Calgary Horticultural Society: Nasturtiums Are A Versatile Beauty

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I fell in love with jewel-colored nasturtiums after someone challenged me to eat one of the flowers. Very dubious, I chose a beautiful, brilliant red, took a small bite and experienced its wonderful peppery taste. The rest followed that first nibble, and ever since then I have enjoyed chewing the flowers and leaves of nasturtiums and pickling their green seeds like capers.

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Nasturtiums, from Latin, meaning “nose-turner”, an obvious reference to the pungent odor and taste of the edible parts of this most beautiful flowering herb native to the Andean region of South America, where species of weak perennial or annual vines to be. It belongs to the small Tropaeolus genus, which contains only 80 species, ranging from herbaceous perennial to annual. Nasturtiums have several common names, such as Indian cress and canary flower. Indeed, the leaves are often used in place of watercress or peppercress in many cultures. This is interesting, because the scientific name of the watercress is East Indian Cherrybut it actually belongs to the Brassicaceaeor cabbage, family.

Brought to Europe from the New World in the late 16th century, nasturtiums were mentioned by Linnaeus as Tropaeolusaccording to an ancient Roman custom to tropaeum (trophy post) after the battle, from which the helmets and shields of the fallen warriors were hung. The flowers and leaves of this new plant reminded him of that armor. Since then, members of the Tropaeolus gender have symbolized victory in battle, conquest and patriotism, which are also embodied in the Inca belief that the fragrance of the flowers gave strength, vitality and the strength to face their enemies!

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Some nasturtiums are pink.  Thanks to Deborah Maier
Some nasturtiums are pink. Thanks to Deborah Maier Photo by Deborah_Maierjpg

Nasturtiums have rounded, bright green, smooth leaves, 5-12 cm in diameter, borne on slender petioles. The single flowers measure 2.5 to 5 cm and have five petals in a variety of colors, from rust to orange to brilliant reds and golden yellows; some are almost pink. Surrounding the petals are five sepals, united to form a prominent calyx, with one sepal adapted to be a nectar-bearing spur.

The nasturtiums we like to plant in containers and borders are either Tropaeolus minor or Tropaeolus or are hybrids of both species. The difference between them is that T minor has a writhing and hanging habit and T. magic a hilly or bushy habit, which can make a real difference depending on whether you want to use them in hanging baskets, in containers, in raised beds or along borders. They are often classified according to their habit of growing into dwarf, semi-trailing and climbing. Plant them especially with your other edibles brassica varieties, tomatoes and cucumbers, as they are a wonderful trap crop for aphids, which prefer them to just about anything else. Once they are covered in aphids, simply prune off the infested areas or wash the insects away with water.

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Mounding form of nasturtiums.  Thanks to Deborah Maier
Mounding form of nasturtiums. Thanks to Deborah Maier Photo by Deborah_Maierjpg

Easily propagated from seed, either directly in the ground when the soil has warmed in spring or indoors, these seedlings grow very quickly and form large plants in no time. Whether you are planting containers or beds, make sure the soil is not too rich. Nasturtiums prefer lean, slightly acidic and very well-drained soil, similar to that of their native habitat. It is a sun-loving plant – for many flowers throughout the summer, make sure they have six to eight hours of sun. If they don’t get enough sun or have too many nutrients, they will have mostly leaves but not many flowers. Deadhead regularly to ensure the plants continue to bloom, and brine the tender green immature seeds to use as “poor man capers”, making sure to harvest plenty of flowers first for salads, garnishes and snacks.

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As summer wears off, let the seeds ripen on the plants until they are brown and dry, collecting them just before they can drop to the ground. Keep them indoors in a cool, dry place for next year’s seeding.

There are many nasturtiums to choose from, with heirloom varieties represented by: trapaeolus being Empress of India, Globe of Fire, Yeti, Peach Melba or Salmon Baby with its semi-double flowers. I love the Alaska series with its variegated leaves, but also plant Jewel Mix, especially the Double Dwarf Jewel Mix. But also Whirlybird and the beautiful Gleam series cannot be ignored.

There really is no reason not to include at least a few nasturtiums in your garden every year, whether you choose them because they are easy to grow or because of their beautiful flowers, whether you grow them as edible plants or as a companion plant. . Just try them and enjoy!

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