As autumn appears, so do so many other Horticultural delights, brought to us by the change in the season, the plants start to turn wonderful shades and nature’s bounty of fruits and seeds start to ripen and it is only right that the my weekly feature of Plant of the week tries to feature all sides of autumn so this week, we have a very unusual shrub that has some stunning seed pods for us to admire
Decaisnea fargessii is sometimes better known as dead mans fingers, blue sausage plant and blue bean plant. This name comes from the dark blue long finger like seed cases that hold a mushy sweet flavoured flesh and of course the seeds themselves. The flesh inside the pods is supposed to taste of watermelon and is a valued food source in the Plants native area, western China by the indigenous Lepcha people. One word of warning, while the mush it’s self is edible, the black 1cm wide seeds are slightly toxic so avoid eating those at any cost!
It was discovered by Abbé Farges growing in western China, in around 1895. It was named after the French botanist Joseph Decaisne and also after Abbe Farges.It can be found growing in damp woodlands and in damp areas in mountain ravines, normally in areas 900-3600ms above sea level. It can make a large shrub up to 6m tall and 4m wide but normally it is a lot smaller than this, with most groups of plants I have seen around the 3m mark after many years of growing. It is pretty happy in most soils from alkaline to acidic as long as the soil doesn’t dry out, this is the thing the plant hates more than anything else is to dry out. It does prefer a semi shady spot in the garden, it will grow in full sun but the leaves do suffer a little sun scorch. It is pretty pest and disease free. The leaves are pretty impressive as well being pinnate and up to nearly a metre in length. They do change to a yellowly colour in the autumn as well, so you do get some autumn colour appearing. The flowers themselves are not too easy to spot being a greenish colour and born in May. It does have both male and female flowers on the same plant, although it’s not always necessary, it is better to have a couple of plants in your garden and they will fruit much better if there is. Pruning wise, it doesn’t need any real pruning to help make it fruit better, just a bit of shaping pruning to keep in in check if it’s growing to big. I would try and reduce the long walking stick like stems down to a side branch if possible to keep the shape, ideally in late winter while the plant is dormant. Propagation is easy, just sow the seeds into a cold frame in November, about 25mm deep and they should germinate in the spring.
If you don’t want to grow one yourself, they are offered by a few nurseries with Burncoose of Southdown again being one of my favourites
Can be seen in places like Sir Harold Hillier gardens, RHS Wisley or Kew Gardens