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Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Porcupine Root (Talinum caffrum)

Family Portulacaceae
This plant is also known as: Flameflower
 Origin and geographic distribution
Talinum caffrum is found from southern Ethiopia south to Namibia, Botswana and South Africa.

The leaves of Talinum caffrum are collected from the wild and eaten raw as a salad or as a cooked vegetable. They contain much water and are also eaten raw against thirst. Occasionally, Talinum caffrum is cultivated as an ornamental, succulent potplant.
The nutritional composition of Talinum caffrum leaves is not known, but it is probably comparable to that of Talinum triangulare (Jacq.) Willd.
Perennial, rather succulent herb with a deeply buried tuber; stems annual, usually decumbent or prostrate, up to 40 cm long, much branched. Leaves alternate, simple; petiole 1–3 mm long; blade linear to narrowly elliptical, 2–8 cm × 3–13 mm, base cuneate, apex apiculate, margin often revolute. Flowers usually solitary in leaf axils, bisexual, opening in the afternoon; stalk consisting of 2 parts, lower part (peduncle) up to 2.5 cm long, tipped by a pair of bracts, upper part (pedicel) 1–2 cm long, stout, thickened upwards, recurving in fruit; sepals 2, lanceolate, 0.5–1.5 cm long; petals 5, spreading, obovate to elliptical, c. 1 cm long, yellow; stamens 25–60; ovary superior, style slender, 2–4 mm long, stigma 3-branched. Fruit a conical capsule 0.5–1 cm long, glossy yellow, 3-valved, the valves falling separately, many-seeded. Seeds lens-shaped, up to 2 mm in diameter, glossy black, with prominent concentric ridges.

Talinum comprises about 40 species, most of them found in Mexico and southern United States, and 7 species in tropical Africa. Talinum caffrum belongs to a complex of 4 closely related species characterized by a deeply buried tuber from which annual stems arise, alternate leaves, yellow flowers in axillary few-flowered cymes, opening in the afternoon, spreading petals and a hard and tough fruit with glossy black seeds. The other species of the complex are Talinum arnotii Hook.f., Talinum crispatulum Dinter and Talinum tenuissimum Dinter. All 4 species are similarly used and identification is particularly difficult when seed is lacking. The complex is centred in the Kalahari region in southern Africa, where the species are more distinct than further north in East Africa.
Talinum caffrum is found in dry open places in short grassland and among rocks, from sea-level up to 2000 m altitude. Because of its large tuber, it is drought resistant.

Genetic resources and breeding
Talinum caffrum is widespread and not in danger of genetic erosion. There are no known germplasm collections.
Talinum caffrum will remain a minor vegetable in drier areas, where it usually still produces leaves when other vegetables are scarce.