Behind the name so difficult to remember "Sechium edule " hides a cucurbit native to South America but that today we can also find in our country. We can hear it referred to as a spiny potato or as centenary pumpkin, we can enjoy it at the table after cooking it as if it were a normal zucchini, or almost. Let's see what characteristics it has and how to cultivate it.
Sechium edule: characteristics
This strange pumpkin has one ovoid shape and can even measure 10 or 15 centimeters in length. When it is unripe it usually takes on a dark green color, on the surface, as it matures, however, it turns towards yellowish shades and this is the sign that it is ripe, We can eat it!
When we open one of these fruits, we find an innermost part of the fruit that constitutes the seed of the plant, then around there is the pulp which is in a certain sense constituted by the substance that the same seed has accumulated around itself, as if to protect itself. In the horticultural sense, it is all seed, but wrapped in a hard surface and showing very particular thorns, needle-like growths that make it deserve the name of spiny potato.
Also called Chayote, this potato choreography is edible and so are its leaves and roots. In fact, there are those who cook them as if they were asparagus or prepare them in oil or vinegar to preserve them, starting in spring.
Sechium edule: origins
The largest exporter of Chayote is Costa Rica and we can safely say that this plant finds its origins in South America. Today it is grown in the coastal areas of this continent and in the islands. In Italy, under a “false name” - centenary pumpkin, thorny courgette, thorny potato, thorny aubergine, American aubergine, wolf's tongue - it is grown and even eaten but by a minimum number of people. Unfortunately, it still doesn't have the popularity it deserves.
Sechium edule: how to eat
The pulp of the spiny potato it can be cooked as if it were a normal zucchini. We can then fry it and season it with salt and pepper, since it is a little sweet, or boil it and dress it like a salad. There are also those who use it as a side dish, toasting it and accompanying it with red meats. More rarely we find this strange pumpkin in sweet and sour or even as a candy for cakes and desserts in general. In addition to the pulp, they are also edible the leaves and roots.
This fruit contains C vitamin and various amino acids, water and mineral salts, it is highly appreciated, in its countries of origin in the first place, due to the diuretic effects. It is also able to prevent arteriosclerosis and hypertension and promote the dissolution of kidney stones.
Sechium edule: how to grow it
To sow this plant, it is better to identify an area of partial shade or full sun, the soil must be fertile and well drained and we must ensure it minimum temperature of 12 degrees. When, towards late spring, this fruit begins to sprout, it should be buried slightly, so that just under half of it protrudes from the surface.
This is the trick, to cultivate it, and to continue to do it with care, however watering it very rarely because there is a great danger that it will rot. In order not to risk it, it is better to proceed by planting the seed in pots and thus keeping it sheltered from the rains. The most delicate period in this regard is that of germination which lasts about twenty days, then the plant can be transplanted into the earth, usually when it has reached a height of about thirty centimeters. Since, over time, Sechium edule can reach 10 meters in height, it is better to prepare to provide it with supports and continue to fertilize it with manure by irrigating it frequently.
The first flowers, and then the fruits, arrive during the summer, but the real harvest time is autumn, in particular the months of October and November. With the arrival of winter, the fruits can be stored in a cool place until the beginning of spring, while the plant dries up. Let us not be sad, however, because it is not to be thrown away: the root part remains active, just wait until the following spring to see it germinate again. A Sechium edule plant can give us fruit for many years.
The Chayote plant has both male and female elements, and reproduction takes place exactly like that of pumpkins, that is through pollination which can be both natural and manual. In the first case we rely on insects, in the second we intervene directly, which is not easy, indeed almost impossible, due to the fact that it is very difficult to make a clear and certain distinction between male and female flowers. This is why reproduction is almost always entrusted to insects.
Sechium edule: parasites
Among the enemies of this plant there are spider mites and aphids. They occur especially during the flowering period, a period in which it is also absolutely necessary to check that the ants stay away from our plant since they are greedy animals of its fruits, even if just sprouted.
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