Orflo posted today’s image along with a concise write-up in our Botany Photo of the Day Submissions Forum. Our thanks go to him for the integral components of the day’s delightful entry.
Mirabilis expansa grows from the robust orange root featured in today’s photo. As its stocky appearance might intimate, the root is extremely hardy, and the species distinguishes itself by its ability to withstand the windy and otherwise inhospitable conditions of elevated Andean altitudes (above 2700 metres). As Orflo suggests, the plant is the rarest of the group known as the 'lost crops of the Incas', and it has only been rediscovered in the past five decades. He proceeds to tell us that the species, which remains a rare find, is "known as mauka, chago, and many other local names," and that it can be found in Peru, Bolivia, and Ecuador. "The edible parts," he continues, "are the roots, leaves, and stems—so just about everything. The roots develop nicely in a temperate European climate (up to 1 kg.)…"
More from Orflo: "Mauka is mainly propagated by cuttings, which are as easy to take as sweet potato cuttings. Seeds are produced as well, but these are only occasionally used for propagating. The taste of the roots is very good; the variety I tried out last year had a bit of astringency in it, but 5-7 days of sun-curing reduced the astringent taste. Personally, I think this is a very promising crop. The nutritional value seems to be very good, although some further investigation has to be done on this. Adaptability of the roots to the European climate seems to be extremely easy, and up to now no diseases or specific pests have appeared on the plants".
In addition to the roots, the leaves of M. expansa are edible as well, and often serve as an element in salad. Readers should note that the root can irritate the mucous membranes when ingested; like the astringency to which Orflo alludes, however, this nuisance can be eliminated by boiling or sun-drying the roots.