Mauka: Dare I declare success?

My name is Bill and I am an enthusiastic murderer of unusual plants.  It’s sad but true.  If you look upon me as any kind of expert because I have a blog, I hate to disappoint, but you don’t witness the everyday carnage that I hide from the camera.

It seems that the rarer the plant and the more difficult to replace, the faster that I kill it.  This has certainly been the case in the past with mauka (Mirabilis expansa), which didn’t last a week in two earlier attempts.  I did my very best to kill mauka again this year, and nearly succeeded (more on that below), but I think the plants have thwarted my efforts this time!

I was able to get mauka from two different sources this year.  I first purchased a plant of mauka ‘Blanca’ from Sacred Succulents, which arrived in good condition and well rooted unlike my previous attempts with cuttings.  It has given me no trouble and is now growing into a good sized plant:

Mauka Blanca plant

Those are standard 8 by 16 inch blocks, for scale.  It is getting pampered in a raised bed this year, but I hope to grow mauka in the field next year.  It doesn’t seem to be particularly fragile once it gets going.

As I mentioned in a previous post, a friend also shared some mauka seeds with me.  They germinated well and I got 12 plants.  On July 3rd, they looked like this:

Mauka seedlings at about a week

And now, they look like this:

Mauka seedlings tucked in with some mid-season mashua cuttings
Largest of the mauka seedlings

The plants are really coming along nicely, considering that they took some serious damage overnight on July 20th.  It turns out that some hungry rodent really has a taste for mauka and it ate almost all of the leaves on all of the seedlings.  I thought that I was going to lose them all at first, but they bounced back pretty quickly.  Amazingly quickly when you consider that they were plants with only three or four sets of leaves and those chewed back to the stems less than a month ago!  I put guards over them at night for a few weeks, but I’m now leaving them unprotected again.

So far, mauka seems to be similar to ulluco in its appeal to pests.  That is, everything likes to eat mauka.  In addition to nocturnal rodents, slugs, caterpillars, and various small leaf chewing insects have all made an appearance.  Happily, the plants now are growing at a rate that outpaces the damage.  In fact, the seedlings are growing so fast that I wonder if they might soon outgrow the mature plant.

I think that the plants will probably have filled out those raised beds well before the first frost comes along.  I’m undecided at this point about how I will overwinter them.  Mauka survives winters in the UK that are just a little warmer than ours, so I’m tempted to leave them out.  Most likely, I will dig some and bring them inside as an insurance policy and leave the rest out to test their hardiness.

The seedlings, which I understand came from another mauka Blanca plant, are very similar to the plant that was started as a cutting, but there may be some slight differences.  The leaves are a little more pubescent and slightly more rounded.  These features may be a result of the growth stage of the plant or perhaps there is a little bit of variability in mauka grown from seed.

Anyway, assuming I can keep the plants alive over the winter, it looks like mauka is here to stay.  Perhaps I’ll even get to taste it at some point.

One Response to Mauka: Dare I declare success?

  1. Bill W. August 27, 2014 at 11:49 pm #

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