Water Spinach

The initial narrow leaves of Ipomea aquatica widen as the plant matures and gets ready to throw out its runners.

The photos show the distinctive pointed leaves and light green color of the water morning glory or water spinach. I first came across the seeds in Iowa of all places, on a seed rack of seeds from Thailand. The yellow cayenne from that same seed rack is still growing in my garden, the water spinach- struggled that first year and I figured it was just not the right environment for it.

This past summer I planted seeds again and like before, they germinated and slowly grew and then at about a foot tall they didn't do anything- at least I didn't think they were doing much. All of a sudden, in early August I noticed the distinctive leaves in my lawn and traced the vines 10 feet or so back to that little bush and then I followed another vine into my squash patch and another into the tomatoes. My gosh, I thought to myself, it's taken over. Sure enough, in the 90 degree days and the slow and steady drip of my t-tape, the water spinach was rooting at each node and then sending new branches in all directions. It was remarkable growth which had to be several inches a day.

I began to pick bunches of the leafy, hollow stems to chop up into half inch pieces and then stir fry with garlic and olive oil, salt and pepper. What an excellent vegetable. Much better than spinach. Very pleasant, tender and without any trace of the oxalic acid taste that makes spinach low on the best veggies list of most folks. The more I tossed it into my frying pan, the more I appreciated it's mild flavor that depends on seasonings for character. No wonder it's the most popular "green" in southeast Asia.

I remember the days you could get the seeds mail order (just a few years ago, actually) before it was illegal to buy the seeds and plant them. 

Because it has the potential to become an invasive plant in some areas of Florida and the Gulf Coast, it is a restrictive import that now requires a permit from USDA in order to obtain the seeds.  Silly, like so much of the red tape that controls the free exchange of seed.  Water Spinach has been a listed invasive of gulf coast states for many years yet continues to be grown from cuttings there by families who have immigrated from tropical Asian countries.  Yes, it is that good.  Recent legislation against the purchase of seed will not diminish the threat to the aquatic habitat but a good educational outreach about where not to grow it could help.

Kind of like planting Kudzu Vine which was actually encouraged by the USDA for years as an erosion preventative and now is targeted for eradication (probably not likely).  Just seed on the bare slopes left by road construction.  Kudzu followed the growth of the interstate system through the southern states and continues to take over vast acreage in the South and is now overwintering as far north as Long Island.  At least Water Spinach is delicious and we can eat it back into submission.