are replaced with large grayish shapes that eventually open to release black spores. Occasionally smut is found in the tassel area or as large growths near the ground. This is actually yeast like parasitic plant that grows on corn. It is particularly a problem during drought years when it thrives.

While it is to most eyes rather ugly and blight, it is actually edible and is considered a delicacy in some cuisines. The taste is described as mushroom like.

My take away from finding unusual things in the garden is to investigate before ingesting. I would have thought corn smut to be poisonous and fruit from any garden plant potentially food but how wrong I would have been.

  African pumpkins Potato fruit