By Nikki Phipps
Mashua plants in the garden can add something different. I for one like that sort of thing, and you likely will too. Keep reading for tips on growing mashua Tropaeolum.
Mashua Plants in the Garden
Mashua (Tropaeolum tuberosum), also known as añu, is a tuber crop indigenous to the Andean highlands and is closely related to the garden Nasturtium.
This plant produces masses of lush, rounded blue-green foliage and tubular orange-red flowers. The color of the flowers can range from dark yellow and orange to scarlet. The tubers vary in color as well, from white to yellow with occasional variants that are purple or red. They are often striped or mottled with red or purple too. Mashua blooms from mid-summer throughout fall.
Tropaeolum is one of a large genus of over 80 species, all native to Central and South America. The genus derived its name from the imaginative Linnaeus, who in seeing how gardeners grew the plants up poles, was reminded the Greek and Roman ritual of hanging helmets on tree stumps as trophies.
As well as enjoying the bright flowers, gardeners were quick to realize its culinary qualities. The leaves and flowers could be used for salads and the seeds for making mustard. Mashua has been cultivated since ancient times and is popular for its peppery tasting tubers, eaten raw, which are a major food source in its native region of the Andes.
Cultivating Tropaeolum Plants
The cultivar Ken Aslett is probably the best form available in this country; it comes into flower earlier and produces larger tubers than the species type.
Mashua grows vigorously in nearly any type of garden soil, making this plant very easy to grow. The plant is also extremely pest-resistant and is often used as a companion plant for potatoes and other crops to aid in repelling insects.
When growing mashua Tropaeolum out in the garden, place the tubers just beneath the soil surface in spring, after all danger of frost has passed, in a warm, bright location.
Mashua can also be successfully grown in containers, especially hanging baskets. If choosing to grow mashua in pots, select a deep, narrow container, as one would use for growing clematis. Container-grown mashua can be placed outdoors or grown indoors with plenty of light.
Mashua needs support from canes or trellising and will grow to several feet over time. When growth shoots appear, use bamboo or similar material to support its growth.
Grow against a sunny and warm wall in rich soil that does not dry out too much in summer, as it prefers a rather moist soil during its active growing period.
Mashua Flower Care
Lessen watering as winter approaches. Mashua enjoys a dry winter. This beautiful climbing plant is only somewhat hardy; therefore, care should be given during winter months to avoid permanent loss of the tubers.
Container-grown plants should be taken indoors for over wintering. In mild winter areas, the tubers can be left in the ground with a light layer of mulch applied. In colder areas, however, they should be harvested and stored the same way as most other bulbs.
Mashua is easily propagated from division of its tubers in spring.