July 24th, 2008
Abelmoschus esculentus

Recognize this large and delicate yellow-colored flower that can stand even triple-digit heat?

Sometimes gardeners need to be a little pretentious. Juliet might have thought that “that which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet” but she was blinded by love. Let’s be honest. Wouldn’t you pass the lovely Abelmoschus esculentus by without a second glance if you knew it was just plain, common okra?

Despite my 30+ years in the south, I’ve never become southern enough to enjoy eating okra. However, I do think it has a lovely flower–large compared with the other things which are flowering now (almost nothing) and a refreshing pale lemon color with a deep maroon eye. I planted a packet of okra seeds at the end of April. Most came up but only two seedlings survived the early triple-digit heat of May.

They must have been flowering before this because I picked the first okra yesterday. And yes, the flowers are covered in ants…meaning (the photograph revealed what I didn’t see with my naked eye) that the okra has aphids. Still I think it’s a pretty flower. And I’m going to be practicing so that the next time you visit my garden, I can say, “Oh, let me show you my Abelmoschus esculentus.”

by M Sinclair Stevens

22 Responses to post “Abelmoschus esculentus”

  1. From Kathy:

    Never tried growing okra. Have tried growing Abelmoschus manihot, which looks pretty similar, but it didn’t bloom. I love just about anything in the mallow family.

    The mallows grow well here. I should investigate so more of them. — mss

  2. From Linda MacPhee-Cobb, Houston:

    It just goes to show that ‘an okra by any other name wouldn’t smell as sweet’.

    Nothing like a bit of Latin to dress a plant to impress.


  3. From Carol, May Dreams Gardens:

    And I’m going to practice asking to see your Abelmoschus esculentus. It is a pretty flower. I’ve had fried okra, but it isn’t one of my favorite fried foods by a long shot.

    I might try to grow Gossypium hirsutum, another common plant in the Malvaceae family.

    Great post.

    Okay, Ms. Latin. I had to go look it up. Interesting choice. And I do see it around central Texas. I’ll be interested in hearing from you how it does in the garden. — mss

  4. From perennialgardenlover:

    What a pretty flower, I didn’t realize okra had such a nice flower. By the way I love okra. It a great southern delicacy. 🙂

    Ten people, ten tastes. — mss

  5. From Annie in Austin:

    I wouldn’t pass that Abelmoschus esculentus without admiring it, MSS – did you notice it growing in a few gardens on the Pond Tour?

    Y’all don’t like Okra? We grew a few plants of Clemson red in IL and sometimes buy some at the farmers’ market down here for chicken gumbo.

    One of the Divas of the Dirt bought just one plant of a rose-flowered ornamental hybrid Abelmoschus which was sold as an annual. She was surprised to have it reseed each year in her borders.

    Annie at the Transplantable Rose

    PS Green Mesquite on Barton Springs Road makes some fine fried okra!

    Yes, I did notice some on the pond tour. It’s doing well despite our weather. You know, I’ve never eaten at the Green Mesquite, even though it’s just around the corner. — mss

  6. From deb:

    We can’t wait until we have enough okra to eat. Husband just walked in and wanted to know what I am doing. I say, “Learning to say okra in latin- Abelmoschus esculentus.” He walked away confused. Thanks, that was fun.

    Funny indeed. –mss

  7. From Cindy, Katy:

    I think the Abelmoschus flowers are very striking. Wonder if I have any okra seeds I could plant in the corner bed?

    The Abelmoschus manihot that Kathy mentioned is probably what Annie’s fellow Diva bought. They reseed nicely and they’re easy to pull if you don’t like where they planted themselves! Mine just started blooming last week.

    I’ll have to check your site and see if you put any photos up. — mss

  8. From Linda Lehmusvirta Austin Texas:

    Hi, MSS! Lovely! I’ve been meaning to respond to your July 15 post to thank you for naming the Tradescantia pallida. I have them everywhere, started from a cutting someone gave me, but he wasn’t sure of the species. So thank you! Linda

    Tradescantia pallida, purple heart, is also known as Setcresea pallida. They are very easy to grow from cuttings and despite their watery look handle the heat and drought well. Even if they look bad during the worst of summer, or get hit by a hard freeze, they always come back. — mss

  9. From Jenny Austin:

    It has a very pretty flower but what does the whole plant look like? Is it compact? I have grown luffas(loofahs) and although I do use the luffas I love the plant. It stays green all summer and has the prettiest flowers.

    I’ll take another photo. It’s about the same shape and height as my datura, right now–a strong upright stem and leaves about the size of my hand. I like luffa, too. The Japanese eat the very small pods and I think they deep-fry the flowers…but that might just be daylilies. — mss

  10. From Gail:

    It took me a while to learn to love okra! When it is described as having mucilaginous seedpods, you know exactly why folks don’t care for it! It’s best fried…in my opinion! It does have a pretty flower, but right now I am looking at a few other mallow family members for the garden…although with this lovely, I would get a vegetable, too. I have a few okra pods that were painted to look like Santa that we hang on the tree each year! We bought them at a craft fair. Actually kind of southern cute. Gail

    “Mucilaginous” is a great word. I was going to say “slimy”. I like the Santa seedpod idea. The seedpods are decorative. — mss

  11. From Annie in Austin:

    I don’t think my friend Karla’s plants are Abelmoschus manihot – although that’s probably one of the parent plants. Hers are shorter, of hybrid origin, and in rosy pinkish-red colors. I grew the same small hybrids in Illinois but they never reseeded up there. A series called Pacific hybrids are sold as annuals at nurseries but I’m not sure if those were the specific hybrids we had.
    I didn’t have to look up Carol’s plant – had grown it as an ornamental in huge pots in Illinois, partly because it’s decorative- partly for my kids since it’s so important to our country’s history.


    PS Green Mesquite also makes a good chopped BBQ brisket sandwich and a root beer float that looks like a small birdbath. Good thing I don’t live closer.

  12. From Jenny Austin:

    On the subject of eating luffa. When my daughter in law came to visit(they live in Taipei) she said ” We eat those in Taiwan” so we picked some immature ones, about the size of small zucchini, and sauteed them with garlic. They were OK but not wonderful.

  13. From Steve Mudge(Fort Worth):

    I must have some southern roots somewhere unbeknownst to me–I love okra and its one of the things I love about the sizzling cicada-laden summers here. We’ve been bbqing eggplant and peppers and having that with fried okra as a summer staple.

    As much as I whine about missing the ocean I love the silent suffering of the prairie under the July/August blast furnace. There’s a bliss there in all that cicada-intensity, it might be why the music is so wonderful out here…

    That’s a very poetic image, Steve. I know just what you mean. — mss

  14. From Jenn:

    Oh, M, you will have to try the burgundy variety next year: http://www.motherearthnews.com/uploadedImages/articles/issues/2002-06-01/192-058-01-Okra.jpg-

    it has fabulous red stems and really looks to dazzle…

    I was thinking about this one when I was up in Michigan, like you – purely as an ornamental.

    Here in Phoenix, I’m kind of afraid to try it. So much of what I do here dies.

  15. From Pam:

    This post made me laugh – I’ve been growing okra in the south, for their flowers (more or less) for about 15 years now (and the foliage too). As for eating the stuff – a friend has introduced me to…yes, what is often considered the core of southern cooking…fried okra. And now I actually can say who has the best fried okra (I mean, not all fried okra is alike!) – fry anything, and it’s good (or so ‘they’ say).

  16. From Rick R., Dallas:

    I love edible plants that fit right into flower beds. Another useful and good-looking edible plant is garlic chives. Midsize, neat and tidy, evergreen. Looks like well-mannered monkey grass. Reseeds, so it can pop up unexpectedly, but it works for me. Good in salad, especially.

    I enjoy your blog.

    Rick R.

  17. From Angelina:

    I love to find out what wide varieties of flowers and plants belong to the same family. So hibiscus, okra, mallow, and cotton are all related. It makes me happy to know this today.

  18. From vertie:

    Grill the okra with a little olive oil, salt, and pepper. It’s delicious, takes away the slime factor, and the only way I truly like okra, even if I have been eating it my entire life.

    Thanks for the suggestion, Vertie. We’ll give it a try. — mss

  19. From Kim/ blackswamp girl (OH):

    I adore when people are pretentious about veggies, herbs and other “common” plants. 🙂

    I have been enjoying a jar of “Louisiana pickled hot okra” this week, courtesy of my trip to a crazy grocery store down in Cincinnati a few weeks back. Not that you want to can anything in this heat, I know, but I bet you could make just one jar and keep them in the fridge for a few weeks until they “steep.” The tang really negates any slime factor that remains, and they would be really good as a garnish for bloody marys.

  20. From mariamaria Austin:

    Nice blog. I just moved to southwest Austin and look forward to gardening in the fall. Great pictures too.

  21. From Julia:

    I love okra and try to plant it every year. BUT I didn’t realize the ants were after the aphids, which I saw yesterday( I really should have known that)so now I have to plot my aphid control. How can you not loke okar? Fried okra? Gumbo? Just isn’t he same witout okra. I guess it is a southern thing. And okra does love the heat. It’s usually the one thing in the garden left living until the fall season picks up.

  22. From Patricia East Tennessee:

    What about the blooms? I know alot of people that fry the blooms. They say their very good.