Root Awakening: Indian Pennywort is a medicinal herb, jackfruit plant must grow into a tree before fruiting

Indian Pennywort is a native plant of Singapore and valued for its medicinal properties.
Indian Pennywort is a native plant of Singapore and valued for its medicinal properties.PHOTO: TAN PIN HO

Indian Pennywort is a medicinal herb

This herb grew in abundance beside drains during my kampung days. My late mother pounded its leaves with salt and applied them on mouth ulcers. Sometimes, she used them to make herbal tea. We called the herb "hum kak chao" or cockle-shell grass. What is its correct name and did it have any recorded efficacy?

Tan Pin Ho

The plant is a groundcover candidate commonly called the Indian Pennywort or Gotu kola and its botanical name is Centella asiatica. It is a native plant of Singapore and valued for its medicinal properties.

The tender aerial parts are often eaten as a vegetable or made into a beverage. The herb is best known for its anti-diabetic and wound-healing properties, but more studies have to be done to ascertain its efficacy.

Do not self-medicate without the guidance of a medical professional.

Plants are Dogfennel and Marigold

Dogfennel (left) and marigold plants. PHOTOS: RONALD LIM

I grew two plants with seeds given to my granddaughter by her school and they are flourishing. Could you identify them and list their uses?

Ronald Lim

The plant with feathery leaves is commonly known as dogfennel and its botanical name is Eupatorium capillifolium. In Singapore, it is commonly confused with the dill plant (Anethum graveolens).

However, the dogfennel has been reported to contain alkaloids, which may be toxic and can affect liver functions if consumed.

The other plant appears to be a marigold (Tagetes species). Depending on the species, it produces attractive yellow or orange blooms. They are annual plants, meaning they die down after flowering and producing seeds.

Both plants must be grown in a spot which gets direct sunlight for about six hours daily. The soil should be moisture-retentive, well-drained and fertile for best results.

Caladium mainly grown as a foliage plant


I found this plant growing along the fence at my workplace. What is it and can it be grown in a pot at home?

Kahar Yacob

The plant is commonly called the Caladium. It is mainly grown as a foliage plant admired for its attractive leaves. It has a deciduous growth habit, meaning it will die after growing for some time.

It has underground storage organs called corms which store nutrients as the plant rests, after which growth will resume.

You can grow the plant in a pot placed in a location that gets filtered sunlight for six hours a day. Do not overwater as the corm may rot in wet soil. The plant usually dies of transplant shock if it is dug out from the ground.

Do verify the ownership of the plant. It is not advisable to take someone's plant without asking. It is also an offence to remove plants from public parks and gardens.

Jackfruit plant grows into a tree before fruiting


Is my plant healthy? I see some browning at the tip of a leaf. Is this due to lack of sunlight? How tall will my plant grow and how do I get it to bear fruit?

Jessica Heng

The young jackfruit plant looks relatively healthy. The brown tip on the leaf could be due to some form of mechanical damage to the plant. You can prune it if it bothers you.

The saplings are best grown in separate pots to prevent their roots from tangling, which can make the separation of plants difficult later on.

The jackfruit plant fares best in fertile, well-drained soil in a sunny spot. It must grow into a tree before it can produce flowers and fruits.

As it will need space to grow outdoors, ask your friends or family if they are keen to adopt the plant to grow in a private outdoor home garden, public community garden or a school garden.

Livid Amaranth is an edible weed


What plant is this and will it flower? It is propagating very quickly and I am considering whether to get rid of it.

Isaac Ho

The plant is the Livid Amaranth. Its botanical name is Amaranthus blitum ssp. oleraceus and it occurs as a weed locally.

It produces many seeds and can self-sow in surrounding areas. The young shoots and leaves can be eaten.

Heliconia may have a nutrient deficiency


Some of my heliconia's leaves are yellowing at the edges and a few young leaves turn yellow even before reaching their full size. What is the cause?

John Lin

Your heliconia may be suffering from a nutrient deficiency. One of the older leaves appears to have chlorotic leaf edge with necrotic brown tissue. This may be caused by a lack of potassium.

Ensure the soil is rich in organic matter and not too compacted. Do not let the plant dry out. Heliconia needs good quality compost and mulch on the soil surface.

Consider regularly using a fertiliser which is higher in potassium content.

•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.

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