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Cabbage on a stick is easily grown

October 11, 2017

Whether it is shish kabob, Popsicles, or corn dogs, it seems that everything is better on a stick. But cabbage on a stick? Yes, this is not a deep-fried bit of cole slaw, but a fascinating houseplant from Hawaii. Cabbage on a Stick (Brighamia insignis), sometimes called cabbage on a baseball bat because of its thick trunk, has fat stems topped with a cluster of wide, spoon-shaped leathery leaves that sport creamy yellow flowers.

The trumpet-shaped flowers have petals fused almost into a tube shape that can reach six inches.

The thick stem tapers toward the top for a bizarre yet attractive houseplant. It can grow three to six feet tall. Native to the islands of Kaua’i and Ni’ihau, these plants are critically endangered in the wild. Luckily, cabbage on a stick is easily grown from seed.

In traditional Hawaiian weddings, this rare plant is said to bring good luck to the newlyweds. It makes a wonderful indoor plant and can tolerate the dryness of a home environment.

The star-shaped flowers bloom in clusters of three to eight blossoms from September to November, with a light scent often compared to honeysuckle or violets.

You can find plants at some nurseries by special order or from mail-order greenhouses such as Logee's (www.logees.com).

For best results, place your cabbage on a stick in medium to bright light. The thick stems store water, much like a jade plant, so the plants can survive with less water. If the new leaves get smaller, it is a sign that your plant needs more water. Keep it well watered but not soggy. Let the soil dry out slightly between waterings. Too much water will cause root rot.

A key is to use a quick-draining soil mix. From time to time, feed it a diluted liquid houseplant fertilizer. To mimic their native Hawaiian home, mist the plants often. Set the pot on a tray filled with pebbles and add water to the tray so as it evaporates it will increase the humidity around the plant.

You can hand-pollinate the flowers using a fine-tipped camel-hair artist brush.

The resulting green fruit capsule will fill with numerous seeds. Sadly, the only known natural pollinator for these plants is a species of hawk moth that is now extinct, so you can help preserve this species by growing them from seed as all nurseries do. 
    After six to eight weeks, the seed capsule will ripen and split open, releasing the many tiny seeds. You can pick the seed capsules when they start to split open. Put the seed capsules in a paper bag and let the seeds naturally fall out.

The seeds need light to germinate, so sprinkle them on the surface of moist, fine-textured potting soil.

Mist the seedbed often and put it in partial shade. In a few weeks you will be rewarded by baby plants. So for something unusual, try a cabbage on a stick, the perfect backdrop to go with your corn dogs.

  • Paul Barbano writes about gardening from his home in Rehoboth Beach. Contact him by writing to P. O. Box 213, Lewes, DE 19958.

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