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Plant of the Month: October 2012;

The notably few Edible Gesneriads

GESNERIACEÆ; Gesneriad Family

    Three years into a comprehensive edible houseplant study, I was astonished at how the Gesneriad Family had at once so many genera cultivated as ornamentals, with so few eaten by people. Hence, this article. As the chart at the bottom shows, the Gesneriads rank utterly last in terms of percentage of genera reported with edible species.
    Here is how my ranking was done. I surveyed books, past and present, as well as websites, nursery listings, and blogs, to compile a list of 1,148 genera that have been variously suggested as, or grown as, houseplants. Whether the genus has but one species so used, or many, didn't matter, nor whether its cultivation was common or extremely rare. Then I took this list of 1,148 genera, and read printed materials and searched the internet to find which of the genera had any species recorded as edible to humans. Using Mabberley's Plant-Book (2008), I arranged the genera into 220 families. With those 33 families containing at least 9 genera used as houseplants, I charted my "recorded edible" per cent findings, as seen in the chart below.
    It is vital to emphasize that a genus can have both toxic and edible species. Even an individual species can be toxic except under certain circumstances --such as being cooked. Also, just because no one has recorded a plant's edibility in writing, does not mean the plant is toxic or inedible. Notably, the Gesneriad Family is about as rarely encountered in toxic plant literature as in edible plant sources. Poison control institutions have published many lists of toxic houseplants and garden plants. Gesneriads are even rarer there than in the edible plant writings.
    The 1998 Flora of China reported that the Gesneriad Family contained about 133 genera and 3,000 species, distributed in Africa, Central and South America, E and S Asia, S Europe, and Oceania. Mabberley (2008) reported 139 genera and 2,900 species. Ahmed Fayaz's 2011 Encyclopedia of Tropical Plants reports over 147 genera, 3,200 species. That is a huge family to contain so few species recorded as edible.
    The Gesneriad Family includes well-known ornamental species such the florist's gloxinia, Sinningia speciosa (Lodd.) Hiern; and African violet, Saintpaulia ionantha H. Wendl. --whose lovely flowers, incidentally, taste repulsive. The family name commemorates Konrad von Gesner (1516 - 1565), accomplished and famous Swiss naturalist.
    Below, I list alphabetically all 13 Gesneriaceae genera and 26 species that I have found with any species recorded as edible to humans, even in those genera that have not been tried as houseplants. I hope that readers who may know of more, will notify me, so this listing can increase.
    Nomenclature below largely follows that used by the 2010 World Checklist of Gesneriaceae by Laurence E. Skog & J.K. Boggan; Washington, DC: Dep't. of Botany, Smithsonian Institution. Neither the checklist nor Mabberley's Plant-book include in the family the genus Rehmannia, unlike the 2011 European Garden Flora. I mention this because this genus has been recorded as having edible species.

Æschynanthus parviflorus (D. Don) Spreng.1827, non C.B. Clarke 1874, non Ridl. 1909
= Æschynanthus maculata Lindl.
An epiphytic shrub of NE India, Nepal, Sikkim, Bhutan, S China, Burma, Thailand, and Vietnam. A July 2013 paper, reports the flowers are eaten with meat. Wild Edible Plant Resources used by the Mizos of Mizoram, India by A. Kar et al. in Kathmandu University Journal of Science, Engineering and Technology.

Chirita heterotricha Merr.
= Didymocarpus (Didimocarpus) heterotricha auct.
= Primulina heterotricha (Merr.) Y. Dong & Yin Z. Wang 2011
A perennial herb of rocky streamsides in forested valleys in Hainan, S China. Siri von Reis Altschul reported that the leaves are eaten. New Plant Sources for Drugs and Foods from the New York Botanical Garden Herbarium 1982.

Codonanthe crassifolia (Focke) C.V. Morton
The Central American Bellflower. From C America to Venezuela & Peru. A hanging-basket plant. In the wild, associated with ants.
Enciclopedia de las Plantas Utiles del Ecuador by Lucia de la Torre et al. 2008: "el fruto es comestible [fruits are edible]."

Columnea eburnea (Wiehler) L.P. Kvist & L.E. Skog 1993
Epiphytic herb from Ecuador.
de la Torre et al. 2008: "el fruto es comestible [fruits are edible]."

Columnea strigosa Benth.
Epiphytic herb from Colombia, W Venezuela, Ecudor, and N Peru.
de la Torre et al. 2008: "el fruto es comestible [fruits are edible]."

Columnea tenella L.P. Kvist & L.E. Skog 1993 (Goldfish Plant or Vine)
= Trichantha gracilis Wiehler 1984
Epiphytic herb from W Colombia and Ecuador.
Useful Plants of Ecuador by Montserrat Rios et al. 2007 and de la Torre et al. 2008: "el fruto es comestible [fruits are edible]."

Columnea villosissima Mansf.
Epiphytic herb from Colombia, Ecuador, and Peru.
de la Torre et al. 2008: "el néctar es comestible [nectar is edible]."

Conandron ramondioides S. & Z.
A perennial herb of streamside rocks, rocky forests cliffs in SE China, Taiwan, and Japan. Tyôzaburô Tanaka (1976) in Tanaka's Cyclopedia of Edible Wild Plants of the World reported it as a famine food, its leaves strained with salt, and eaten with vinegared miso or cooked with other vegetables and meat.

Cyrtandra decurrens de Vriese 1856, non Bl.
A low shrub from Indonesia, cited in Edible Leaves of the Tropics 1979 and 1998 editions by Franklin W. Martin et al., while Gunther Kunkel 1980, Plants For Human Consumption, specifies: "leaves for flavoring foods."

Cyrtandra pendula Bl. 1826, non Nadeaud 1873 (Rock Sorrel)
= C. Blumeana C.B. Clarke
= C. rotundifolia Ridl.
H.N. Ridley: "The plant is called Poko Assam Batu by the natives (literally Acid Rock Plant), and the leaves, which are slightly acid, are used by them in curries." p. 527 of the Journal of the Linnean Society of London: Botany, Volume 32 Cyrtrandaceæ Malayenses 1895.
Kunkel: "Sourish lvs used for flavoring."

Cyrtandra spp.
vRoy A. Rappaport (1967) in Pigs for the Ancestors; Ritual in the Ecology of a New Guinea People, reports the Tsembaga Maring people of Papua New Guinea eat the leaves of certain species.
Kunkel elaborates: Melanesia. Leaves of some spp. eaten as a vegetable.
J.M. Powell (1976) in Ethnobotany New Guinea reports people eat the leaves of an unidentified species.

Didymocarpus villosus D. Don
Nepalese herb of stony cliffs.
N.P. Manandhar 1991 Some Additional Note on Wild Food Plants of Nepal in Journal of Natural History Museum, Tribhuvan Univ., Kathmandu, Nepal, Vol 12(1-4) 1991 p. 22: "tender portions of stem eaten as a vegetable in times of scarcity"

Drymonia coccinea (Aubl.) Wiehler
S. American vine.
de la Torre et al. 2008: "sirve como condimento para los comidas [served as a condiment for foods]."

Drymonia coriacea (Oerst. ex Hanst.) Wiehler
S. American vine.
de la Torre et al. 2008: "La flor es comestible por su sabor dulce [The flower is edible and sweet tasting]."

Drymonia rhodoloma Wiehler
Ecuador vine.
de la Torre et al. 2008: "La planta cocida se usa para preparar bebidas [The plant is used for preparing cooked drinks]."

Drymonia serrulata (Jacq.) Mart.
Ecuador vine.
de la Torre et al. 2008: "La planta cocida se usa para preparar bebidas [The plant is used for preparing cooked drinks]."

Glossoloma Sprucei (Kuntze) J.L. Clark 2005
= Alloplectus Sprucei (Kuntze) Wiehler
S. American vine.
de la Torre et al. 2008: "Las hojas, maceradas y mezcladas con agua, se usan como bebida [The leaves, macerated and mixed with water, are used as beverage]."

Oreocharis primuloides (Miq.) Benth. & Hook. ex C.B. Clarke
= Chirita primuloides (Miq.) Ohwi
= Opithandra primuloides (Miq.) B.L. Burtt
Tanaka reports the leaves of this perennial Japanese herb are eaten like Conandron ramonioides.

Rhynchoglossum Gardneri W.L. Theob. & Grupe 1972
= Klugia ceylanica Gardn.
= Klugia zeylanica A. DC.
= Klugia Notoniana Hook.
Martin et al. 1998 edition, and Kunkel: In Sri Lanka, leaves eaten.

Rhynchoglossum Notonianum (Wall.) B.L. Burtt 1962 (East India Klugia)
= Rhynchoglossum obliquum Hohen. ex C.B. Clarke and Miq. ex C.B. Clarke, non Bl.
= Wulfenia Notoniana Wall.
= Glossanthus Notonianus (Wall.) R. Br.
= Klugia Notoniana (Wall.) A. DC.
Martin et al. 1978 and 1998 editions include this annual, succulent, SE Asian herb as having edible leaves.

The exquisite drawing below is from Curtis's Botanical Magazine, Volume 77, 1851


Rhynchoglossum obliquum Bl., non Hohen. ex C.B. Clarke
= R. obliquum (Wall.) A. DC.
= R. zeylanicum Hook.
= R. zeylanicum Dalzell
An annual herb of India, China, Cambodia, Indonesia, Malaysia, Myanmar, Nepal, Philippines, Sri Lanka, Thailand, and Vietnam. Cited here because it has been nominally confused with both of the preceding species --hence, all the synonyms cited.

Rhynchotechum calycinum C.B. Clarke
An Indomalasian herb. Leaves are cooked as a vegetable and also used in funeral ceremony. Traditional knowledge of the Adi tribe of Arunachel Pradesh on Plants by R.C. Srivastava & Adi community in Indian Journal of Traditional Knowledge Vol. 8 (2) April 2009.

Rhynchotechum discolor (Maxim.) B.L. Burtt 1962
An herb of moist shady forests in SE China, Taiwan, Japan, and the Philippines. Tanaka, echoed by Kunkel, reports "one of the edible plants, but the edible part [berry or leaf] uncertain."

Rhynchotechum ellipticum (Wall. ex Dietr.) A. DC.
An under-shrub plant of forests, and shaded streamsides. Nepal, Bhutan, India, China, Myanmar, Laos, Cambodia, Malaysia, Thailand, Vietnam. The leaves are eaten as vegetable. Wild Edible Plants Of India 1978 by Harbhajan Singh and R.K. Arora. Also in various other Indian publications.

Rhynchotechum vestitum Wall. ex C.B. Clarke
An under-shrub plant of forests, and shaded streamsides. Bhutan, Tibet, India, Sikkim, SW China. Leaves cooked as vegetable along with sodium bicarbonate. Tribal knowledge on Wild Edible Plants of Megahalaya, Northeast India by H. Kayang in Indian Journal of Traditional Knowledge Vol. 6 (1) January 2007.

Sinningia incarnata (Aubl.) D.L. Denham
= Gesneria coccinia hort. ex Hanst. 1864, non Rojas Acosta 1897
= Besleria incarnata Aubl.
= Rechsteineria incarnata (Aubl.) Leeuwenb.
Mexico, Colombia, Venezuela, Guianas, Suriname, N Brazil. A tuberous, somewhat succulent, perennial herb of meadows and similar situations in much sun; flowers showy, hummingbird-pollinated. The most widespread Sinningia, and the only one growing N of the Panama Isthmus: it reaches into Mexico. The 1775 Histoire des Plantes de La Guiane Francoise, volume 2, by Pierre Francois Didot, states: "Cette baie eft bonne à manger." Philip Miller's 1835 The Gardeners Dictionary writes of the fruit: "soft pulp of agreeable taste." Later writers write to the same effect. I guess the fruit is eaten immature, as in Sinningia the fruit are generally capsules --not juicy berries-- that split open at maturity.

Per cent of edible houseplant genera

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Family genera = per cent
ARALIACEÆ 11/11 = 100%
GRAMINEÆ 12/13 = 92.30%
ARACEÆ 34/37 = 91.89%
PALMÆ 30/33 = 90.90%
ZINGIBERACEÆ 10/11 = 90.90%
LEGUMINOSÆ 35/39 = 89.74%
CYPERACEÆ 8/9 = 88.88%
MYRTACEÆ 15/17 = 88.23%
RUTACEÆ 13/15 = 86.66%
IRIDACEÆ 12/14 = 85.71%
LABIATÆ 23/28 = 82.14%
RUBIACEÆ 20/25 = 80.00%
MALVACEÆ 16/20 = 80.00%
APOCYNACEÆ 27/34 = 79%
ASPARAGACEÆ 30/38 = 78.37%
CACTACEÆ 49/63 = 77.77%
PTERIDACEÆ 10/13 = 76.92%
BIGNONIACEÆ 8/11 = 72.72%
BROMELIACEÆ 18/25 = 72.00%
ACANTHACEÆ 20/28 = 71.42%
POLYPODIACEÆ 10/14 = 71.42%
MELASTOMATACEÆ 9/13 = 69.23%
COMPOSITÆ 20/29 = 68.96%
CRASSULACEÆ 10/15 = 66.66%
COMMELINACEÆ 7/11 = 63.63%
SOLANACEÆ 12/19 = 63.15%
AMARYLLIDACEÆ 13/22 = 59.09%
PLANTAGINACEÆ 7/14 = 50.00%
AIZOACEÆ 12/25 = 48.00%
ORCHIDACEÆ 26/78 = 33.33%
GESNERIACEÆ 7/26 = 26.92%

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