Root Awakening: How to grow bitter gourd and is it safe to eat Longevity Spinach?

Bitter gourds (left) and Longevity Spinach infested with spider mites.
Bitter gourds (left) and Longevity Spinach infested with spider mites.PHOTOS: SIEW HWEE ONG, VANISA LEE

Hanging plant thrives in filtered light

I bought this plant with dark shiny leaves and would like to know its name and care tips for it.

David Goh

The plant is a species of Huperzia. It is a fern ally and prefers to be grown in moisture-retentive but well-drained, aerated media.

Locally, most gardeners grow it in a potting mix containing coarse coconut husk chips with a range of potting media components, which vary with environmental conditions.

Do not over-water this plant. Place it in a well-ventilated location that is not too windy and gets four to six hours of filtered sunlight.


A species of Huperzia (left) and fungus that grew in a pot. PHOTOS: DAVID GOH, NICK COX

Mushrooms occur in potting mixes rich in organic matter

I am growing a banana plant in a pot on my balcony. The other day, I saw this unusual growth emerge from the soil overnight. I imagine it is some sort of fungus.

Nick Cox

The fruiting body of the fungus could be Leucocoprinus cretaceous. Fungi species are difficult to identify from only pictures. Do not eat fungi without knowing their exact identities.

Most of the fungi that appear in flower pots tend to be the saprophytic type, which arise from potting mixes rich in organic matter. They will not harm a plant that is growing in the same pot.

Longevity Spinach may be infested with spider mites

The undersides of some leaves on my Longevity Spinach have a copper-coloured shimmer. These leaves are typically older or nearer to the soil.

What is this coating? Are the leaves still safe to cook and eat? Do you have other advice on the consumption of longevity spinach, such as frequency, quantity or preparation methods?

Vanisa Lee

The shimmer on your Longevity Spinach (Gynura procumbens) leaves may be due to a spider mite infestation. Use a magnifying lens to see if you can find small, red moving dots on the damaged areas.

These sap-sucking pests are common in plants grown in high-rise apartments. The damaged leaves are mainly a cosmetic issue and are safe to eat after washing off the pests.

Although commonly consumed as a vegetable and medicinal plant, plants from the genus Gynura contain pyrrolizidine alkaloids, which are toxic to the liver. Do not consume too much of this herb if you have liver issues. Consult a herbalist or medical practitioner before attempting to eat this plant.

Get seeds from reliable cultivars of bitter gourd

I have a bitter gourd plant growing on my backyard fence and the bitter gourds it produces turn yellow prematurely.

I ensure there are no more than four bitter gourds growing on the plant, so as not to dilute the nutrients for the fruits. I also prune the leaves and fertilise the plant once a week. What else can I do to make the fruit grow larger without it ripening prematurely?

Siew Hwee Ong

Orange-coloured bitter gourd fruits are ripe and not usually eaten at this stage.

Did you collect seeds from ripe market-bought fruits, or a plant grown from seeds of unknown parentage? Most commercially produced fruits sold in markets are derived from hybrids. Seeds taken from such fruits will not breed properly. The resulting plants will likely not be similar to the original plant from which seeds were taken.

Ensure the soil is moisture-retentive, friable and fertile, so the plant can develop an extensive and healthy root system that can support its growth without stress.

Proper pollination is necessary for fruit development. Feed the plant with a fertiliser which has higher potassium content when it is flowering and fruiting. Do not over-prune the leaves as they are needed for fruit production.

Garden Balsam, Peacock Flower are sun-loving flowering plants


Garden Balsam (left) and Peacock Flower. PHOTOS: ZHXANDER ZHANG

What are the names of these plants and what are the best methods to propagate them?

Zhxander Zhang

The plant above is the Garden Balsam (Impatiens balsamina). It is propagated from seeds collected from ripe fruits which explode when lightly touched.

This plant grows mostly as an annual, where it declines gradually after flowering and fruiting. It must be grown in a sunny, well-drained location. Waterlogged conditions can cause it to rot and die.

The plant on the left is a shrub called Peacock Flower (Caesalpinia pulcherrima) and a popular plant in gardens with butterflies.

It is easily grown from seeds collected from mature, dry pods produced by the plant. Stem cuttings can be difficult to root. It must be grown in a sunny, well-drained location and benefits from regular pruning to encourage a more attractive, bushy growth habit.

  • Answers by Dr Wilson Wong, an NParks-certified practising horticulturist, parks manager and ISA-certified arborist. He is the founder of Green Culture Singapore and an adjunct assistant professor (Food Science & Technology) at the National University of Singapore. Have a gardening query? E-mail it with clear, high-resolution pictures of at least 1MB, if any, and your full name to stlife@sph.com.sg. We reserve the right to edit and reject questions.