November 21st, 2011
Cardomom is a plant that’s doomed to fail with me. And yet I bought it anyway. Such is the impulsive acquisitiveness of a gardener confronted with a rare plant.
Elettaria cardamomum, true cardamom, is a tropical plant related to gingers. It thrives in the jungle understory where it receives filtered sunlight, 150 inches of rain a year (it likes its roots constantly moist), and a constant temperature in the 70s. Cardamom is unhappy when temperatures dip below 50. Such a climate is about as alien to central Texas as can be imagined. In Austin we experience temperatures from the teens to the hundreds, searing sunlight, and (now that we’re in semi-desert mode) 12 inches of rain.
Cardomom can grow into a huge plant, 12 feet tall and wide. However, it is unlikely ever to get out of a pot in Austin. Even if I built it its own special hot house, it probably will never flower much less set fruit and provide any of the special seeds used to spice Indian curries and Scandinavian baked goods.
Pot up the cardamom. I decide to divide the plant in half for several reasons. Roots are coming out of the holes in the bottom of the pot. Also the inside leaves of the plant have yellowed. Finally, it’s easier for me to move smaller pots in and out of the house all winter, as we do in central Texas where winter temperatures vary from the 80s to the 20s and back again overnight.
I cut the plant out of it’s pot. As I suspected, it’s pretty root-bound. The rhizomes look similar to ginger so I don’t think it will be any problem to divide.
I use my Japanese digging knife (from Lee Valley–unsolicited and unpaid recommendation) to cut through the crown of the plant and then pry the roots apart. Crown is probably the wrong word. Like its ginger relative, the cardamom plant is a group of tightly packed rhizomes. I might have cut through a few but mostly I was just wedging them apart.
A slip falls away and I pot it up separately.
by M Sinclair Stevens in Austin, Texas