No posts for quite a while because there has been a lot of work to do. We now have over 100 plants planted out in the botanical garden since June and the plants are doing wonderfully. Moringa oleifera always grows magnificently, and most of the plants are already over 3 meters tall and branching profusely. The ones along the western fence, which will form a living fence, have already been pruned to fence post height. The most dramatic growth has been in the Malagasy species. Some of the Moringa hildebrandtiis are nearly 3 meters tall with trunks more than 8 cm in diameter, all from seed this year. I finally got some of my Moringa drouhardiis in the ground, after more than ten years in pots. Others are from seed planted this year. Either way, they are all doing very well. The Moringa stenopetalas are well on their way to forming a forest, with many of them over 3 meters tall. My Moringa ovalifolias all were less than 20 cm tall, and all are 14 years old and have lived in small pots all their lives. Like a lot of plants from seasonal climates, from the spacing between leaf scars on the stems of Moringa ovalifolia you can work out how old a given stem is. The scars get closer together toward the end of the growing season. I could count 13 annual increments on many of the stems, just a few cm tall. The plants have grown more in stem height and in diameter in 3 months than they have in 13 years.
As to the non-oleifera slender trees, Moringa concanensis grows a little differently than its close relative Moringa oleifera. It tends to stay in a tuberous phase a little longer than M. oleifera, especially if it’s kept in a pot. It grows up into a magnificent, large leaved sapling, stiffer and more dramatic than M. oleifera, before branching out. There are just a few M. peregrinas in the ground at the moment, but they are doing well. Normally M. peregrina works on its tuber for a very long time before making a permanent aerial stem. I have 1 year old seedlings that already have a stem, and tubers from seed I collected in 1996 from different provenances. The ones from more northerly localities, like the Golan and Egypt, and even northern Oman, are more reluctant to make aerial stems, whereas the more tropical ones, such as from the Dhofar region of Oman, as well as from Sudan, seem to be more prone to making aerial stems directly. We’ll see how they all develop.
The northeast African tuberous species are coming along. Moringa rivae is doing well, making massive tubers that you would never guess are there from the skinny aerial stem. They seem to leaf out twice a year, which is probably what they do in the wild, in concert with the two rainy seasons in the Horn of Africa. This means that they leaf out beautifully at the beginning of the rainy season here, then get ratty, then leaf out again about now, on Africa time. The same goes for M. ruspoliana and M. longituba. I don’t have very many M. borzianas, but they seem happy to grow all the time as long as someone waters them. We’ll have a better idea of everyone’s phenology as the years go by and we have more plants and more experience with them all growing together.
Out of the 100 or so plants planted so far, we have only lost 2 plants. Both were very small M. oleifera seedlings planted in marginal locations. So, really, the success rate has been amazing. A lot of plants spend a year or two or even more investing in roots before really taking off. We’ll keep watering through the dry season to see if we can’t force the moringas to get even bigger. That way when the rains return and they start growing in earnest they’ll really be ready to go. If they double in size by next year, which Moringas usually can do, then the whole maintenance level of the collection will start do go down. While they are small, it’s a constant battle against vines and weeds and leafcutter ants. When they are large they just shrug off all of these nuisances. We’ll keep babying them until that time arrives.
Dr. Mark E. Olson is a researcher at Mexico's national university and an expert on the biology of the genus Moringa